Tuesday, August 02, 2011

#170: Slumdog Millionaire

To it's credit or misfortune by the time Slumdog Millionaire arrived in India, we were in awe of what might unfold on the big screen. One had heard so much about this story of hope and the music that it was hard to not step into a theater thinking that we were about to witness something momentous. Simon Beaufoy's adapted screenplay from Vikas Swarup's Q&A traces the story of a chai wallah Jamaal Malik (Dev Patel) from his childhood till the time he gets on the hot seat of the quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati. Vikas Swarup's story has an edgy fast-paced storyline and if anything, more than the actors, the direction, editing, cinematography ( the last three being departments the film won Academy Awards for) it is the story which is the hero in Slumdog Millionaire for me.

Now, it is highly unlikely that a guy like Jamaal who has barely received any more than elementary education will participate in a quiz show of the highest standards and win 2 crores. But if he does and if that is attributed to the fact that he was destined to win it - you can't question it, can you? So when I say the story is fantastic, it is not so much about what happens in the movie or book but how the respective mediums entrust the improbable occurences in the movie to a simple explanation of fate. 'It is written' as the movie suggests in the very beginning itself- becomes an underlying motif for the on-screen action. The movie also scores highly in it's technical departments and the thorough research done by the filmmakers did make it seem like a home-grown production. In certain circles, depiction of the slum children in poor light has been criticized but there's no doubting that the opening sequences are very well shot and are the stand-out portions of the movie. Anthony Dod Mantle's filming gives it a very gritty look. Major portions of the movie were shot digitally and marks to the DOP team for that 'look' which ironically is as much about grimness as about hope.

Jamaal's childhood was spent around two other key characters- his childhood sweetheart, Latika (Frieda Pinto) and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal). Each of these characters' respective child versions ( Ayush Khedekar, Rubina Ali, Mohammed Azharuddin) bring in a lot of innocent yet mischievous energy that keeps coming at you during the first thirty minutes of the movie. What wasn't so impressive were the adult versions of these respective characters. By that time, it is only the story one is interested in. A strong cameo by badass game-show host Anil Kapoor keeps you hooked towards climax but the elder brother's sudden awakening didn't quite pass muster, neither did a typical Bollywood boy-meets-girl-to-live-happily-ever-after sequence in the end. Both are loose ends that leave you a bit dissatisfied. A word on the music in the movie is that any A.R. Rahman fan will tell you that Jai Ho was hardly his best work but the background score sure made the action more riveting. Let me also tell you how bad perhaps Rahman himself thought the song was. As per IMDB, Jai Ho was composed for Yuvvraj but since Subhash Ghai didn't see it fitting in, he turned it down. Now pray tell me, would Jai Ho been as successful if it were retained by Subhash Ghai ?

As to how an average movie like Slumdog Millionaire could sweep everyone off their feet in the west is still a matter of intrigue to me. In my circle of friends, most of them thought this was an overrated piece of cinema. And we would aver so, without this even carrying the weight of expectations that it bore when it came to India. We don't know how and why it got so big and in that probably lies the movie's biggest trick- that 'it was written'.

Rating: 6.4/10

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