Let’s just say that as far as motion picture drama goes, this is total drama. It is far beyond anything you have ever seen before. It will be a landmark movie experience for you — a classic.
“Slumdog millionaire” has picked up considerable acclaim countrywide, all totally deserved. Shot in Mumbai and Maharastra, India on an unlimited budget, it absolutely stuns you right from the opening frame with its megawatt-plus dynamics, in a sense, starting out on after-burners then blasting beyond. Oh, yeah, you say in knee-jerk response, I know, another of those stylistic visual dazzlers. No, you don’t know.
This is a film whose frenzied energy boils within you but does not overflow. It is perfectly in keeping with its message which appears to be (however authentic or not) the cruel contempt by which Indian police deal with the waifs of the gutters and alleys. Living in nonstop emotional turmoil, this is a subculture of children whose lives are in the control of a law enforcement system unbridled by the restraints known in the Western world.
Accordingly, co-directors Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan deliver a film in which hardly a scene is laid out conventionally. Grabbing you at many levels of subliminal awareness, it flows through your senses with supercharged visuals that are designed to throw your sensibilities, amazingly subtly, off-balance, recreating the turmoil of its key characters, in particular photographing most scenes with the cameras off-level. In that motif, you are immediately dizzied before the shot’s content is even realized.
The plot itself is ultimately intriguing, bursting with suspense, burning into its personalities. What we’ve got here is a rollercoaster with depth.
It begins with the police torturing a young man, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), to force him to confess as to how he just won the one million rupees on the country’s most popular quiz show, based on the U.S. “So You Want To Be a Millionaire” and appears to be on his way to winning the grand prize of 20 million. The boy insists that he knew the answers. Now how did that happen?
Flashbacks depict the hardships of his squalid upbringing in the slums of Mumbai with his older brother Salim when their single mother was killed by a mob attack on Muslims. They are left to their own resources, living in a garbage dump in the vast, horizon-to-horizon teeming ghettos, doing petty crimes and soon accepting charming Latika who is every bit as quick as Jamal. A scummy street hustler takes them on, trains them in the arts of the heartless criminal. Indeed, this scoundrel gives villainy a new meaning: he chloroforms young boys, blinds them, then puts them out to begging, their blindness netting bigger profits from passersby.
Jamal is warned of this imminent theat by his brother and they both flee.
Many other incidents of travail for Jamal and his brother (Madhur Mittalwill) follow, making Jamal wise and facts-knowledgeable by sheer brute life’s experience. Into their teens, some of their ventures are amusing, like when they do a con job of pretending to be tour guides at the Taj Mahal. “But that’s not what the guide book says,” notes a British couple. “The guide book,” replies Jamal convincingly, “was written by no-good Indian beggars.”
They drift into more serious crime and soon must flee back to Mumbai where they find Latika (Freida Pinto) in unsavory circumstances.
Separated again at life’s peril, Jamal, pining for Latika, takes on menial jobs even as Salim aspires ever higher into the ranks of crime.
And now back to the pending final questions on the path to 20 million rupees. Latika will prove crucial.
The thoroughness of the film is striking. Many scenes are dotted with at least one bright red object to pace the visual quality and to showcase that signature of brilliant colors of great “Bollywood” (the Asian-Indian film industry) films.
The film has an uncanny grip on the emotional impact of every part of every frame. By the end, you will at last be permitted to exhale.
“Slumdog Millionaire” (quality rating: 10 out of 10)
(in English and Hindi)
Co-directors: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Vikas Swarup
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mitta
Time: 1 hr., 56 min.
R (vulgarity, some violence, disturbing images)