If there’s any film that was the underdog at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, it was Danny Boyle’s spectacular Slumdog Millionaire. When it arrived, most thought it would be interesting because of Boyle’s great track record, but nobody expected the film to literally bridge cultural gaps between North America and India, creating a beautiful cinematic experience. It’s for this reason that almost a month after seeing the film I can simply close my eyes and re-live the entire two hours of a movie-goers ecstasy. Each and every emotion I felt during the duration of the film comes flooding back and I feel obligated to gush about what a joyride it was.
With a fresh cast comprising of several awe-inspiring children, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Bollywood bigwigs Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, Slumdog Millionaire convinces you that maybe, just maybe, despite all its flaws, this world is a beautiful place.
Based on Vikas Swarup’s novel ‘Q & A’, the film opens with a scrawny teenager, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) in a prison, being beaten by police officers. We soon discover that after appearing on the Indian version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ Jamal was thrown behind bars because authorities questioned how a kid from the slums could manage to make his way to the million-dollar question. As he speaks with the police inspector (Irrfan Khan), Jamal takes us back in time to his childhood on the streets. It is from this instant that the movie becomes magical, as we become emotionally acquainted with the lives of two young and mischievous brothers who struggle to survive on the streets of Mumbai. Through little instances like running through a pile of poo in order to get the autograph of Amitabh Bachchan, you begin to fall in love with these children, and subsequently, the characters. As the story unfolds, we begin to realize that Jamal’s mission on the television show is not quite about the money – in fact, there is a youthful and honest romance with childhood sweetheart Latika (Freida Pinto) that needs to be salvaged.
The way the story slowly unfolds is absolutely thrilling. The fast-paced nature of the film, echoing the fast-paced Mumbai lifestyle works in its favour because you never once bother to check your watch and see how much time has gone by. In fact, as the story progresses, you begin to realize that it’s not only a coming of age story, but a film with several layers that ultimately aims to project the positive side of life. A subject like children growing up in slums can easily become depressing, but the writer and director of Slumdog have crafted their script so well that there is never a burden of weighty emotions hanging over your head. Though there are several dark moments in the film, at the end of the day it is a statement on the power of love and the human spirit.
The best part about it is that no matter where you are from in the world, you will fall in love with this film. It has something for everyone; the art-cinema lovers, commercial film buffs and even those Bollywood maniacs who need at least one song in their films (don’t leave after the credits!).
Technically, the film is a masterpiece, with a brilliant background score, great cinematography and fantastic music by none other than musical legend A.R. Rahman. Along with Danny Boyle and co-director Loveleen Tandan, credit must go to writer Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty, Blow Dry) who manages to turn a potentially disturbing issue into an inspiring film that makes you believe in the world once again.
Most of the cast is relatively new, yet they perform like pros. Dev Patel, who plays a role in the UK program Skins, is absolutely brilliant in a role that seems made for him. He doesn’t falter even once, even though he’s the central character of the film. Freida Pinto emerges in the second half, and comes as a breath of fresh air at a time when heroines are strutting around in mini-skirts. This is her very first film, and I can safely say that she has a bright future ahead of her, internationally and in India. Anil Kapoor goes over the top, but his character requires this larger than life persona and he delivers. Irrfan Khan is, as usual, very dependable. Also, the actor who played Salim (Jamal’s brother), delivers a power-packed performance with great gusto. However, it’s the younger versions of the characters (Jamal, Salim and Latika) who get most of the screen time in the first half and take this film from great to extraordinary. You can see the innocence in each of their tiny eyes, which makes them unbelievable endearing.
In each and every frame, it’s clear that the cast and crew of the film completely embraced India and its culture, or it would be impossible to create such a film that resonates on wavelengths around the world. It’s a story of loss of innocence, family relationships, unrequited love and the triumph of mankind all woven into an energetic, colourful film that portrays India for what it is but never once gets preachy or condescending.
After winning the Cadillac People’s Choice Award at TIFF this year (the biggest award at the festival), I can guarantee that once this film opens, it will storm the box office like most would never expect. This film is a winner in all respects – it’s exciting, fun but above all it’s an incredibly moving account of a boy who fights to find a place in an extremely competitive society. In fact, the film moves you on so many levels that when the cast comes together for a dance to Rahman’s brilliant track at the end of the film, you desperately want to stand up and join in. The bottom line of the film is to dream big and keep fighting – Slumdog Millionaire certainly did, and the stunning result is for all to see.