Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Flick of The Day: Slumdog Millionaire

Given the Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on Sunday, it is interesting to look at how many Best Picture winners have stood the test of time, whether they are still as lauded today as they were upon release. Largely they are but there are many examples down through the years of losing films ultimately being regarded as finer works of art than the supposed best picture of the year.Is Apocalypse Now not a better and more important achievement than Kramer Vs Kramer in 1979? Is The Killing Fields  not more worthy than Amadeus in 1984? Perhaps the most egregious example is Shakespeare in Love, a byword for awfulness, beating Saving Private Ryan in 1998. Today's flick of the day, Slumdog Millionaire, beat out stiff competition to claim the accolade in 2008 and today's viewing is an attempt to see whether it is still as good as I thought at the time.
Jamal Malik is an 18 year old orphan from the slums of Mumbai who has managed to snatch a place on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?". Much to the chagrin of host Anil Kapoor, Jamal knows the answers to each question and as the prizes mount up, his suspicion grows. We meet Jamal as he is being interrogated by the Mumbai police for supposedly cheating the show. As Jamal tells the police of the elements from his life story which enabled him to answer the questions, we learn of the hard road he has travelled in search of his first love Latika, played by Freida Pinto
From the opening shots of Danny Boyle's film it is apparent that this is a visual triumph. The fast paced chase through the slums set to the frenetic music of M.I.A which opens the film will surely in future years be as well regarded as Scorsese's march through the back entrance of a restaurant in Goodfellas or Altman's opening for  The Player. This is just the beginning of a visual feast of colour and zest which takes the audience on a journey to the dark side of India from the internecine warfare between religions to the hardship of street life for children and the people who prey on them before bringing us out the other side. The film is almost structured like a fairy tale. The children follow the breadcrumb trail into the woods and as the world strikes out at them, we the audience hope for their safety. 

"Money and women. The reasons for make most mistakes in life. Looks like you've mixed up both."

The real strength of the film is that it is not just a harrowing look at the dark side of Mumbai life, it is also an underdog story as Jamal works his way out of trouble and there are elements of a love story in his pursuit of Latika and the bitter relationship he has with his brother. In short, there is much to keep your attention.
Boyle's direction is almost flawless throughout while told in a non-linear fashion, the story never becomes distracting or difficult to follow perhaps because of the classic elements noted above. Unlike so many western films made in Asia, this doesn't feel like a Hollywood film, it feels like it is of India. This is best represented by the excellent score from A.R Rahman, a Bollywood veteran, which surges and falls with the rhythm of the film and the gorgeously colourful  cinematography.
In conclusion then, this is just as startling a film as it was upon release. A mainly local cast give perfectly pitched performances and while at times very dark, ultimately this is a tale of love and redemption in modern India. It is charged with life throughout and will surely be seen as a classic in the years to come.

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