Tuesday Film Focus: Slumdog Millionaire

There are several hallmarks which help in making a film memorable for the audience.

The sheer aesthetics of any film are integral. Though location has an obvious hand in crafting the surroundings, directional choices further enhance and illuminate the visual presentation. Strong character development — from both core individuals and ancillary figures — is paramount for richly constructed depth.

Lastly, the story must be captivating. It’ll need to evoke emotions and feelings, even if the audience can’t directly relate to the protagonist’s plight.

Simply put, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire checks all of the boxes for being a timeless classic. Based upon Vikas Swarup’s novel Q&A, Boyle and screenwriting partner Simon Beaufoy concocted a truly dynamic piece of art.

The story fluctuates between three different time periods — often splicing together the present with flashbacks of the past. Protagonist Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is presently an 18-year-old tea server. His job isn’t glamorous, nor is it financially lucrative. Without any formalized education of any kind, the cards are stacked up against Jamal as it pertains to becoming successful.

Billed as a ‘slumdog’, Jamal features on India’s version of the hit television program Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? The gregarious host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) is quite hammy with the audience. He’s a bigger-than-life character with an ego the size of India. Though the show is technically supposed to be about the contestants, Kumar often steals the show with quick-wit and charisma.

Little is expected of Jamal. Preconceived notions have been unfairly fashioned around his level of employment, as well as his background as an orphan. In a sense, Jamal is being patronized by the audience and host alike.

As each question comes, the audience is transported back to Jamal’s childhood. We initially see him as a little boy, and then as a young teenager. The answer to every question relates inconceivably to an experience he’s once endured — whether it was joyful or tragic.

We’re first introduced to Jamal’s harrowing childhood. Along with his mother and older brother (Salim), the trio live in immense poverty. Jamal is naive and sensitive — whereas Salim is brash and street-smart. This initial dichotomy will be a prevailing theme as the story unfolds down the line.

Jamal’s mother is killed during what was depicted as the Bombay riots. It left Salim and Jamal abandoned. Along the way, the two come across a young girl named Latika. She immediately forms a bond with Jamal. Salim assumes the role as the protector — yet clearly asserts his dominance over both the girl and his younger brother.

The comprehensive story is full of twists and turns. At one point, Jamal, Salim, and Latika were taken to what they believed to be a comforting orphanage. Instead, they watched as a tyrannical leader blinded children with acid. This was done to garner sympathy (and money) from citizens on the street who’d later see these blind children singing on street corners.

While not necessarily intended, the ever-present theme of resiliency smacked the viewers directly in the face. For over a decade, the trio of children nomadically moved from place to place as a means for survival. While not always cloaked under benevolent morality, the kids did what they needed to do to survive.

We jump back to the present day, where Jamal becomes separated from both Latika and Salim. His existence may seem mundane to some. However for Jamal, he appreciates the stability more than anything. Out of curiosity, he manages to track down his older brother — who now works as a glorified gangster. There’s considerable guilt emanating from Salim, as he essentially abandoned Jamal in favor of running away with Latika and a life of crime. The initial exchange between the brothers is both heartbreaking and cathartic.

Upon hearing of Latika’s whereabouts, Jamal does everything in his power to reconnect to the girl he secretly loved. Along the way, Jamal has become an overnight sensation due to his success on the show. This doesn’t exactly sit well with the host, who fails in persuading Jamal with the wrong answer to a question.

The amount of layers in this story are akin to the world’s biggest parfait. The untimely death of the boys’ mother ushered in a considerable expediting of their maturity levels. The avenues of love, betrayal, persistence, and faith are also wonderfully illustrated by both Boyle and Beaufoy.

This film isn’t for the faint of heart. One may find themselves emotionally drained once absorbing the story. However, the collective acting is phenomenal. Patel is able to brilliantly tap into the psyche of a fractured human haunted by his past. His performance should be widely recognized as one of the best in recent cinematic history.

Filming on location throughout various regions of India granted the film more authenticity. There was no need for special effects or gory representations. Instead, the film cemented itself to the organic, raw, and gritty nature of the environment itself. It also wonderfully paid homage to the vast history of Bollywood film-making within the country.

Slumdog Millionaire was an absolute masterclass in virtually all aspects of film. For any aspiring director, filmmaker, screenwriter, photographer, or fan of cinema, this is a must watch.

Image Source: IMDB