The success that was 2008’s multi-Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire is, at heart, a love story. The film that envelopes this core however traverses India and tells the tale of 18 year-old Jamal, an orphan from the depths of Mumbai, who happens to get every question he is asked on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire correct.
Based primarily around the investigation that ensues after he is taken into custody due to allegations of cheating after the show cuts on the show’s penultimate question, the final question holding the power to bring him both fame and fortune, Slumdog Millionaire explores Jamal’s extraordinary life and the events that lead him to his moment in the most intimidating seat he has ever sat in.
Slumdog Millionaire‘s staggered storyline makes for riveting viewing. With every question Jamal is posed linking to a defining moment in his life, his history is presented in a new and refreshing way. Far from displacing the viewer this choice of structuring helps convey the film’s underlying sense of hope. The differing glimpses provided of Jamal’s childhood and his journey into adolescence not only paint a picture of a troubled life but also provide a sense that every hardship can be overcome. Despite seeing his mother killed, narrowly escaping a life of disability and having to choose between his brother Salim and his lost love Latika, Jamal is, although timid, caring and strong-willed.
It is little surprise that E4’s Skins’ Dev Patel shot to international fame after appearing as the titular slumdog. His portrayal of Jamal balances the subtle nuances between intimidated orphan afraid of the unknown and headstrong teenager who has learnt to overcome adversity. The links drawn between the questions he is asked and his life experiences are impressively believable whilst the on-screen development of the two brothers is utterly convincing. The children who play Jamal and his brother Salim (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), faced with some of the more troublesome scenes of the film, offer memorable and extremely stirring performances. Although it is made known from the beginning of the film that Jamal makes it to the penultimate question on the game show (which relies heavily on the unreadable host (Anil Kapoor)’s comic prowess), with every question and every stuttered response you find yourself willing Jamal on.
Jamal’s story plays out on a stunningly beautiful backdrop which is testament to Danny Boyle’s directorial prowess. Despite such beauty and the uplifting nature of the film’s tone, Slumdog Millionaire capitalises on its darker moments. Bringing the raw realities faced by Jamal, Salim and Lakita both to the forefront of the film and to the attention of the audience the film does not shirk away from displaying the life faced by the orphaned and the desperate in India’s slums. The fact that companies such as Mercedes-Benz refused to allow their symbol to be shown in the film’s slum scenes is testament to the film’s portrayal of the harrowing experiences encountered by the film’s characters whilst Ankur Vikal’s Maman is a truly villainous bad-guy who is hard to forget. Lakita, played by Frieda Pinto, arguably suffers more than her friends do and the troubles she has to learn to overcome are troubling, adding to the films’ diverse layers.
Whilst watching the film you may find yourself thinking that it wouldn’t have had quite the same effect if its representation of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire had been hosted by Chris Tarrant, airing after Coronation Street. Instead Slumdog Millionaire’s game show touches the hearts of thousands and thus ignites fevered passion in its audience. The omission of Tarrant therefore is of course one to be thankful for. Gripping to the end, the resulting film is a definite must-see and, when faced with the question of whether the film is a. uplifting b. troubling c. heartfelt or d. compelling, you may find that the answer is in fact e. all of the above.
Best performance: Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as young Jamal.
Best song: M.I.A.’s Paper Planes.
Best line: Middle Jamal when he says ‘the guide book was written by a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing Indian beggars’ when trying to convince tourists that the information he provides regarding the Taj Muhal is in fact correct.
Watch this if you liked: City of God.