Friday, December 19, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (Rhoades)

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Is a Winner!

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

The world is changing too fast. I grew up on Persian fairy tales, vampire legends from Transylvania, and stories about old Bombay. Now those places are known as Iran, Romania, and Mumbai, India.

Recently Mumbai was in the news, when terrorists hit the city killing nearly 200 people in various hotels and Jewish centers. Tragic.

There’s a new movie – “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was filmed in Mumbai – opening today at the Tropic Cinema.

Call it Mumbai or Bombay, the city is a large sprawling metropolis with boulevards, alleys, side streets, and slums teaming with poor. One such denizen, a young man named Jamal (played by Dev Patel) winds up on a quiz show called Kaun Benega Crorepati (the Hindu version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”), vying for its 20-million rupee grand prize.

You might ask, “How could an uneducated street urchin know the answers?”

So do the police, arresting the boy for cheating on the eve of the last question.
Therein lies the story: Jamal telling them about his life, each flashback providing one of the answers to the quiz show’s questions.

His stories cover his meeting a famous Bollywood star, the death of his mother, and taking in a young girl who becomes his life-long love. We learn how he was about to be blinded to improve his ability as a beggar, his stint as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal to set up robberies for his brother, and the street gangs that offer his brother a criminal career. Experiences that give this slumdog his winning answers.

The triangle between Jamal, the girl Latika, and his brother Salim are at the heart of the story. And the quiz show is merely a lifeline to reconnect Jamal to his lost love.
Think of Jamal as a modern-day Scheherazade, although it doesn’t take a thousand-and-and-one answers to win the 20-million rupees. Just name one of the Three Musketeers. Not so hard, that being the childhood nickname for the trio of our story. Or is it?

Based on a book called “Q&A” by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, the story was translated into a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, best known for scribing “The Full Monty” and “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.”

Director Danny Boyle has given us such diverse fare as a murder mystery (“Shallow Grave”), a druggie drama (“Trainspotting”), a children’s adventure (“Millions”), and a zombie thriller (“28 Days Later”).

“I like taking risks,” says Boyle. “If you get a chance, take a risk … sometimes it doesn’t work, but you should try.”

Given the aging of the three leads throughout the film, he used three teams of actors. But the grown-up stars are particularly noteworthy: Dev Patel (BBC’s “Skins”) won the lead over Bollywood actors, whom the director considered too much the hero type. Freida Pinto was an Indian model who had never acted before. And Madhur Mittal got into acting after winning “Boogie-Woogie,” a popular Indian reality-TV dance contest.

Danny Boyle had never been to India before making this film, although his dad had been stationed in Bombay during the war.

“Mumbai, like New York, grabs you by the throat and says ‘You’ll never be the same again,’” Boyle observes. “There’s such energy, lots of poverty but none of it abject. Everybody is trying to move forward toward happiness.”

The film reflects the kinetic mood of Mumbai. Boyle says, “The thing I loved was, the slums are not what you’d think. There’s cottage industry, enterprise – people who don’t want to be portrayed as poor. I said, ‘But this has to be authentic,’ and they said, ‘Then don’t be pitiful about it.’ Westerners, we are so sleepy compared to them. There is so much energy.”

One cannot help but compare this film to “Quiz Show,” the movie about Charles Van Doren and the rigged “$64,000 Question.” In one a distinguished scholar fakes his answers; in the other an innocent street kid is accused of cheating.

After the scandal, Van Doren took refuge in Key West, away from prying eyes and probing reporters. Many here remember his quiet presence – a man who lost it all by winning.

“Slumdog Millionaire” is the way we wished it had turned out – an underdog destined to win.
[from Solares Hill]

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