u Notes from the Underground: Review of "Slumdog Millionaire" (Short version: It rocks!)

Review of "Slumdog Millionaire" (Short version: It rocks!)

Friday, December 05, 2008

I wasn't too sure of how Slumdog Millionaire would turn out. It got rave reviews, won awards, but the premise of the movie seemed a little cheesy to me. But then again, it was a movie by Danny Boyle - the same Danny Boyle who made Trainspotting, the genre-bending classic of the 90s. But then again, the movie is wholly set in Bombay, and who knows if Danny Boyle won't make a few blunders in his portrayal of India? I was looking forward to seeing the movie, but I was also preparing myself for a letdown.

I needn't have feared. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a zesty, fast-paced movie with some brilliant acting, especially by Dev Patel, who plays the protagonist Jamal Malik. (I won't summarize the plot here, go to IMDB for that.) The writing always has a light, humorous touch - as kids Jamal and his brother Salim go through some very grim (the word Dickensian comes to mind) experiences, but there is never a portentous air to the narration. Nor is there ever a hint of a cliche, despite the fact that there are enough common elements in the story from previous Bollywood movies. Jamal and Salim feel like real kids to you, with their ability to produce an unexpected kind of humour at unexpected times. By the time Jamal and Salim grow up, you as audience have bought into the characters enough that it doesn't matter that the plot from then on is simply concerned with (the time-honoured) aim of bringing Jamal and the love of his life together.

The movie has definite parallels to Trainspotting in that the narration does not give too many hints to the tragic elements in the story, what with the spontaneous humour and outward cheeriness and fast background scores. (Oh, and A. R. Rahman composed the music btw.) I do wish the whole of the movie was in Hindi though - the characters converse in Hindi as kids, but speak in English with suspiciously good accents once they are around 12. Except for this bit, there is little to complain in the movie on the ever-prickly topic of authenticity (the credits mysteriously list Loveleen Tandan as "co-director (India)", so I am sure that helped).

On the whole, the movie has lived up to the hype. Watch it if you can.

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