Danny Boyle’s vibrant new movie Slumdog Millionaire is fast becoming the toast of this year’s awards season. Having already played to great acclaim at a string of film festivals, including Telluride, Toronto, Chicago and London, it’s now generating considerable buzz as the film to watch out for at the forthcoming Golden Globes, Baftas and Oscars.
As all those who went to Movie Talk’s preview screening of the film in December will attest, Boyle’s movie is well worth the fuss.
Throbbing with the colour, energy and passion of contemporary India, Slumdog tells the story of Jamal Malik (played by Skins star Dev Patel), an 18-year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who is just one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
How on earth does a uneducated street kid know all the answers? That’s what the TV’s show’s slick host Prem Kumar (played by Bollywood star Anil Kapoor) would like to know and he has Jamal arrested by the police to find out. Banged up on suspicion of cheating and viciously interrogated before the show resumes, Jamal then explains to Irrfan Khan’s sceptical cop just how he has accumulated the pertinent knowledge. Each question he has answered so far in the quiz is linked to a crucial episode in his life, from his early years in the city’s teeming Dharavi slum to his present job as a chai wallah, dishing out tea in a local call centre. Strung together, Jamal’s story is a fantastic tale of impudence, pluck, resilience and quick-wittedness, underpinned by his enduring love for his long-lost childhood sweetheart, fellow orphan Latika…
A crowd-pleasing delight, Slumdog Millionaire well deserves all the accolades currently being showered on it – and so does Boyle. The movie may be based on a best selling novel by Vikas Swarup, Q&A, and adapted for the screen by Full Monty scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, yet it bears its director’s signature throughout. Those who’ve followed Boyle’s career from his 1995 debut Shallow Grave through to 28 Days Later…, Millions and Sunshine will recognise his distinctive handiwork.
Take the early scene in which the seven-year-old Jamal and his slightly older brother Malik cheekily flee from the police through the maze-like alleys of Mumbai’s slums. Fizzing with energy and high spirits, it recalls Ewan McGregor’s Renton and his druggie chums scarpering from the cops at the beginning of Boyle’s second feature film, Trainspotting (with a nod, too, at Fernando Meirelles’s City of God).
A little later on, there’s an echo of the infamous scene in which Renton plunges headfirst into a disgustingly filthy toilet bowl to retrieve two opium suppositories when the tiny Jamal jumps into a cesspit and wades through shit in order to meet his idol, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
But Slumdog Millionaire isn’t simply a reworking of Boyle’s cinematic past; the new movie has its own unique stamp, and that stamp is unmistakably Indian. As cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera zips and darts through slum alleyways and soars to the heights of Mumbai’s thrusting new skyscrapers, the vitality of modern India bursts from the screen.
Equally vivid, though, is its squalor, violence and corruption. Jamal’s journey takes in the horrors of communal riots, savage child exploitation (at one stage he falls in with a gang of Dickensian urchins and their Fagin-like controller), organised crime and police brutality. But there’s humour too, as in the sequence in which Jamal and his brother hoodwink tourists with their unofficial guided tours of the Taj Mahal. Thankfully, the movie’s bleakest moments are never overwhelming and by the end Slumdog truly deserves the epithets funny, heart-warming, feel-good fable.