Cast: Dev Patel, Frieda Pinto, Irfan Khan, Madhur Mittal
Director: Danny Boyle
Rating: **** and 1/2 *
Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire paints a vivid and breathtaking picture of Mumbai's hidden underbelly — a torrent of imagery that feels almost like the scraping-off of skin when a biker falls off his bike and hits the road at full tilt. Anthony Dod Mantle's camera zooms-in on the harsh reality, moving expressively through the evocative landscape of garbage and squalor, making the experience extremely painful. It leaves you raw and hurting and yes you feel exposed, more-so because you had learnt to ignore the unpalatable.
Of course, the fact that most of the mainstream Bollywood films (that get seen by the general public) almost always choose to glamourise that poverty or ignore it altogether, has helped in perpetuating that denial. Salaam Mumbai, Black Friday and
Aamir did give us brief glimpses of the same thing but it wasn't quite as definitive as in Boyle's film. But Boyle's Slumdog... is not about the extremes of social inequity alone, it's also about hope, fate, destiny and love. And when you leave the theatres after watching the movie, the latter is what you take with you.
Vikas Swarup's Q & A forms the basis for Simon Beaufoy. The plot is basically about a teenager Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), who works as a chaiwala in a call center. He wants to find his lost love, Latika (Frieda Pinto) and therefore takes part in the epoch-making game show Who wants to be a Millionaire hosted by Prem (Anil Kapoor). As the game plays on, questions are asked and answered while we get a glimpse of Jamal's life right from the time he played cricket with his brother and friends in the abandoned part of the airfield, jumped into a pit of human excreta to get the autograph of his idol Amitabh Bachchan, lost his mother in a Hindu-Muslim riot — to his present. And it's quite an enlightening journey as Boyle masterfully cuts back and forth through time to tell us his 'rags to rajah' story.
Boyle's narrative is driven by distinctive energy, tautened by a thinly veiled tension and richly endowed with colours that add to the visual drama. Beaufoy's script though pitch-perfect, is not without its contrivances.
Jamal's opportunistic employment in a call center, his frequent trysts with destiny, his ability to answer the most innocuous questions pitted to him by a smirking Prem and his studying Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers in a school at his slum, are all pointers that Beaufoy has been looking at slum-life from the outside-in. Both Boyle's narrative and Beaufoy's screenplay try to convince us that life's experiences are richer and more valuable than formal education and their argument comes across strongly.
The most memorable performances though came from the little ones; Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali, playing the youngest Jamal, Salim and Latika respectively.
Their performances, Rahman's rousing score, Beaufoy's effectively engineered script, Dod Mantle's humbling camerawork and Boyle's sheer mastery of the narrative form elevates this movie experience to a realm that's as close to magical as you can get in the cinemas!
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