Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire (English) 89

The word ‘slumdog’ really doesn’t exist, or is it, especially after the movie’s success at getting itself nominated at the academy awards! Probably, the usage has to do with the context of the story that emphasizes fate in the case of a boy from the scum of the society winning twenty million rupees in ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’; our very own desi version of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’ The story emphasizes destiny’s power.

The protagonist Jamal is seen in Police custody, being interrogated over his successful run in the game show up to the penultimate question. While the inspector (Irrfan Khan) plays the questions on TV, the boy narrates the bizarre and sometimes touching stories about the past involved with each such question based on his years in the underbelly of the country’s economic capital. Some stories seem highly improbable though.

Three actors portray the youngest, adolescent and adults for Jamal, his brother Salim and his love interest Latika. That makes it 9 actors! In my opinion the youngest three were the best, in their effective portrayal of life in slums and nursing dreams of a decent life. The trio are effective in scenes where they lose their family and the one in which they are captured by the local begging cartel from where they make a close escape.

What makes the movie impressive its emphasis on the story rather on the usual stuff on individual performances. While specific performance of actors is nothing amazing, each plays his part in the story. However, none of the hosts on TV today would be as rude as Anil Kapoor is to the boy, when he says ‘we have a chaiwala here’ sarcastically. Such brashness is usually seen only on MTV Roadies! What did Boyle really want to show?

Showing India to be full of slums seems to be an obsession for foreign filmmakers. Barring a mention by one of them that India is the centre of the world, the film is full of stereotypes. First, the slums, then the slumlords, filth, goons running rife and of course, the call centers. When will Hollywood ever learn that the very same city also has Nariman Point and Bandra Kurla Complex that really look and feel truly global!

The movie has really hit the headlines for the simple fact that it has bagged nominations in key categories including the coveted best picture and director. Our desi Maestro AR Rahman is on the verge of getting an Oscar with two of three compositions being nominated! While Rahman has given better hits than ‘Jai Ho’, I am really glad that the international recognition has come last. And there are others for the technical awards.

Despite bitter disagreements on the stereotyped portrayal of poverty, why do I rate this as a well made movie? Is it because of the ‘phoren’ tag? Surely not! If you want to see plain story telling with perfect editing, no redundant scenes explaining every little detail, go for it. For the Oscars though, I believe Indian films could have made history long ago; if only the powers that be didn’t succumb to lobbying that led to sending lousy films.

Rating: 8/10 – Improbable instances, but scores on quality storytelling