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:


Saadia said...

Sounds like a must-watch.

Riaz Haq said...

The movie has just won four Golden Globe awards, including one for AR Rahman, the Mozart of Madras. It's a well deserved win.

I expect to see more awards for this year, including one or two Oscars.

Actor and social activist Gerson Da Cunha said it was "extraordinary that it takes a foreigner to make a true, inventive film about Mumbai".

I am not surprised that, instead of Bollywood, it took a foreigner Danny Boyle to make a movie that shows real Mumbai with all that it represents, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Bollywood is too busy copying Hollywood movies.

Riaz Haq said...

Ten Oscar nominations for Slumdog.

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ went down well with the jury with ten nominations including in the category of 'Best director'. Victory would mean a first Academy Award for Danny Boyle – best known for hit films ‘The Beach’ and ‘Trainspotting’.

Set in India, 'Slumdog Millionaire' tells the story of Jamal, a teenager from the streets of Mumbai, who gets rich on the hit TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’. The film also has three Oscar nominations for its music and is in the running for 'Best Film'.

How do we know said...

i mean really.. where DID the Hindu Muslim angle come in AGAIN? I feel like shooting (and not with a camera) the Danny Boyle guy now. This is also why i was angry with the film in the first place.

In the 1930s, riots were a way of life in India. THen partition happened and we all saw the real holocaust that can be caused by exactly this kind of exaggeration.

The India we grew up in, in the 80s and 90s, was relatively quiet on the riots front. Today, i feel like we are back in the 1920s and 1930s. PLEASE do NOT associate this movie with religion of any kind. Its a bloody entertainer thats all. And the book doesnt even have a character called Jamaal. OR the riots OR the orphaning. The book is also a much better entertainer, with lots more episodes and lots better episodes of life.

Yes, riots are a way of life for us, as is communal strife. Yes, some of us revel in it and some of us hate it. But SDM is NOT a realistic representation of what happens in a riot, or after that. There are other things that communicate that aspect. Better and more accurately, at the very least.

Anonymous said...

Interesting musings from people who try and interpret to their own benefit or detriment. SDM is an awesome flick and should be seen purely as classic filmaking in Boyle's style. The realities of Bombay where I grew up since the 60's to 80's when I left the country has not changed for the downtrodden but the same can be said for millions of any big city dwellers where the rich and poor cohabitate. Finally, it is to seen as the triumph of human spirit to live and love. And, poignantly there is a statement in the movie where Latika asks what will we live on and pat comes Jamaal's answer "Love", try living on that rather than misconstruing the wild concoction of religion, politics and economic woes of India or Pak for that matter. Jai Ho!

Riaz Haq said...


The way you describe SDM makes it sound like just another Bollywood flick. But it's not. That's the beauty of it. It shows Mumbai with all its warts and the ugly underbelly of its abject poverty alongside the obscene wealth of a few. Based on Gini coefficient, the rich-poor gap in India is the widest of all South Asian nations.

To deny that there's strong connection between religion, caste and poverty is to deny the reality of Indian society that has been borne out in all of the data, studies and reports on India, including Sachar Commission.

Boyle's no fool. He saw it for what it is and captured it well. I think India filmmakers should learn from SDM if they want to get Golden Globes or Oscars.

Anonymous said...

Hi I liked the movie, I saw india from another perspective.
im from mexico

Do you know what software Jamal, uses to call his brother? thenks


Riaz Haq said...

Here's an AP report about Mumbai slum kids attending the Academy Awards event in LA:

MUMBAI, India—The child stars of "Slumdog Millionaire" will take their first airplane trip when they attend the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The rags-to-riches story set and shot in the slums of Mumbai has been nominated for 10 Oscar awards, including best picture and best director.

All nine actors who play the three main characters in three stages of their lives will attend the Oscars, James Finn of Fox Searchlight Pictures said Friday. They include actors comfortable on the red carpet, like 18-year-old Dev Patel, who lives in London, and the glamorous Freida Pinto, 24, who has been praised in Vogue as a new style icon.

But also attending will be Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali, 9, both of whom were plucked from their homes in a Mumbai slum by director Danny Boyle and his team. The trip will be their first on an airplane and their first out of the country, relatives said.

"I'm very happy that I'm going to the Oscars," Rubina said in her home Friday, hours before she was to leave for the United States. "My friends are saying, 'your fate is so good.'"

"I'm not scared," said Rubina, who will be traveling with her uncle. "I'm going to go and take a lot of pictures and show them to people over here."

She planned to go shopping Friday afternoon for a dress to wear to the ceremony.

Rubina's uncle, Mohidden Khan, 40, laughed when he was asked what he would wear on the red carpet.

Will these kids steal the limelight from the big glamorous Hollywood elite? I certainly hope so.

Here is the entire report.

Anonymous said...

Muslims in India are poor because most of the upper and middle class migrated to Pakistan. For most of us India,the protagonist just happen to be muslims in the movie. I dont think it was ever intended to be about how minorities are treated in India.Pls do remember that there are more muslims in India than in Pakistan. Nevertheless, for all of us in Chennnai its a happy moment as Rehman has belatedly been acknowldeged by the west. People who think SDM is good should listen to the soundtrack of Dil Se.

plesta said...

I agree with you it is really great movie. So sorry that I can't watch Slumdog Millionaire on Youtube :( And I had to download it. Link for everyone who didn't watch Slumdog Millionaire

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a BBC report of an unfortunate fire at the home Slumdog child star Rubia Ali:

The child actress lost most of her awards in the raging fire in Mumbai

Indian child actress Rubina Ali, who acted in Slumdog Millionaire, says she has lost precious souvenirs of the 2008 Oscar-winning film in a fire.

The blaze late on Friday ravaged her home and scores of others in the Garib Nagar slum, near Mumbai's Bandra Railway Station.

Nobody was killed in the fire but 21 people were injured and more than 2,000 were left homeless, police say.

Rubina's father said he and his family had had to run from their home.

They had been watching television when they heard shouts of a fire and ran out of their tin-roofed shanty, he told the Associated Press news agency by telephone.

"We just grabbed what we could and dashed out," Rafiq Ali said.

"The fire spread so fast we couldn't get back in."

Rubina said she had lost all her awards and her collection of newspaper clippings and photographs from the success of the 2008 film.

"It's all gone, even my best clothes, everything," she told AP.

She added that the family had yet to move into a new apartment paid for by a trust set up by the film's director, Danny Boyle.

Rubina was eight when she played the role of the young Latika in Boyle's film, and her journey from the slum to the Oscar stage made international headlines

Riaz Haq said...

Here are some excerpts of BBC's Soutik Biswas's review of Pulitzer-winning New Yorker reporter Katherine Boo's "Beautiful Forevers":

"We try so many things," a girl in Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai tells Katherine Boo, "but the world doesn't move in our favour".

Annawadi is a "sumpy plug of slum" in the biggest city - "a place of festering grievance and ambient envy" - of a country which holds a third of the world's poor. It is where the Pulitzer prize winning New Yorker journalist Boo's first book Behind the Beautiful Forevers is located.

Annawadi is where more than 3,000 people have squatted on land belonging to the local airport and live "packed into, or on top of" 335 huts. It is a place "magnificently positioned for a trafficker in rich's people's garbage", where the New India collides with the Old.

Nobody in Annawadi is considered poor by India's official benchmarks. The residents are among the 100 million Indians freed from poverty since 1991, when India embarked on liberalising its economy.
She used more than 3,000 public records, many obtained using India's right to information law, to validate her narrative, written in assured reported speech. The account of the hours leading to the self-immolation of Fatima Sheikh derives from repeated interviews of 168 people as well as police, hospital, morgue and court records. Mindful of the risk of over interpretation, the books wears its enormous research lightly.
The local councillor runs fake schools, doctors at free government hospitals and policemen extort the poor with faint promise of life and justice, and self-help groups operate as loan sharks for the poorest. The young in Annawadi drop dead like flies - run over by traffic, knifed by rival gangs, laid low by disease; while the elders - not much older - die anyway. Girls prefer a certain brand of rat poison to end their lives.
Boo has an interesting take on corruption, rife in societies like India's. Corruption is seen as blocking India's global ambitions. But, she writes, for the "poor of a country where corruption thieved a great deal of opportunity, corruption was one of the genuine opportunities that remained".

On the other hand, Boo believes, corruption stymies our moral universe more than economic possibility. Suffering, she writes, "can sabotage innate capacities for moral action". In a capricious world of corrupt governments and ruthless markets the idea of a mutually supportive community is a myth: it is "blisteringly hard", she writes, to be good in such conditions. "If the house is crooked and crumbling", Boo writes, "and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?

Riaz Haq said...

Here's piece on a Muslim-dominated Mumbai slum:

Dhobi Ghat, a slum area with a majority of Muslim population, is situated on the bank of River Yamuna, near Batla House in Jamia Nagar of New Delhi. Dhobi Ghat has around 150 families, mostly deprived and poor, surviving with low literacy rate, malnutrition, hunger and lack of sanitation, says Ravi Nitesh, Petroleum Engineer by profession, Founder, Mission Bhartiyam and Core Member, Save Sharmila Solidarity Campaign. Nitesh’s report reveals as to how government and civil society are insensitive towards slums in Delhi and how people are facing problems even for water in their daily life. The report also highlights lack of community participation. “If the people who are residing in nearby area start a dialogue through support and help of these slum people for providing them better living condition, it can become an example for an ideal community participation for all,” argues Nitesh who is also Member,KhudaiKhidmatgar -- Editor.

Khudai Khidmatgar had organized a youth camp under the guidance of social activist Faisal Khan, with its objective of ‘service of God’ for the families of dhobi ghat. There were 20 volunteers in this campaign. I was one of them to experience the ground conditions of this area.

One of the most shocking facts discovered was that no civil society group/ government officials had ever visited them, even though this area is in the capital city and is situated near Jamia Nagar. How is it possible that NGOs who get crores of rupees to work in slum , to eradicate poverty, to fight with malnutrition, to raise voices for rights, to campaign for education etc; have never visited this area, I wondered.

My report here is dedicated to those people, with the hope that their condition will become better gradually through joint efforts of the government, civil society and Community participation.

In my first sight of this area, I saw children playing, not with modern era toys, but with plastic bags immersed in waste, garbage of river etc.

I met Md. Jais, the only school going boy among the 12 families that I had met. I asked him why he was going to school and what does he want to become when he grows up. His reply was unexpected. He smiled…‘’doctor’’ he replied, in a low pitch. Probably he thought that his desire would be seen as a joke. He was so dirty with his clothes, but probably so fresh in mind, he was so unhygienic in physical condition, but so pure from heart. His mother proudly smiled with a pain. The pain was her foresight by which she was almost sure in her heart about the future of her child. Her heart was breaking in parts at the same moment… she was thinking that her child will not become a doctor due to her poverty, at the same time, another part of the heart believe in God, then again the man of her heart tells that even if God will not want, she will make it happen through her hard labor; another moment she again became dependent on people around her to support her, and then some more and more thoughts…. Now, My voice probably vibrated in her ears because I was in front of her, but she was unaware about my presence, she was in her own thoughts and was busy with listening the sounds of her breaking hearts… but I interrupted (and it helped in stopping the breaking heart in parts).