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Film Reviews from 2008
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from 2006

Slumdog Millionaire

slumdogSlumdog Millionaire is an Indian film which is fast becoming a big hit in the U.S.  It will probably become the most widely seen Indian film ever in this country.  It’s not hard to see why it is so popular.  This sprawling tale of Jamal Malik, an orphan who overcomes major obstacles in order to become a national hero, is being compared to the works of Dickens or Voltaire.  Slumdog has the elements of a classical tale with universal appeal, yet its context is unmistakably Indian.  With its terrible poverty and cast system contrasted to new wealth and technology, from garbage dumps to the Taj Mahal to the technological center of Mumbai, the country of India is a much of a character in the film as any actor.

I admit to having difficulty warming up to Slumdog.  In the opening moments, police brutally torture Jamal, during a break in his spectacular run on India’s version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?  They simply cannot believe that an orphan from the slums could do so well on the quiz show without cheating.  From this point, the film takes us back to Jamal’s childhood, including his mother’s death.  Along with his brother Salim, Jamal survives by begging, stealing, and working occasional odd jobs, along with a combination of luck and sheer willpower.  Along the way, Jamal is smitten by the lovely young orphan Latika.  Latika continues to appear and disappear throughout Jamal’s journeys, until she becomes an obsession with him.

slumdog 2Adapting the novel, Q & A, British director Danny Boyle (whose 2005 film Millions is one of my favorite spiritual films) along with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, bring Jamal’s story to life. Boyle intersperses disturbing scenes of poverty and some violence with intimate moments, and offbeat humor. The fast pace builds to the incredible suspense of Jamal on the set of Millionaire.  No one expects Jamal to do well on the show, from the producers to an unscrupulous host to the police.  After all, he is only a poor “slumdog;” how could he know the right answers without somehow cheating?  

Even though he is not Indian, Boyle uses some of the elements of “Bollywood” the Hollywood of India:  bright, garish colors, fast editing, a sweeping score, and even a concluding dance sequence, to tell Jamal’s story.  Jamal is the young innocent who somehow survives the elements of poverty, crime, and racism, without ever losing his virtue.  Indian actor Dev Patel gives a wonderfully understated performance as Jamal, with his dark sad eyes taking in everything.  He never reacts with the hysterical excitement expected of game show contestants.  Beneath Jamal’s quiet resolve is that which has driven him throughout his life:  a steadfast will to survive and be reunited with Lolita.  Who wouldn’t root for him?

As a popular entertainment, Slumdog Millionaire is a great success, despite my initial reservations.  Like the novels of Dickens, Boyle and Beaufoy tell a popular, engaging story, while, at the same time, exposing poverty, crime, corruption, and prejudice.  One of the great underlying themes in the film is the prejudice against Jamal.  How could someone like him do so well on the game show?  Who would we harbor the same thoughts against in our own culture, automatically assuming the worst?  Think about this while you enjoy the colorful adventures of Jamal.  The film will win you over, as it will no doubt win over Oscar voters this year.  Don’t leave the theater to soon; the music/dance number against the closing credits is a Bollywood delight.


Tom Condon, OP


2009 Best Picture



Study Guide Availabe here (PDF)