Slumdog Millionaire

Maadarchod” (motherfucker) is probably the first dialog that one notices, and it appears within 2:25 minutes into the film. Saurabh Shukla–however little role he will play in rest of the movie–delivers those words of ‘fatherly wisdom’ with an intensity that can only be expected of him. He literally chews and then spits that word out of his mouth to Dev Patel‘s face. Right then we know ‘Slumdog Millionaire‘ has arrived. It is rated #62 right now on IMDB top-250 list and the fact that it is not in top 5 is proof enough that those Americans are fucking morons!

Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire starts with the question, “Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?” Your choices of an answer are, “A. He cheated. B. He’s lucky. C. He’s a genius. D. It is written.” Why does one have to ask that question? Because Jamal has had no education, at least in the formal sense; he can barely read; and he’s a ‘chai-wallah‘ in a call center. Slumdog Millionaire is the story of the protagonist Jamal Malik, an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s own version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika–older role played by Freida Pinto–the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his layered story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions, and how he learned it. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector–played by incomparable Irrfan Khan— and millions viewers are about to find out.

SM is the crown jewel of the cinematic intelligence, a story, that is intense, gripping, non-linear, bewitching, sometimes cute and adorable and hard-hitting and gut-wrenching at other times and with so many layers, told and visualized so brilliantly! The directors of the movie, Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tondon, should get a standing ovation for the result of their (hopefully) hard work in whichever award function they show up, and of course from me. It is simply extraordinary the way they’ve used the show to narrate the life-story of Jamal. It has already been awarded the best motion picture (drama) at the Golden Globes, and I will be highly surprised if it doesn’t get the Oscar of best motion picture. Oh wait, if it didn’t, I’d know why it didn’t — yes, the fucking morons! SM is the best Danny offers till date, even better than one of my many favorites, Trainspotting.

the director
Danny Boyle: the director

Coming back to the movie, you can take my word that you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat with every story told, every scene played, every dialog delivered. As the story unfolds, you’ll witness the truth of Mumbai slum, the harsh life slum-kids live, the riots in the name of religion, the way the mafia operates, it treats its women. Where it is not tragic or dramatic, you’ll see the sarcasm that’s sharper than the sharpest blade through the stories with an ironic sense of humor, e.g., when Malik gets an Amitabh Bachchan autograph. And when that autographed photo is sold by his brother for “good enough money”. It tells you a lot of things, yet in no way, it is an attempt to be something that teaches morals; it rather lets you be the judge of good and bad. The protagonist is not an idealist, even though he is motivated by love. The maestro Rahman composes a soundtrack for which he’ll be remembered with the greats like Henry Mancini, Llyod-Webber etc.

There can’t be a single blemish you can put on any of the portrayals by the actors. Indeed, it has won an award for ‘best ensemble of characters’ — the ‘Black Reel Award’.

No movie is great without its shortcomings. Like all the other great movies, this work isn’t perfection either. It builds on the certain stereotypes the western world has about Mumbai, India in general: poverty, filth, slums, call centers, child abuse, riots, rape, mafia and murder. There are certain parts that probably even the directors or the screenplay writer cannot explain. So be warned: Before you like it as much as I did, make sure you can appreciate even the shortcomings. More the shortcomings rather.

Missing this work of Art is highly inadvisable on my part. If you are not watching this movie and watching any other, you are wasting your time! Nope… You’re wasting your time doing anything else before watching SM!


9 thoughts on “Slumdog Millionaire”

  1. Bollywood produces a staggeringly large number of movies compared to any other single movie-producing “industry”. Last time I heard of it, Bollywood exceeded Hollywood by some 5X for the number of movies produced annually. And it’s been alive for 70+years now. Its a pity that it took a foreign director to appreciate the nuances of slum Mumbai (with heavy hints of day-to-day events that signify their Indian-ness). No doubt Danny Boyle is extremely adept at his art and no doubt, that the screenplay was well written and also that, probably only foreign nationals with no-bias can critically look at the entire fare…yet it’s a niggling, irksome, at times frustrating thought when I cannot think of a single director to capture the “Indian-ness” (which leaves a lot to be tapped) in so novel/presentable/laudable fashion in this land-of-creativity (barring perhaps Nagesh Kukunoor).

    1. Linpaws,

      Although Meera Nair is not an Indian director, her ‘Salaam Bombay’ was probably a better work than ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, but surely a lot less entertaining. I agree that entertainment quotient varies from person to person. To some, SM gives hope, while SB brings forth the murkiness and doesn’t soothe anyone except probably Nair herself who might have thought that her portrayal of Mumbai madness will call for some activists.

      SM doesn’t give a message, SB tried conveying one too many.

      We have had directors who could capture the “Indian-ness”, e.g., Satyajit Ray whose one one film I’ve seen and that too was a period film, ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’, but people who have come across his work always say that he with his characters brings a common Calcuttan to the front. I thought old classics like ‘Boot Polish’ and ‘Kabuliwalah’ also are films that promise and deliver so much. In the recent times, I think Anurag Kashyap does deal with the “Indian ness” mostly.

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