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Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire

Posted by anandrr on November 14, 2008

We got to watch Slumdog Millionaire recently, and we liked it quite a bit. It is set largely in Mumbai (some diversions to Agra), and chronicles how a little kid from Dharavi (Jamal) grew up to win it all at the desi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and also finally reunited with the love of his life. He is not particularly interested in the money, just the girl.

By itself, that’s a very conventional story line, there are probably a hundred Bollywood movies that cover the same basic storyline: Young kid from the slums gets rich on his wits alone and also gets the girl. What makes Slumdog different is how well it works as a movie. From the first scene, it establishes that the fairy tale you’re about to see is grounded in reality: Jamal is being interrogated at a police station (Enhanced Interrogation Techniques, naturally) because after all, there is no way that a “slumdog” like him could know enough to win it all in the quiz show. From there the movie begins to run. As Jamal tells us the story of his life in flashback segments, one thing is apparent: to live and make it in Mumbai is always to be running. The camera work is astounding, it brilliantly captures the frenetic pace of the movie while not forgetting to emphasize the color and variety all around it, not to mention the little ironies that surround life in India. While the boys are running the soundtrack keeps pace: A.R. Rahman scores the music and M.I.A supplies vocals (Paper Airplane and damned if I can find the other song).

All of the movie is grounded in the “real India” (and by extension the “real Mumbai”). Slums, rampaging mobs, kids picking around in huge piles of trash, an “orphanage” running a beggar business, guides ripping off foreign tourists, call centers full of young people selling the Family and Friends plan to unsuspecting foreigners and ugliest of all: the slums turning into the Hiranandani towers. It is this connection to the real India at once visceral and beautiful that sets the movie apart.

There are a couple false note in the movie: Anil Kapoor as the oily host of the Millionaire show. I can see why his character had to be dirty, but it’s unclear to me why he had to be unlikable. On the real show, he would have lasted less than a whole episode as host. The other of course is that fairy tales don’t really happen in the seamy side of Mumbai.

Also, Frieda Pinto: Beautiful!

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One Response to “Film Review: Slumdog Millionaire”

  1. […] poor person’s existence in India will grind him down, it is really only a matter of time. No Slumdog Millionaire this, there are no fairy tale endings to be had. The system is stacked against a simple poor […]

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