Thursday, 1 September 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 76 - Slumdog Millionaire

#25 - Slumdog Millionaire

Before I start my review, I would like to call some attention to what is probably the most insane and blatant piece of bad marketing I’ve ever seen. I heard critics and promoters calling this film “the feel good film of the decade” and the posters and trailers had it advertised as “two hours of unbelievable happiness”. I’m wondering if they think that we the public are complete suckers or if deep down they are deeply disturbed and actually considered the majority of what happens in this film to be pure happiness. What happens in this film includes prison torture, religious riots, children being *blinded* and plenty of gang violence. Okay I’m sure there’s someone somewhere who felt “purely happy” watching all of that but did the PR people seriously think the public wouldn’t go and see the film if they promoted it as it actually was? The same public that declares true art is angsty? Don’t worry, people who haven’t seen the film, there is *some* happiness in it, quite a bit actually...

The titular “slum dog” is Jamal Malik, a young boy who has grown up in the slums of Mumbai, India. On the day the film starts he has just completed a day on the popular game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” (Chris Tarant doesn’t appear sadly, it’s an Indian version of the show) and has strangely gotten further than any past contestant, now one question away from the grand prize of 20 million rupees. Unfortunately people are so suspicious that a “slum dog” who gets people tea for a living has gotten so far that he is arrested and thrown in jail for supposedly cheating. When the police start questioning him, Jamal retells his life story and about how each of the answers to the questions popped up at some point in his life. He talks about how he grew up in the slums with his jerkass of an older brother Salim, but one day their mother was killed by Hindu terrorists (they themselves being Muslim) and they were forced to flee their home and ended up with a gangster who trained them to become street beggars. Jamal’s life story doesn’t stop there and we follow him all through his childhood and teenage years before finding out exactly why he went on the show in the first place.

Believe it or not I actually watched this film in school. I probably wouldn’t have actually gone out to find it otherwise, unless I managed to catch it on the TV some random night. Our Geography teacher was teaching us about the slums in India and she showed us this film to give us a good idea of the kind of living conditions they were like. The first act or so of this film really does give a good insight into the slums of India and the way people live there. One small touch I like is that the filmmakers avoided blatantly saying “look how bad this is, do feel sorry for these people”. I understand this attitude towards people in the slums but I like how the film simply showed these people living in that situation as normal instead of making it something about trying to escape from it. We feel sorry for the people because of the bad things that happen to them in life, as opposed to just their living situation. We do get some impressive shots of the slums and of the inner city areas as well, those scenes in particular giving off a certain “urban wonderland” vibe. And yes the famous Taj Mahal does make an appearance as Jamal gives a pair of German tourists his own version of the history of the place. Let’s just say that apparently they could have massive road pileups during the Renaissance period.

The casting for this film is quite impressive. We have three sets of actors for each of the three leads – Jamal, Salim and Latika (a girl that the two boys meet while fleeing from the riots). The first part with the three as very young children is done in Hindi since the young actors couldn’t speak English, but I enjoyed those parts a little more than the rest of the film because Hindi is such an interesting language to listen to. All three children were very good for their age and I do have to applaud the kid playing Salim for managing to get across how much of an asshole this guy was. It does take a lot of talent for a child actor to get you to hate them for all the right reasons and he pulled it off brilliantly. The second set of actors are around the 14-16 age range though I think maybe the guy playing Salim could have been as old as eighteen. The girl playing Latika doesn’t get much screen time but she looks as though she’s going to be very pretty one day (the actress is sixteen in the film and I think I’m covered by the “half your age plus seven” rule). The guy playing Salim is alright but he does sound a bit wooden with his lines and he isn’t as enjoyable to watch as his younger counterpart. The teenage Jamal is brilliantly witty, especially in the scene I mentioned above where he gives the German couple the tour of the Taj Mahal.

Now onto the adult counterparts – Dev Patel (perhaps better known for his role in Skins) plays Jamal and he is certainly much better this time around than he was in The Last Airbender. I’m still not sure that it’s the same actor really. I feel we were all able to connect with Jamal and he does have this childlike quality to him that makes us want to root for him. Freida Pinto plays the adult Latika and can I just say that she is honestly one of the most beautiful women in the world. When Jamal says that very line I always nod and agree that this is one of the few times when nearly everyone agrees with a character’s informed attractiveness. She does quite well for her first feature film, giving this innocent and slightly lost look that really fits what Latika has been through in her life. The actor playing the adult Salim doesn’t have much of a role but he is more consistent than his teenage co-worker. I also enjoyed Anil Kapoor who plays the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and I’d say if he doesn’t like acting then he has a great possibility of landing a successful TV host career.

My absolute favourite scene in this film is – to the shock of no one – the bit at the train station. Jamal tells Latika he will wait there every day at five o’clock until she comes. It’s a slow building scene where we see Jamal leaning on the balcony, sure she’s not going to show up and then slowly looks up. Latika is seen in the crowd, looking around also not sure if she can see Jamal. The accompanying music just makes this scene so awesome as well as that near-perfect shot of Latika in the sunlight looking up and smiling for the first time. Another pretty cool scene comes where Jamal and Salim have found out where the teenage Latika is and travel in the city looking for her. The shots of them asking people for her are interspersed with clips of Latika dancing for a customer are nicely done and almost surreal, going back to that “urban wonderland” feeling I mentioned earlier. Rounding up my list of cool scenes is another one from the beginning where Jamal and Salim are running from the police through the slums. We get some really cool shots and it’s hilarious when they run into their mother and they’re more scared of her than the policeman. There’s also a hilarious scene where Jamal and Latika decide they’ll get back at Salim for his bullying antics and let’s just say it involves the hottest chilli peppers ever in a very uncomfortable place. And, random as it is, the end credits sequence is pretty fun to have a look at. It features the entire cast doing a Bollywood-inspired dance to the song “Jai Ho” and that includes dead characters and the child and teenage versions of Jamal, Salim and Latika. Supposedly this is a nod to the Bollywood industry since the film itself is as different from Bollywood films as night and day. 

So Danny Boyle has done it again. 2008 honestly really was a great year for films as, while I do believe that this deserved every Oscar it won, it had so much great competition that year that the fact it won the Oscars really ties in with this film’s overall feel-good nature. Yes, I’m well aware I mentioned all the murder, death and pillage that goes on in the film but overall it is a nice feel good film once you finish it. The phrase “earn your happy ending” could probably be this film’s tagline as well as the plot outline. For some reason I don’t consider it a British film since it is set in India and does use Indian actors, so you can feel free to add this to the very small amount of foreign films I have on my list in order to make me seem more cultured. So, the question now is what should you do after finishing reading this entry? A) Watch the film, B) Tune in for the rest of my entries, C) Follow me on Twitter or D) All of the above. For some reason I don’t think you fellas will need a lifeline this time around. Take care.

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