‘Slumdog Millionaire’ gives viewers a realistic portrayal of Indian living
February 12, 2009
The perception of India through the lens of American cinema is usually one of two things: the more developed and highly technological India or the devastating poverty of the slums.
Although we seem to encounter the image of the latter much more often, it’s the former that tends to bother us the least, and thus is the more popularly accepted. Director Danny Boyle bridges the gap between both worlds of Indian living in “Slumdog Millionaire,” and adds some much needed realism to portray the lives of its ‘slumdogs’.
After spending much of his life fighting to survive in the poverty-stricken parts of Mumbai, Jamal (Dev Patel) gets a chance to be a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”
He answers 10 million rupees worth of questions, until being tortured and interrogated under the suspicion that he is cheating. In order to justify his knowledge of the answers of each question, he tells stories of his childhood that include his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), the love of his life, Latika (Frieda Pinto), the exploitation of children (including himself) and local Muslim warfare, while each chapter of his childhood reveals how he knows the answers.
Jamal becomes a national hero of sorts (he is the first contestant to make it to a million rupee question) overnight, as the audience is made to wait until the next day for Jamal’s final question.
Hailed as one of the best films of 2008 by critics, Boyle definitely delivers such a film. There is never a dull moment, as it moves at a swift pace with style and a thumping soundtrack.
But that does not mean that the lives of these poor children are romanticized. Basically living in their own waste (I mean litter, of course), Jamal and his brother have a daily struggle to survive after their mother is killed in a Muslim riot.
Their lives descend into begging, which quickly turns into crime, until the two brothers part ways. This is where the comparison of lifestyles kicks in, as Jamal enters the working-class, advanced world and Salim becomes a soldier for a crime boss.
Skeptics like myself will no doubt find the major flaw at work here. “Slumdog” depends greatly on the idea of destiny, in that somehow Jamal’s life seems to play out chronologically in relation to the questions on the aforementioned game show. Throughout the course of his life, Jamal and Latika meet again on several occasions, and attribute this to destiny and fate. If you find no fault in this aspect, then this might turn out to be a nearly perfect film. But again, I am a cynic, and find some complications.
With all that said, this is still an enthralling film. Boyle managed to put together an effective blend of suspense, drama, violence, social and philosophical commentary and romance. Although at its core it is a formulaic rags-to-riches romance story, “Slumdog Millionaire” has enough style and heart to make a fresh and engaging flick.
3.5 stars out of 5
José Cruz Jr. is a student at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.