“Slumdog” is this year’s indie underdog
Accused of cheating on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” contestant Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is taken before a callous police inspector (Irfan Khan) the night before he has to answer one final question before winning the grand prize of 10 million rupees. The young telemarketer or “call basher,” is summarily tortured in order to divulge how he was able to answer so many difficult questions.
With that opening, director Danny Boyle (“Millions,” “28 Days Later”) establishes quickly that the stakes involved are not your average game show fare.
Then begins the journey of how Jamal, a “slumdog” from the poverty ravaged streets of Mumbai was able to answer questions directly due to specific experiences in his often tragic, never boring life. A film with so much sadness in it should not be so upbeat and inspirational but that is part of the magic of this visually and sonically resplendent film that tells its old fashioned Dickensian rags-to-riches story with a pulsing, contemporary beat.
Many of the actors are unknown outside of India and while the performances are decent enough, its Boyle’s skilled direction along with Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography that thrusts the viewer into a world that is completely foreign to an American audience but earns its affection nonetheless. This is a film that can take a rubbish heap and make it look vibrant and interesting.
Though much of the film does contain sub-titles, this should not dissuade the average film-goer. Nor should the “R” rating which this film received ostensibly because of the intensity of the aforementioned opening scene. If you have ever wondered what the term “Bollywood” implied, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a good primer on the many superb Indian themed films that have been released over the last few years including 2006’s “Outsourced,” and “The Namesake,” and 2005’s powerful drama “Water.”
Many of the flashbacks to Jamal’s life include scenes on how he survived the tough streets of his homeland along with his violence-prone brother (Madhur Mittal) and his soul mate (Freida Pinto). That the films’ harsh tone leads to a fulfilling romantic climax complete with a lively mega-mix production number while the credits roll all the while without feeling silly or forced is a testament to the film’s well crafted underdog spirit.
Given 2008’s generally lackluster product, “Slumdog Millionaire” has a chance to sneak in some award nominations while the film’s setting in tragically, newsworthy-of-late Mumbai makes it even more compelling.
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.