Danny Boyle's “Slumdog Millionaire” is a life-affirming, emotional roller-coaster of a fairy tale, filmed with such ferocity and virtuosity that it will leave you, quite frankly, breathless at its beauty. The plot is straight out of Dickens, yet told in a fashion that feels as new as the last breath you took.
Jamal (Dev Patel) is a poor Indian boy who has grown up in the slums of Mumbai: a slumdog. After managing to become a contestant on an Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”, he defies the odds as he pushes closer and closer toward the top of the million-dollar heap. He's not a genius, not particularly educated at all. But nevertheless, he has each answer -- because each question relates to the traumatic or dramatic moments of his life.
As we follow him back through these moments, we meet Jamal's older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and the love of Jamal's life, Latika (Freida Pinto). There are many more, but much like Dickens's, they are too numerous to mention -- though their roles are equally crucial to the the movie.
Boyle and co-director Loveleen Tandan show you the whole beautiful, miserable mess that is India, boils and all. The effect is a dizzying visual poem of that nation and its people. All in all, a true cinematic feat of joy, longing, regret and the magic of that lofty idea of true love.
It is written, after all.
For me, the beauty of "Slumdog Millionaire" is in how well the story and the characters and the world are woven together into one beautiful, continuous tapestry of love, struggle and the unbearable condition that is human life.
Fancy words aside, I was pleasantly surprised by the actors (and actress) playing Jamal, Salim and Latika from youth to adulthood. Normally, children -- with their minute stature, greasy hands and banshees' wail -- are to be avoided at all costs... in film. Or retail.
Anyway: Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubiana Ali steal your heart as the youngest Jamal, Salim and Latika, respectively. From the brothers' bittersweet first meeting with Latika, through the growing bonds of friendship and on to their tragic separation, they pull you into their world and simultaneously beat the living guts out of foolish, lesser child-actors... figuratively speaking, of course.
This leads us to Tanay Chheda, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar as the teen-years trio, and to describe what these characters go through in their reunion, which is any way but what you expect, would be a crime to those yet to see it.
And while I'm playing the name-game, I'd like to throw an honorable mention up to Anil Kapoor, who portrays gameshow host Prem Kumar -- imagine a parallel universe where Regis Philbin is Indian, and slightly more sinister, and you wind up with a surprisingly accurate picture of his performance... but I mean that in the nicest way.
Beyond gushing accolades on the acting and directing, it's important to note the appearance of M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" on the soundtrack. I dig that song. She's also featured in an original piece by the film's composer, A. R. Rahman. So if you're a fellow M.I.A. fan, that's another little treat for you in what I could only describe as a holiday-huge meal of a movie... only no matter how much you eat, you never get full or throw up. Fantastic.
So, yeah -- see "Slumdog Millionaire."
5 / 5
And don't you dare miss the credits.
January 15, 2009