A lot of superlatives have been bandied about when it comes to Danny Boyle’s latest film, Slumdog Millionaire. People are going about declaring it ‘the feel-good film of the decade,’ and other such clichéd statements. All this does is highlight how little these people know about film. Certainly, Slumdog Millionaire has it’s moments that are uplifting. But it also has some pretty grim and depressing moments. After all, it is a film whose central characters grow up in abject poverty.
Jamal and Salik are two brothers who live in the slums of Mumbai. They spend their days living amongst the poverty of their city. They don’t go to school, but pass the time getting into adventures amongst the rubbish tips of the city, being chased by police for playing cricket on an airfield and generally getting into as much mischief as two young boys can. After their mother is killed in a riot, the boys are left alone. They meet Latika, a young girl who is also alone. We see Jamal as an older boy. He is a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Jamal has made it all the way to the final question, relying on knowledge he has acquired during his life on the streets. But as the final question awaits Jamal’s answer, questions as to whether he has cheated are raised. Jamal has one goal. To find Latika who he has lost contact with due to unfortunate circumstances.
Slumdog Millionaire has garnered praise from nearly all corners of the globe. And rightfully so. It’s a brilliant film. Director Danny Boyle is one of those rare directors who can handle both big budget movies, such as Sunshine, and smaller-budget character driven stories. The screenplay is written by Simon Beaufoy, who was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay, The Full Monty. As with The Full Monty, Beaufoy is able to craft a screenplay that mixes darker elements with uplifting themes. He once again successfully merges these elements in Slumdog Millionaire.
One of the best elements of the film is the performances Danny Boyle has gotten from his cast. Many of the young actors are first-timers, but you wouldn’t guess that from the brilliant performances from the children. They have grown up in Mumbai, and that has just benefited their acting. Because of the troubles Boyle experienced using a British crew when shooting The Beach in Thailand, the director chose to use local talent to shoot the film. The crew were used to working on Bollywood films, and this experience shows throughout the film. Boyle chose to shoot the slum scenes in the slums of Mumbai rather than on constructed sets, as suggested by the crew. And it’s this attention to detail that adds to the realism of a film that is otherwise fantastical and a little melodramatic.
As mentioned, the film has been bandied about as the feel-good film of the decade. This is a rather incorrect statement. There are some very dark moments in the film. Moments that may make some viewers uncomfortable. It’s not that these moments are unrealistic. But they reflect a side of the slums that (as far as my limited knowledge tells me) is an unfortunate side of poverty. That’s not to say you’ll walk away from the film depressed. If it fails to put a wide grin on your face, there’s something wrong with you. It’s a highly entertaining yarn with great performances held together by lead Dev Patel. And for the first film of 2009 that I’ve seen, it bodes well for what’s ahead.