Director Danny Boyle vividly captures angst, energy of modern-day India
Film review by Anne Kirby
If asked on a quiz show to come up with the answer to the question, "Name a film whose name sounds like a Detroit rap band, came out of nowhere, is realizing a smashing box office success and won four Golden Globe awards," you would undoubtedly get the correct answer.
Director Danny Boyle is not afraid to journey beyond the edges of society to explore the darker elements of human survival and spirit that exist outside the mainstream. He is also known to spare no emotion as he presents the less appealing and grimmer details of life.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is director Danny Boyle's latest and perhaps greatest visual creation that it is creeping into the minds and hearts of audiences around the world at a shocking rate. It is especially appealing to Americans who view the film with the same kind of intensity.
If you know anything about "Trainspotting," an earlier film made by Boyle, you know that he is not afraid to journey beyond the edges of society to explore the darker elements of human survival and spirit that exist outside the mainstream. He is also known to spare no emotion as he presents the less appealing and grimmer details of life.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is a refreshingly different and uplifting picture. Shot in its actual setting of Mumbai, India, the setting realistically portrays present-day India as a mixture of colorful, teeming slums existing within the brighter silvery colors of the growing number of high-rise buildings popping up through urban landscape.
With names like Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Freida Pinto, the Indian actors who compose the little-known cast speak perfect English. Their acting reveals a natural freshness that resonates with the spontaneity of a high-spirited octane that explodes onto the screen through a fusion of negative and positive ionic energies that create sheer entertainment and stunning performances.
Police torture the hero, who is suspected of cheating
The film opens ominously with a close-up picturing a heated stream of breath emanating from the mouth of a hard-nosed police interrogator.
Spewing harsh words and taunting insults, he torments his victim - a clean-cut 18-year-old male named Jamal, played by Patel - who is accused of cheating.
Jamal, it turns out, is scant hours away from answering the final quiz show question that could make him India's newest "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" hero.
But first he must duck the trumped-up charges laid against him by the slick quiz show host, played by Kapoor, who refuses to believe that an uneducated street child could possibly come up with the answers to the quiz show questions on his own.
Jamal, weakened by electrical shocks, wittingly maintains his composure as he tenaciously defends his story that he acquired his answers coincidentally through experience that he and his older brother Salim gained while growing up and out of the Mumbai slums.
With slight affectations and subtle hints suggesting he is not wholly in the game for the money, Jamal secures his release in the nick of time to answer the final quiz show question.
Leaving the final quiz show question unanswered is Boyle's brilliant way of bringing the audience into grips with the excitement, anxiety and tension that surrounds Jamal's climactic moment as a finalist on quiz show television.
But the bulk of the film's emotion arises as Jamal plumbs his past through a series of flashbacks. Triggered by each of the 10 quiz show questions, his flashbacks vividly describe the riveting and bizarre events recreating the rags-to-riches story of Jamal and and his older brother, Salim, played as an adult by Madhur Mittal.
Throughout the film, Boyle personifies India as a strong and emerging power player in a high-stakes international game of capitalism. His focal point, however, is the darker underbelly of India, which is rife with gangsters, opportunists and upwardly mobile Indians who seek security yet face uncertainty.
Brothers are miniature versions of James Bond
This is the world into which Jamal and Kamal are catapulted as young boys after they witness the brutal killing of their mother through the hands of vicious anti-Muslims. Their lives are dramatically sent hurtling in another direction.
Left to fend for themselves, the boys prove to be capable survivors. Like smaller versions of James Bond, they beg, borrow and steer their way through towering odds and circumstances that provide them with the knowledge of how, when and what to say to get what they need.
Over time, this schooling works.
With instincts of steel, Salim discovers that he and his brother are victims of a set-up run by a cunning and evil thug who positions himself like Fagan from Charles Dickens lore.
Salim witnesses a pouring of acid onto the faces of other less suspecting children, and learns that the acid is followed by an even worse act in which the children's eyes are plucked out with spoons.
Realizing the men's plan - that blind little beggars make more money - Kamal quickly rounds up his brother and Lakita, an orphan girl with whom Jamal is deeply in love.
As the three escape the men's camp, they outrun the thugs who follow closely behind. But while jumping onto a moving train, Lakita for no apparent reason drops Jamal's helping hand and falls back into the hands of the thugs.
Jamal cannot emotionally let go of Lakita, and he grows innocent through his love of her, obsessively searching to find her. Salim, however, evolves in an opposite and unemotional direction. Through his role as Jamal's protector, Salim begins trading on his slumdog survival experiences. He reaches the harsh realization that the only way he can survive, and live freely, is through the trigger of a gun.
As he rises up through thug-infested real estate deals, Salim acquires money and power.
Ironically, he also acquires Lakita. Previously rescued by Jamal, she sacrifices his love to obtain a better lot in life, perhaps fearing the odds of her survival.
Through the two differing paths that Kamal and Jamal take, we glimpse Lakita through cracks in the film that reveal her position in the middle of the road. While she flounders from man to man unable to get a grip on her life, Jamal's final appearance brings her as well as Salim back together again.
The juxtaposition of the three main characters builds tension and fuels the film's climax with emotional intensity. Their lives, once again woven together like a strand of DNA, brings about the film's shocking ending, where the destinies of all three untwine as Jamal breaks through his flashbacks into the present to discover his destiny.