Thursday, October 30, 2008

London Film Fest Day 16 - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is a bizarre hybrid movie from the incredibly versatile British director Danny Boyle. He's done urban grime (TRAINSPOTTING), quasi-zombie movies (28 DAYS LATER), sci-fi (SUNSHINE) and now a sort of English-language Bollywood movie. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has the art-house director's eye and a willingness to depict the horrific truth of life in the Mumbai slums. But it splices this with the schmaltzy romantic ending of your typical Bollywood movie. It's a tricky balance to pull off. Moreover, the film carefully and elegantly weaves together scenes showing its protagonists at age 7, 12 and 18. Danny Boyle shows his quality because he manages to control the conflicting styles and inter-weaving script.

The movie is about a boy called Jamal who grows up in the Mumbai slums with his older brother Salim. At age seven, anti-Muslim riots make the boys homeless orphans. They are lured into becoming beggars for an organised gang and only escape when it becomes clear that the gang-leader will blind Jamal because blind singers earn double. It's that brutal. In escaping, the boys leave behind their friend Latika. At age 18 the boys return to Mumbai and search out Latika, who is being trained to be a whore. They rescue her, only for Salim and Latika to fall back into the clutches of a gang boss - now transformed into a property developer in the Maximum City Mumbai of 2008. Jamal is reduced to working as the teaboy in Mumbai call centres.

So far, the movie plays like a British independent movie dissecting the social truth of life in Mumbai in 2008 - the call centres, rising middle-class wealth, gated luxury apartments alongside the old slums, the corruption, the hazard.....It's all brilliantly well done - well acted and beautifully shot on handheld DV by Anthony Dod Mantle.

Where the movie ultimately lost me (and our Gmunden correspondent) was in its high concept framing device. 18 year old Jamal (Dev Patel of SKINS fame) has decided that the only way he can contact childhood sweetheart Latika is to appear of the Indian version of WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? - a TV show she watches. Through sheer luck, he knows all the answers to the questions and as taping ends on the first day he is on the verge of being a millionaire. The show's oleaginous host (Anil Kapoor doing a brilliant impression of Amitabh Bachchan) suspects him of cheating. How can an uneducated slumdog know all the answers? So over-night, Jamal is interrogated by the police (Irrfhan Khan). In explaining his answers to the policeman, Jamal gives us the flashbacks of his life and the story to date. The copper believes him and lets him go so he can finish taping the show and hopefully find his girl. Jamal may be a slumdog but he's actually not in it for the money.

The high concept allows Danny Boyle to give the movie a melodramatic, schmaltzy Bollywood ending. I can see why this would be the popular choice, but it tipped the movie over the edge. I like my social commentary undiluted. Still, while SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE isn't quite my thing, you can't deny that it's a well-made, audacious, truly original hybrid film - and manages both to provoke and to entertain!

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE played Toronto (where it won the People's Choice Award) and London 2008. It opens in France on January 7th 2009; in the UK on January 9th; in Belgium on January 14th and in the Netherlands on April 2nd.


  1. Keenly observed and honestly articulated as ever. Am waiting for the general release being a fan of both Boyle and Kapoor. Let's see!

    Just discovered this blog and am addicted to it. Found myself nodding away to most of the incisively written reviews, the top 10 lists and when I didn't, I was surprised at the intelligent counter point of view. Keep up the good work dina and team.

    I am an inconsolable movie aficionado myself, love reviewing them and right now have just another movie to recommend-The Edge of Heaven, something I watched yesterday, a German movie which I'm sure you must have heard of. Couldn't catch the review of it here on the site which is a surprise. Do watch it, very seminal piece of cinema on the lines of Crash/Babel. More like a thinking man's Crash/Babel/21 Grams.

    Thanks to you guys, I am slipping in Sherrybaby DVD which has been lying on my shelf since forever. That good huh?

    Just keep up the great work, whatta delight reading all of it; being a Londoner bumped into your blog searching for the BFF movie reviews. Must say, awesomely covered!

    More later and man, apologies if the comment's a bit too long and reads like fan mail,


  2. Thanks for you kind comments!

    The Edge of Heaven review is here.