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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Film

‘Slumdog Millionaire’ - "The Feel Good Film of the Decade"
Director: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan (Co-Director: India)
Starring: Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Freida Pinto and Irrfan Khan
Based on ‘Q&A’, a novel by Vikas Swaru
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Winner of Four Golden Globes
Jo Green


I glanced past a write-up of the film, taking in only the first line, "Jamal Malik, an 18-year old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, is just one question away from winning 20 million rupees on India’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’"

What resonated was how unreal that felt. Was Hollywood once again trying to glamorize something so incongruent with that money-making world? I decided I wouldn’t go and see the film. Then a few days went by and I discovered that certain comments had sat with me. I wondered whether I had brushed past the review of this ‘groundbreaking’, ‘incredible’ film too quickly.

The vibrant sound of fun-loving India blasted through the speakers and there was no escaping its force. The twists and turns of Asia’s largest slum open up before me as a handful of young rascals run from an inevitably fatter, slower official. This is Mumbai.

Jamal Malik has grown up with his brother in Mumbai’s Dharavi slum. He appears on India’s version of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ and, after being captured and tortured for being thought a cheat, he unravels how he, a ‘slumdog’, could possibly know the answer to each question. The story unravels his journey, a path that he printed alongside his brother Salim, and a fellow orphan, Latika. We discover why he is truly playing a game that could see him win such unimaginable money and why it is that a person’s being is almost certainly caught up in their history.

Taking in the immediate scenes of chaos and laughter I instantly know that I am about to be impressed. Colour splatters onto the screen at every turn; the fuchsia pinks, the dazzling oranges and the striking turquoises that portray the richness at the centre of India. The mayhem in congested streets, bustling markets and over crowded trains pours out and echo vistas explored by countless travellers old and new. What Danny Boyle wonderfully depicts with a subtlety only defined by some of the greatest directors, is the charm and cunning of India’s underdogs – both children and adults alike.

Tim Walker quotes Boyle in The Independent stating, "Considering that the film features poverty, torture and murder…You can’t go in expecting it to be ‘Mamma Mia’!" This is absolutely true, sometimes I found myself gasping, and I believe Boyle’s resignation over what the marketing campaign might signify – with the lead characters smiling under confetti – was justified. The image misrepresents what I feel the film does portray: the heart of the Indian people.

Maybe this is where my first negative thoughts had derived from, of believing the film would reveal an unreal India, an India I knew and loved. Far from it however, the images sucked me in to depths of Mumbai I hadn’t known existed and felt could not possibly have come from producers who did not know India. There were times when I gritted my teeth at portrayals that in my eyes went against the grain, but I had to shake my own head in congratulations at how well executed the mandatory wobble of the head from left to right, when an Indian agrees rather than disagrees with a situation, had been depicted. That acutely observed mannerism confirmed to me the authenticity of these images.
The fact that Boyle produced this film with $15 million rather than, in the case of another current film, ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, ten times more than that, also led me to believe that this film wasn’t just about the money.

I read in The Independent that, "the three youngest child leads, who were all cast from the Mumbai slums, are now having their schooling funded by the film’s producers, with the promise of a trust fund should they pass their exams at 16." The actor, Anil Kapoor, who plays the host of the game show in the film, has also donated his fee to Plan India, a child development NGO in Delhi. There does seem more glory coming out of this film aside from the wages for the cast and crew.

Why does the film make us feel so good then? In keeping with the films enlightened opening I offer four possible answers. Is it because:
a) Out of the unthinkable terror, pain and suffering that these three children go through, something unites them that is everlasting;
b) The film portrays an incredible sense of reality in a culture so far from us but one so much a part of our world that it should be significant;
c) We are given what every feel-good film requires: astounding music, pure romance, infectious laughter and mixed with that, a hope in believing that our dreams can come true;
d) We come to the conclusion that above all, as one of Jamal’s questions invites us to believe, the truth triumphs.

© Josephine Green Jan 22 2009
jgreen27 at hotmail.co.uk

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