Director: Danny Boyle
Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists
Mumbai, the present day (and the recent past). Jamal Malik is one question away from winning India’s version of the quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. During a break in filming, Jamal is arrested on grounds of fraud and is interrogated. Jamal claims he has not cheated and that he knew the answer to every question. Jamal explains how he knew these answers by recalling moments of his life. Jamal remembers trawling through a pool of faeces to meet the actor, Amitabh Bachchan, his idol (the first question relates to a film featuring the actor) and the death of his mother in a religious conflict. After this, Jamal, his brother Salim, and their friend Latika are taken in by an orphanage run by Maman, which is a shield for organised child labour and begging. Salim is expected to assist the blinding of Jamal to increase his value, but the three children escape although Latika is left behind, apparently deliberately at Salim’s hands.
The brothers work as unofficial tour guides at the Taj Mahal, but they return to Mumbai to search for Latika, where she works as a dancer in the red-light district. They are discovered by Maman, who is shot by Salim. Salim then falls in with local gangsters; after which the boys drift apart. Working in a call centre, he discovers where Salim now lives and contacts him. Latika is now married to the gangster Salim works for. Salim tries to convince Latika to leave with him, but she resists. When she finally agrees, she is followed by Salim and other thugs, who slash her cheek. Jamal enters the quiz show because he knows she will be watching. Back to the present, the police find Jamal’s story “bizarrely plausible” and allow him to return to the show, where he successfully answers the final question. Salim kills Latika’s husband before being shot himself, allowing Jamal and Latika to be reunited.
‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has become one of the most anticipated and acclaimed films of the year. Nominated for four Golden Globes and countless other critics’ prizes already, it is being talked of as one of the main serious contenders for Oscar recognition in 2009. Much like Jamal himself, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ has arrived seemingly from nowhere; a small British film that looks set to take the international box office by storm. The film also confirms the prodigious talents and appeal of its director Danny Boyle, who of course has a number of previous successes under his belt, for instance ‘Trainspotting’ and ’28 Days Later’. This project is a change of pace after his recent excursions into the sci-fi and horror genres but ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ might actually be Boyle’s most satisfying film to date.
The film has been described accordingly as ‘heartwarming’, ‘cheery’, ‘a modern fairy-tale’ and various other clichés that immediately mark ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ down as emotionally manipulative Oscar-bait. The denouément, of the film’s destined lovers reuniting at a Mumbai train station and then breaking out into a Bollywood style dance routine might be considered sentimental and formulaic but within the context of the film it seems right and never exploitative. Such a negative conclusion would be doing the film a great disservice. Despite the uplifting climax, Boyle never shies away from showing the numerous disappointments and tragedies Jamal experiences. The death of Jamal’s mother and the entire slaughter of a small Muslim community at the hands of a Hindu mob is shown in vivid detail and the cruel and exploitative child labour operations run by Maman are also depicted with intense honesty, which includes the deliberate blinding of a child, which Boyle refuses to conceal. Jamal is also brutally interrogated by police, suffering attempting drowning and electric shocks in an attempt to force a confession for fraud.
Therefore do not be fooled by the marketing and publicity that is trying to depict ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ as a feel-good underdog story – there is more depth to the film than this, and Boyle also shows the two sides of modern India. As years pass, Mumbai has the impression of growing prosperity; an increase in the number of plush apartments and office blocks, but much poverty remains. This poverty is difficult to escape, and even when one does, one is still tainted by it. Just witness the degree to which the quiz show patronises and the police brutalises Jamal because of his background. What could this “slumdog” possibly know? He must be cheating! Boyle reiterates the socio-economic divide that India retains and is potentially increasing as the country becomes more prosperous, but with this prosperity achieved by a narrow percentage of the population.
Boyle uses his trademark kinetic camera to great effect in the Mumbai slums, capturing its urgency and energy. Salim and Jamal’s escape from airport security through these slums reminds one of Renton and Spud’s frantic fleeing after robbing a shop in the opening scene of ‘Trainspotting’. This is further proof of Boyle’s versatility as a director, able to utilise his talents and natural instincts across a series of genres. Much like another Oscar contender, ‘Frost/Nixon’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ shows an interest in the artificial nature of television. Boyle regularly alternates between the filming of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ as the audience at home would see it and breaks in the filming/behind the scenes details. As in ‘Frost/Nixon’, television reveals not ‘the truth’ but a version of the truth which is staged and manipulated, and in one interesting scene, interfered with by the quiz show host himself.
The creative input of Simon Beaufoy, sceenwriter of ‘The Full Monty’ and A.R. Rahman, who provides a pulsating score that merges both traditional and modern India (assisted by British/Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A) is vital to the success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, showing the film is not just a directorial tour-de-force. The young cast equip themselves well, from the youngest actors in the three main roles and Dev Patel (the adult Jamal), known thus far for his role in the Channel Four teenage drama series ‘Skins’. A film that unites both critics and audiences, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is gaining critical momentum prior to the major awards ceremonies of the season and is one of the finest films of 2008, offering insight, wit, romance and drama; the full package.