From the very start of the art of cinema there has been a synergistic relationship between technology and movies. Usually this mostly impacted the way films were made but of late there has been a profound change in how films are presented to the audience. With the internet more people have the opportunity to discover little Independent gems that previously would only be known to diehard fans of the Indy or foreign film circuit. Now, there is an increased availability of these films to the general public and the major studios find they have some stiff competition on their hands. Indy films have been taking over as demonstrated by big box office and major awards for Indy darlings such as "Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Sideways’, and ‘Juno’. These humble yet brilliant movies have shown you don’t need a huge budget to make a great film. In the last Academy Awards yet another Indy swept the evening; ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ and it richly deserved every accolade and dollar it received. This movie embodies all that I wonderful about independent films; it is imaginative, artistic, and crafted with a combination of love and expert craftsmanship. The film was created on a relatively small budget of some $15 million and took in a staggering $360 million to date. More important than the financial success is the degree of excellence this film achieves. ‘Slumdog’ is the rare film that can blend numerous genres and succeed in each category. While predominately a romance the elements of mystery, drama and suspense with the perfect touch of social consciousness. There is a serious message here but it never overshadows the pure entertainment you will derive from this film.
The screenplay by Simon Beaufoy was based on the novel ‘Q & A’ by Vikas Swarup and as usually is the case there were some rather significant changes made to accommodate the new medium. What is retained is the vast heart of the story which touches the viewer but never crosses the line to the melodramatic. Beaufoy has some experience with desperate, poor characters; his last big hit was Full Monty, which was concerned with the extremes an unemployed man will endure to provide for his family. Like that movie this one takes a simple, human story and projects it into a setting that juxtaposes cut throat world of television with a community subject to subject poverty that is poorest areas in the world. The writing is impeccable, weaving a strong narrative that draws in the viewer holding on till well after the closing credits. of all the aspects that set this film above the pact the most effective is how the film reinvents the underdog tale. Most people will readily cheer on the lamentable protagonist fighting against all odds. In a time like we are currently in where the global economy is in ruins due in s large part to corporate and personal greed a story like this that has a poor man find fame, fortune and an opportunity to reconnect with his true love, you cannot help but to be engrossed and emotionally captivated.
The hero of the story, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) has spent his life in the dank slums of western Mumbai in India. With such a background there was little if any opportunity for a formal education. Like all his neighbors Jamal was forced to scrape out a meager living from an early age. As a child he spent time in an orphanage with deployable quality until he falls under the influence of Maman (Ankur Vikal), a Fagan like criminal who uses children as beggars targeting tourists at the Taj Mahal. Without a doubt the brightest part of Jamal’s life is his best friend and ultimate love interest Latika (Rubina Ali). Along with Jamal’s older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal the trio fashion themselves as the Three Musketeers although they only knew the names of Athos and Porthos. Life would not remain uneventful for the friends, with Salim murdering Maman to save Latika from a life as a prostitute and eventually becoming a henchman for a rival crime boss, although they part ways circumstances always seems to push them back together. Much of the story is told through flashbacks from Jamal’s perspective but even a potentially hackney device like this comes across as fresh in the hands of the director Danny Boyle and his counterpart in India Loveleen Tandan. The initiating event for the story happens when Jamal manages to become a contestant on a popular television game show based on the American hit ‘ Who Wants to be s Millionaire.’ Against all expectations Jamal correctly answers one question after another until he is one question away from the grand prize, when he comes under suspicion of cheating. The show’s producers wanted to avoid the huge payoff and this offered a convent way out. Formal charges are leveled against Jamal and he is brutally interrogated by a police detective. One of the best aspects of the film is how the flashbacks instigated by the interrogation reveal how random experiences in Jamal’s life lead him to getting the show’s questions correct. Sure, it sounds incredibly contrived and I suppose it is but within the context as laid out here it works extremely well. It comes across as a mystery unfolding revealing just how a man with little formal education. Many people with better education have tried this show and failed to reach the level achieved by Jamal so the police believed they had a case.
The fundamental stylistic choices employed here are brilliant. The approach is fresh and imaginative providing one of the most satisfying films I have seen in a long while. Films like this typically come around just when society is experiencing difficult times. With the economy at the lowest levels in several decades audiences need a good old fashion feel good flick and this one certainly delivers. It is also far more than a light distraction; it tackles social issues that make some of our problems pale in comparison helping us here in the States to feel better about our own troubles. The film ends with a Bollywood inspired dance number, the Oscar winning best song,’ ‘Jai Ho’. The film employs the talents of some children from the actual Mumbai slums. This not only adds an amazing degree of realism to the production but it allows these young people their own way to a better life. The film is paced to near perfection always engaging the audience. One caveat though; there are sub titles. Thankfully they are presented in such a fashion that they are fun to watch. This was one of those movies that appear to come out of nowhere and dominates the award season. In this particular case the plethora of accolades are well deserved.
Fox has released this jewel of a film in both DVD and Blu-ray packed with the usual extras. There is a commentary track featuring Danny Boyle and Actor Dev Patel as well as a making of featurette and about a dozen deleted scenes. The high def version also includes a digital copy of the film. This is a life affirming movie that will quickly become a favorite.