Sunday, December 21, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire

With all the new movies coming out this past weekend, nothing looked worthwhile. It was a down weekend for Premieres. Most of the mainstream movies were tracking three stars...the same for the Independent movies near me. I thought about Syndoche, New York or Happy Go Lucky, but they were both hitting three stars as well. I checked an Independent theater a little further from my house and saw Slumdog Millionaire which I had not heard of. A quick search of several movie websites (including Epinions) revealed nothing less than five stars. With raving reviews everywhere I looked, my mind was easily made up. What would we do without the internet?

Slumdog Millionaire tells a story of star-crossed lovers whose destinies are intertwined. It also tells the story of two brothers who love each other, but see the world through the eyes of opportunists. As young boys they are orphaned, leaving them to fend for themselves in the trash heaps of Mumbai. The older boy, Salim Malik (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and Madhur Mittal) takes on the role of protector at a very young age, often taking advantage of his more trusting younger brother Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda and Dev Patel). The boys were portrayed during three stages of their lives (the actors being listed from youngest to oldest).

After their mother is murdered, the boys are forced to fend for themselves. The two boys fashion themselves to be two of the three muskateers (names given to them by their teacher for their early antics). Jamal notices young girl caught in the rain while he and his brother have found shelter. Malik tells the girl to go away, but Jamal convinces his brother to allow her into their shelter. The three have guaranteed their destiny. Through a series of life stories, Jamal ends up on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He has risen from a lowly slumdog to the position of Chai Wallah at a telephone company. His job is to bring chai tea around to workers. His sharp intelligence and quick wit makes him very popular amongst his friends at the company.

Jamal's knowledge of individual bits of trivia put him in a position to land himself on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He doesn't do it for the money. He does it in order to find his lost love, Latika (Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar and Freida Pinto). Destiny finds Jamal in the form of questions asked on the show. Every question is a story on Jamal's life journey. And through the questions, we learn how Jamal has come to being on the program. From his very first question, which tells the story of how Jamal ended up getting an autograph covered in dung to the very last question that brings events up to the present day, we are introduced to every element that has shaped his journey. It is an amazing piece of story telling where no idea or concept is lost. The biggest question is whether the ending will be happy, tragic or both.

Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan directed this amazing piece of cinema. Taken from a novel written by Vikas Swarup, the screenplay was created by Simon Beaufoy. The writing was spectacular. The approach was fresh, incorporating elements that people can relate to anywhere in the world with distinctly Indian flavors. The characters were incredibly well developed with human traits that transcend cultural differences. The dialogue was well formulated with language that was credible. The film was shot mostly in English with some sub-titling carefully placed in lighter areas of the film with back-shading. This made it easy to track the foreign dialogue during action sequences, so nothing was lost in the story telling. An incredible plot mixed with a dash of comedy made for an amazing story. It was gripping until the credits started rolling.

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