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Slumdog Millionaire movie review

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Slumdog Millionaire

Cast Mia Drake, Imran Hasny, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan    more...
Director Danny Boyle
Romance / Comedy / Drama

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The Slumdog Millionaire Movie Review

Jai Ho, Slumdog!
By Naresh Kumar Deoshi
Rating: 4/5

Question: How convincingly and credibly can a British director make a film that's set right in the underbelly of aamchi Mumbai - with its slums and squalor - and yet tell a life-affirming, buoyant tale with a universal appeal?

Options: (a) Not a chance in hell. (b) It's a fluke (c) He's a cheat. Someone ghost-directed. (d) The guy deserves an Oscar.

Saving the answer for the last, let it be said at the outset that Slumdog Millionaire is a kind of movie that is made only once in a while. It requires more than just an accomplished director to tell a story that cuts through cultural barriers while still being rooted in the grime and crime of Mumbai's netherworld that lies in the shade of the symbols of India Shining - the skyscrapers and malls. It takes more than just a good ensemble cast to make a film like 'Slumdog Millionaire' work. Everything has to fall in place - the script, screenplay, direction, acting, music, editing - in sync with each other to have a movie as frisky, stark, shocking and uplifting as 'Slumdog Millionaire'. It doesn't happen often. May be it's the stuff of destiny.

That's also what the film's story is about. An uneducated chaiwala ( Dev Patel ) at a call centre is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'. How did he manage to answer all the questions correctly? Is he a cheat? Well, the show's host ( Anil Kapoor ) and a local cop ( Irrfan Khan ) certainly think so. But may be he's not. May be everything that happened in this slumdog's life somehow conspired to bring him to the hot-seat of the television show where he would know almost all - if not all - the answers!

As we are given flashbacks into the life of the protagonist Jamaal (Dev Patel), we are taken into Mumbai's underbelly where he grew as a kid with his elder brother Salim and a girl named Lathika.

Orphaned as kids, the three impoverished musketeers of this story have to survive the big bad world of Mumbai. It's a world where goons take kids under their wing and gouge out their eyes to make them beg on the streets. It's a world where orphaned girls end up in brothels or as some ganglord's mistress. It's a world where young teens take to theft and killing because there's none but criminals to guide them. It's a world that Jamaal grew in and out of, but his brother Salim and love Lathika could not.

Against the backdrop of this filth and squalor unfolds a beautiful love story, a story where a guy does the impossible just to find the girl he loves, and in the process wins a few millions as bonus.

Right from the opening reels, 'Slumdog Millionaire' unspools at feverish pace as Simon Beaufoy's superbly crafted screenplay - adapted from Vikas Swarup's book 'Q&A' - takes us into the innards of a Mumbai slum. Unflinchingly, the movie mirrors some stark realities that few Indian filmmakers have dared to tell - the killing of Muslims by a rioting mob, the brothels that thrive in the by-lanes of Mumbai, the greedy and cold-blooded gangsters who maim and blind little kids, and the cops who torture the suspects in custody. Yet, against this shocking reality there's something that jars. That's the film's English dialogues. Danny Boyle and Beaufoy have stuck to English, rather than Hindi dialogues for the most part of the film, despite the fact that you would hardly find an uneducated slumkid or a chaiwala in India who speaks English fluently. But why Boyle and Beaufoy did so is understandable. They were making a film for the international audience. If not for this cinematic liberty, the movie would not have cut across the cultural fault-lines as it does now.

The performances in the film are topnotch, right from the kids Ayush Khedekar (as the kid Jamaal) and Azharuddin Ismail (the kid Salim) to Dev Patel (grown up Jamaal) and Freida Pinto (Lathika). Patel, who gets maximum screentime, is quite a find. With conviction he switches from a vulnerable contestant in the hot seat to a confident guy who dodges the trap laid by the game show's host and even puts all his money on the line on the final question, all for the sake of love.

Anil Kapoor as the deriding host, Irrfan Khan as the empathetic cop and Saurabh Shukla as the cussing constable deliver upto the mark.

'Slumdog Millionaire' would not have been the same without A R Rahman 's gritty, grungy and extraordinary score that literally breathes life into the movie's frames - be it 'Paper Planes' when the kid Jamaal and his brothers sell candies in train, or the raunchy 'Ring Ring Ringa' when the brothers (as teens) visit the red light area.

There are some brilliantly executed sequences in 'Slumdog Millionaire' that prove Boyle's mettle as a director. The kid Jamaal, locked in a makeshift toilet, jumps into a shit-hole just to get the autograph of his favourite filmstar. Or when the grown up brothers meet again on an under-construction building. Or the exhilarating finale when Jamaal doesn't know the answer to the question that's ironically the most personal to him. After all the suspense and drama, the movie leaves you in an ecstatic mood with Rahman's 'Jai Ho' (a dash of Bollywood song and dance in the end) and sends you home with a bounce in your walk and smile on your face.

As for how good Boyle is in 'Slumdog', the answer is -

(d) The guy deserves an Oscar.

And this movie, too.

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