- Danny Boyle
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The game is just a gimmick to go back and retell his life story and that of countless kids in Bombay (later Mumbai) who were orphaned during the Hindu-Muslim riots and forced to manage their own existences in the slums, constantly susceptible to abuse by exploiters. The kind-heartedness and joy of Jamal is contrasted by the tough personality of his brother Salim, an opportunistic rascal who rarely encounters a moral dilemma to stop him. The young actors who play Jamal, Salim and the other kids are mesmerizing at every turn.
After some humorous adventures of the two brothers who, despite their differences, had a good relationship, they end up in the protection of Maman (Ankur Vikal), a mysterious man who seems to be interested in the children’s welfare and is later revealed to be part of a network of child beggars among other things, who wants to recruit them. There, Jamal meets Latika, a girl who haunts him for the rest of his life.
Getting into detail would get even more spoilery, so suffice it to say that the intricacies of the children’s destiny is a delicious story full of drama and poignancy, as well as tragedy. The strongest antagonist of Simon Beautoy’s screenplay (based on the novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup) is never a man or a mafia or even crime itself, but the wounds in the children’s psyches, made permanent by the lack of guidance and love during their most vulnerable times.
I found Jamal’s story heartbreaking never because of what happened to him, but because of what happens in the world constantly, all around us. If Slumdog Millionaire does any good, it’s raising awareness towards this harsh reality; to that effect, I hope some people overlook the love story and realize the relevant subject matter that’s touched upon.
However, the presentation is never gloomy or heart-wrenching, but on the contrary, bright and optimistic, rather a tribute to human resiliency, if somewhat diminishing the impact of the tale. Colorfully photographed by Anthony Dod Mantle and edited in fast pace by Chris Dickens, the piece never stops for a moment, accompanied by the dynamic music of A.R. Rahman and an array of powerful songs. During the framing scenes of Jamal either answering questions or retelling how he knew the answers, another drama rises: will he win, in the end?
Now, even though the game show scenes are elegantly presented as tense and crucial, I had an issue with the game becoming gradually irrelevant, because even though it serves its purpose of triggering the flashbacks, it is, after all, the main structural plot of the story. The resolution left me unsatisfied because, regardless of the fact that money ends up being the least important of retributions for Jamal, I couldn’t understand his attitude towards it.
Also, as past and present finally came together, I lost connection with the awesome character of Jamal’s brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), and couldn’t grasp his final motivations either. I felt betrayed as the ending went for the crowd-pleasing, and realized that I never really rooted for the modern Jamal or Salim; maybe just a little bit for the lovely Latika (Freida Pinto), who haunted me as much as Jamal with her self-destructive existence I can only hope she’ll learn to control… for her sake and Jamal’s.
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