The film begins and we find ourselves face-to-face with 18-year-old Jamal Malick, a boy who’s grown up on the streets, and who is being interrogated by the forces about how he’s gotten so far on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Interrogated is putting it rather politely; he’s having the shit kicked out of him by the no-nonsense, rough authorities of Mumbai. He’s a Slumdog; a lad from the streets, a waste of space, the bad cop says, and Slumdogs do not get this far on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire through fair play. Perhaps not through fair play, but maybe, just maybe, Jamal is where he is because of another force: destiny.
Although the focus of Slumdog Millionaire is story, not performances, the actors all hold their own in their roles. The child actors playing the young Jamal, Salim and Latika were absolutely adorable; the scene where young Jamal jumped into a pile of crap just to get an autograph from his favourite filmstar was absolutely disgusting, yet endearing in its own way. This autograph means the world to Jamal, yet his brother chooses to sell it, making a tidy profit for herself; which is a foreboding sign of the path where his brother is headed.
There are plenty of witty episodes that occur throughout the film (Jamal re-telling the events of Eastenders will certainly amuse to the English cinemagoers), as well as a subtle little aside to our own Who Wants to Be a Millionaire cheat, Charles Ingram, at the start, “What did you do, cough at the audience?”
Dev Patel has more than enough screen persona. Although his Jamal does spend a good deal of screen time looking bemused and shocked, there’s an average Joe quality to him that makes me can’t help but root for him. He still retains the goofiness of Anwar, but his character in Slumdog Millionaire is a real gentleman. A lad living on the streets like him probably can't afford to be chivalrous, but he is throughout, and that, coupled with his lanky cuteness meant I was getting a bigger crush on him as the film went on.
The way Jamal continually thinks about and searches for Latika, saying he’ll wait for her at the train station everyday, made me think of Cinema Paradiso, and any man who’d do that for his woman is a keeper. His chemistry with co-star Freida Pinto is perfect; despite only spending the odd moment on screen with each other, the way his body language and facial expressions change around her, I could see that he was in love.
The pace of the film is leisurely but never overlong, as we see into the life of Jamal and his brother, and how Jamal came to acquire every single answer. Mumbai is photographed and shot in its full glory, that is, both beautiful and dirty. Filmed with handheld digital cameras, Anthony Dod Man really captures some stark, striking images of India, with nods to both Apocalypse Now and City of God and even a bit of Danny Boyle’s 2007 outing Sunshine in the visuals.
The absolute gem of the film, however, is not any of the performers, but the score, which reaches levels of Asian authenticity I’ve ever heard before, and brings a level of earthiness perfectly suits the urban realism on the streets of Mumbai. Music composer AR Rahman (incidentally, the first Indian to win a Golden Globe) also wrote the songs in the film, and they are divine. O Saya plays at the start and Jai Ho at the end, thus completing a circle of pure aurgasm.
Particularly, the latter, to which the cast have a dance-off in good old Bollywood fashion, was an unprecedented and unexpected joy. In between, M.I.A Paper Planes (my favourite song of 2008, as you’ve heard me say, oh, only 384983 times already) features twice, in the original form, and in a remix, and both versions go with the images so well, I was getting goosebumps sitting in the cinema and Luke had to tell me to calm down.
Behind the actors, pictures and music, stands Danny Boyle, a director who seems to be on a mission to cover all the genres. A women’s mag, In Style, dubbed Slumdog Millionaire “the feel-god romcom of the year”, and, although I’m not sure about he comedy element, it’s certainly true that Slumdog is an inspirational, uplifting, and utterly lovely movie. It works as both a social commentary on the homeless and the corrupt in India (a particularly harrowing scene which will haunt me in my sleep involved a young lad getting blinded; because “blind singers earn double”), an epic about a boy’s life, and best of all, a romantic voyage.
I’m yet to meet a boy like Jamal, one who’s love, and pure love, for his friend leads him on journeys and all around India, a love so strong that money is no object, just as long as he can speak to his love. Just the concept of such a thing, however, unrealistic, makes me smile.
As with all films, it’s not without it’s flaws – the 2 second clip that was played which featured Frieda Pinto’s hair blowing in the wind and staring up at Dev Patel got so overplayed it bordered on farcical, much like with 2007’s Atonement and the c-bomb.
Furthermore, occasionally, the juxtaposition of fairytale and gritty realism were too much of polar opposites to keep intercutting with each other. However, for the closing shot and the closing shot alone (Dev Patel taking his sweet time in cherishing his kiss with the woman he’s loved for a good deal of his life, and the way his lips ran over the scar on her face, oh, redemption, beautiful, beautiful, redemption), I was reminded how going to the cinema can leave me with an intense feeling of happiness, as well as why romance is my favourite genre of all time. No need to waste time asking the audience – Slumdog Millionaire is an absolute treat. Go see it.