, a feel-good tale about a Mumbai's Dharavi orphan kid directed by Danny Boyle with warmth that makes even Trainspotting (Boyle's calling card) look leaden-footed and an adaptation of the book
by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, presently Deputy High Commissioner in Pretoria, was the topping apt for the closing night of a triumphant 52nd London Film Festival. It is a fast-moving slickly produced movie that treats the slum people with understanding and avoids degrading them.
The red carpet opening of the film was as scintillating as that of the
Quantum of Solace
next door, except that there were no Royals. As the story begins, the irrepressible hero Jamal (Dev Patel) is close to winning the top prize of Rs 2 crore in the Indian version of
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
? but the producers and police are convinced he must be cheating. "What the hell can a slum boy, a chaiwala at a call-centre, possibly know?" they ask as the cops beat him up and torture him in an attempt to make him confess his wrong-doing. It turns out, though, that each question Jamal gets right is linked with his troubled past.
Unlike many western film-makers and artists working in India who have often been patronising about a culture they only partly understand, there is no sermonising here. Instead, aided by Anthony Dod Mantle's frenetic camerawork and immensely lively central performances, Boyle strikes up a ferocious tempo. As in Trainspotting, his approach is carnivalesque. He doesn't ignore the violence and squalor Jamal encounters but rather than allow his characters to wallow in self-pity, he celebrates their resilience, said a film critic.
The film grips early as Jamal is seen as a young boy locked up in a makeshift lavatory when his favourite Bollywood star Amitabh has come to town. The only way he can get out to meet the star is to crawl through a trench of shit. The scene is surreal and tells about the single-mindedness of the protagonist.
As in Dickens, there is sometimes touching sentimentality. Jamal's true love is Latika, the pretty girl he met as a child when they shared a shelter in the monsoon. There is brutality too, as Jamal's brother Salim tries to make the grade as a gangster. During the quiz show sequences, Boyle cranks up the tension. Veteran Anil Kapoor makes a memorably narcissistic and two-faced quiz host, smiling and smirking at Jamal while trying to entrap him to lose.
, certainly slated to be a hit, suggests that British-Bollywood collaborations can be jackpot winners. "It was a terrific climax to the Festival," remark by critic David Gritten after the show, proves the point.