Thursday, 11 December 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (2009)

We've been excited about this film for a while now. It's the new Danny Boyle film, based on a great book I read last year ('Q&A' by Vikas Swarup), starring the annoying one from Skins. It couldn't be better. And it was about one of my favourite places in the world, the maximum city of Mumbai. It's so life-affirming it's attracting Oscar-buzz already. It's so well put together you can enjoy it even though it exists outside of the confines of a conventional filmic timeline. Simply put, this is the first best film of 2009, and certainly the second best film I saw in 2008 (stand tall 'The Dark Knight').

Based loosely on the novel, its premise is thus: Jamal is one question away from winning the top prize in India's version of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' He's from the slum. The police want to know just exactly how he's come to know all the answers. Is he cheating? Is he a genius? Was it pre-destined? The weighty themes of fate and destiny, of the tiny things in life bearing importance later on all pitch in. After a brutal torture sequence, we find out that Jamal knows the answers fair and square, and as he tells us his life story, we find out just how he came to know the answers to some of the toughest quiz questions there are.

He was born in the slums, lived a hard life, his mother was killed in Hindu-Muslim riots. This section of the film takes a colourful hopeful look at slum-life. Jamal crawls through his slum's shitheap (literally) just to meet Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan. The children actors in this section is vibrant, alive and playful, so adept at tweaking your heartstrings, so alive and well-picked. The film takes a darker twist as they find themselves at the fate and whim of evil Moman, who seems to be running a mission for homeless children. The truth is far more disturbing and involves one of the harder-to-watch scenes of the film. Boyle's strength is his ability to switch between fable and fact, so the grit and grime of slum-life is interspersed with moments of hope and humour, moments of fantasy and romance. And this works. Boyle is not re-making 'Salaam Bombay' (Mira Nair's gritty film about kids on the streets of Mumbai), he is making a fable, almost in the tradition of Bollywood, where the underdog wins the day, and the masses need an underdog to take them away from the grit and grime of their slum-lives. Jamal soon becomes an unwitting and unlikely champion for the oppressed, impoverished and disenfranchised. Even the policeman, played brilliantly by man-who-needs-more-Western-film-work, Irfan Khan, softens to him as he relays his story. Jamal, by the end, is almost empty, quiet and sedate having been through everything to get to where he is, and this is played subtly by Dev Patel, a long cry from his demented idiot savant from Skins. Jamal is unlikely and unwilling to be the people's champion because he is doing this for a girl. Yes, this is a fable based in Bollywood, and there always needs to be a girl. She is his childhood sweetheart who is taken away just as he gets closer to her. Look, I won't ruin this anymore, just go and see it when it comes out in January. If you want to see Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor play a creepy disgusting oily quiz-show host to perfection, if you want something life-affirming and beautifully shot, full of life and verve, a love letter to the most insane city in the world, one that is sprawling and busy all of the time, if you want to see a modern-day fable, or just the new film by the Trainspotting director, you will not be disappointed.

Truly mind-blowingly amazing.

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