Slumdog Millionaire Made in: Great Britain, India (location) Language: English, Hindi Director: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (Co-Director: India) Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Irrfan Khan, Saurabh Shukla, Anil Kapoor, Ankur Vikal Year: 2008
Based largely on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup.
Synopsis: Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) has somehow made it onto India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and he's answered every single question correctly. He's about to win it all - 20 million rupees - which is something that even the brightest contestants, which have included doctors and lawyers, have failed to do.
Yet Jamal is a poor, uneducated assistant working at a call center. And he's had a turbulent, rough-and-tumble childhood in one of Mumbai's worst slums.
On the night before he's about to answer the final question, Jamal is arrested on the suspicion of cheating. After he is subject to treatment that's far worse than anything that ever happened at Guantanamo Bay, Jamal is questioned by a burned-out police inspector (Irrfan Khan).
From there, we learn about Jamal's childhood in the slums, his troubled brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), and Latika (Freida Pinto), the girl he loves. And through experiences of both heartbreak and triumph, we learn how Jamal was destined to be a winner after all. But will his amazing story be enough to convince the police to let him go? Will he ever be reunited with his love?
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Remarks: At its core, Slumdog Millionaire is an underdog love story. And what sets it apart is the way in which director Danny Boyle tells it. If you haven't seen the movie yet, let me just say it's very clever.
The structure of the movie is one of its greatest strengths, and if you've seen Boyle's previous works (such as Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, and 28 Days Later), you'll notice the kinds of stylized shots and lighting/color choices that mark his style.
I was a never a fan of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but Danny Boyle incorporates that game show very well here, and manages to make it very suspenseful. Dev Patel, who's not a glossy-looking pretty-boy, is nonetheless a strong protagonist. He's truly believable as an ordinary guy, and possesses a subtle but natural charm that wins us over.
As you watch Slumdog Millionaire, it becomes very clear that the film was geared to be accessible to western audiences. Some have celebrated the idea that a movie ,which takes place in modern-day India, took home the Academy Award for Best Picture (as well as 7 other Oscars), while others have criticized Boyle for its portrayal of life in Mumbai.
One can argue the point that India is unfairly depicted as a place of rampant poverty, gangsters, random rioting, and general chaos. And many in India found the scenes which take place in the slums to be romanticized and inaccurate (and it should be noted that some of the child actors actually came from real slums). I haven't gone to India yet, so I don't know for sure. However, I do encourage you, the viewer, to discuss this point with your friends and come up with your own conclusions.
But what I can say is that, once again, Slumdog Millionaire is mainly a love story about a young man going against considerable odds to get the girl. Although it clearly makes India's social problems visible to the viewer, the film is not primarily meant to be social commentary. So keep in mind that Danny Boyle was not trying to make the Indian equivalent of City of God.
Whether the film was Oscar-worthy or not is debatable, but to discuss that would be to talk about the operating structure of the Academy itself (which is for another article). But as a narrative, the film is tightly written, very well-paced, and entertaining.
Who would like this movie: As far as Academy Award winning movies go, Slumdog Millionaire will reach a wide audience, young and old. The romantic element cuts across cultural lines, as does the inspirational idea that the difficulties one encounters in life are generally the very same resources needed in order to achieve success.
For the most part, it's a feel-good movie with a very much-needed edge. I suppose it counts in the category of foreign films, and one that I'd recommend. It's not so sad that it'll depress you, and it's not so sweet that it'll make you cringe.