To think a harrowing story about feral Indian brothers and their trials to reach manhood would be sneaking up to possibly steal a best picture Oscar. Such is the case with Slumdog Millionaire — a craftily told story (based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup) that, through some major grit and grime, lays a touching, albeit slightly out place, story of undying love.
It centers around a young man Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) as he sits atop the precipice of becoming the first 20 million rupee winner of the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. There are forces, namely host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), who believe he is a fraud though and they have him arrested — after all how can a poor, uneducated kid from the slums get further along in the show than prestigious doctors and lawyers?
We soon learn how the answers are known. They come to us via in-depth flashbacks that detail Jamal and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) fighting to stay alive in a very unforgiving India. When Jamal is asked whose face is on the U.S. one hundred dollar bill, we’re transported to a moving moment when he comes face to face with a blind beggar boy. Recognizing the boy from an “orphanage” that he and his brother managed to escape from, he gives the boy a bill with “an old guy who is bald on top with long hair on the sides, like a girl.” The beggar notes it is Benjamin Franklin — and so the memory is burned into Jamal’s brain. Likewise, he has similar memories when it comes to questions on the location of Cambridge Circle and which cricketer has scored the most first class centuries in history.
Putting these various puzzle pieces into a cohesive story was no easy task and director Danny Boyle has once again stepped up to the plate. It is rather ingenious in the way it unfolds and it rarely ever bogs down or loses the interest of the audience. Visually, Slumdog Millionaire is captivating too — from the squalor of the shanty towns to the burgeoning industrial machine and mammoth skyscrapers rising from the same locations some ten years later — everything is eye opening to say the least. Same goes for each of the mini-stories. Boyle is able to make each scene real — whether he is trying to capture a fleeting moment of happiness or, more often than not, the pain of homelessness and poverty — you can’t help but feel for these children.
The only weakness, if it can be called such, is the fairy tale-like love story that follows along with the story like a lost puppy. Latika (Freida Pinto), the love interest of Jamal is stunning to look upon (and when I say stunning, I mean absolutely entrancing), but her story and many of her scenes seemed totally out of place. While one half of me wanted nothing more than a happy, pie-in-the-sky outcome for Jamal and his childhood crush, the other half couldn’t help but think that with all that has transpired they should be doomed to memories and wishes. You decide.
Brushing that aside, Slumdog Millionaire is still one of the better films of 2008. Too bad it is mired in limited showings here in the States as it is definitely deserving of much, much more. If you have the chance to see it, I strongly suggest you do.