Saturday, November 29, 2008
Mumbai's Slumdog Millionaire
Based on Simon Beaufoy's screenplay adapted from a Vikas Swarup's novel, Slumdog Millionaire is a well-made movie by a British director Danny Boyle. The early part of it reminds me of Dickens' Oliver Twist. But that impression quickly changes as the story develops into more than an orphan's treatment and the tyranny of class differences.
The story revolves around the lives of two slum-dwelling Muslim brothers who lose their mother at a very young age when she is struck and killed by Hindu fanatics in an attack on a sprawling Mumbai slum. The brothers grow up while traveling across India and return to Mumbai when Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel) insists on finding his childhood friend Latika (played by Freida Pinto). Upon his return, Jamal finds a job serving tea at a call center where he gets a chance to become a contestant and ends up winning millions of rupees in a TV quiz show "Kaun Banega Crorepati". The quiz show host Prem Kumar (played by Anil Kapoor) repeatedly ridicules Jamal as an illiterate chaiwalla and tries to mislead him to give wrong answers in a private encounter. When Jamal continues to make progress toward the big prize of twenty million rupees, the host turns him into the police on suspicion of cheating.
The opening scenes show Jamal Malik being interrogated and tortured by Mumbai police to confess to cheating in an Indian TV quiz show based on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire". Its a story of survival of the two brothers Saleem and Jamal Malik. In explaining to the police inspector (played by Irfan Khan) on how he got the answers to the quiz questions, Jamal tells the story in flashbacks that takes the two brothers across India as they escape an Indian Fagin who takes in homeless kids, cripples them and forces them to beg on the streets of Mumbai for his own profit.
Slumdog Millionaire is a boy-meets-girl story. But it is far more than that. It's a story of how a poor young person can survive and be educated by living life traveling, even winning big quiz competitions, without formal schooling. A sort of Forrest Gump story set in India. At its core, it is a social commentary on the treatment of the poor and the minorities in India. For those curious about how it ends, it does have a happy ending.
Boyle and A.R. Rahman have included M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" from early on in production on the musical score, which appears along with an original track Rahman composed, "O...Saya," featuring Arulpragasam, daughter of a Tamil activist from Sri Lanka. M.I.A., who Rahman described as a "powerhouse" and Boyle hailed as "a gift" to the soundtrack gave brief film notes on some scenes to Boyle upon request during editing.
Talking about his experiences during production in Mumbai, Boyle described in an interview on NPR radio how thousands of people gathered every time he started shooting the film on the streets. Permits were delayed, then granted in the nick of time. "Large sacks of cash" funneled through the intermediaries did the trick each time.
The movie beautifully captures the lives of slum children of Mumbai in general, and the dangers and discrimination faced by Indian Muslims in particular. It is a movie worth watching at least once.
Here's a clip of the movie trailer: