FILM: Slumdog Millionaire

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, 2008

Reviewed by Siddharth Rajan | 8 February 2009

Danny Boyle has created a masterpiece in “Slumdog Millionaire”. With some great technical work and a rather unique storyline (based on the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup), Danny has created what some are suggesting the best movie of 2008 worldwide.

The movie is set up in the slums of Mumbai. It centres around a young man Jamal Malik as he’s seated in the hot seat, on the verge of becoming the first 20 million rupee winner of the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”. There are forces, including the host (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 show Jamal and his brother Salim fighting to stay alive in a very unforgiving and often neglected India. The movie follows Malik’s recollection of how he came to know the answers, the telling of his life from the slums of Mumbai, the murder of his mother in an anti-Muslim rampage, through to his rise to being an assistant in a call centre.

This isn’t a Bollywood film, even if there are some elements (and the credits pay homage with a traditional Indian film dance), and yet it taps in to Indian culture in a way not really seen in movies shown in the West, showing the lows and highs of life in the world’s largest democracy.

A major reason for the staunch criticism lies in the very title of the movie. The very fact that slum dwellers are referred to as dogs does not go down too well with the Indian audiences. A westerner portraying India in the way that it has been, is not acceptable to many. However, for all those people who are upset about the depiction of India in Slumdog, let me remind them that this is the REAL India. This is how majority of Indians live. And it depicts them as being street – smart and intelligent and not ignorant illiterates and yet the rich-poor divide prevalent in the country has only been amplified.

The silver lining was that where earlier the boys used to live, was no longer the slum that they knew. Instead, the place had evolved. The optimism in the boys was heartening, however, certain parts of the movie do raise one’s eyebrows:

Firstly, “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is NOT written by Surdas. It is written by Gopal Singh Nepali for the movie Narsi Bhagat (1957). This song is also credited as traditional and originally written by 15th century poet Narsi Mehta, on whose life that film is based.

Secondly, After winning the game-show, the boy sits on the railway platform and nobody recognizes him! Considering the popularity of the show, is that realistic?

And of course the greatest flaw in the storyline is that programmes like “Kaun Banega Crorepati” and “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” are NOT broadcast live. As a result the entire structure of the film becomes unrealistic. For a film that boasts of being realistic such flaws cannot be overlooked.

Apart from these comical errors, it is undeniable that the movie is a visual treat and the screenplay and storytelling are masterful. The actors ae a treat to watch. The movie has everything in it- action, thrill, violence, drama, melodrama and a fairy tale ending to a disaster-filled love story.

Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” is a film equivalent of Nadal’s performance at the Aussie Open: funny, shocking, spectacular, turbo-charged. It takes your breath away at the same time as it makes you want to jump with joy or to grab the person next to you. This is without doubt one of the better movies I’ve seen for a while. It’s an uplifting movie, rich in character, story and visuals. It is one of those rare movies that I found myself emotionally attached to

Siddharth Rajan is a pupil at St. Mark’s Senior Secondary in Delhi, and competed in the All-India National Final of the Debating Matters competition. He can be located via Facebook


Author: austinwilliams

Austin Williams is the director of the Future Cities Project and author of a number of books on the environment and on China. The latest are "China's Urban Revolution" (Bloomsbury) and "New Chinese Architecture: Twenty Women Building the Future" (Thames and Hudson).

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