Dev Patel with Freida Pinto in a still from the film Slumdog Millionaire.
Cast: Anil Kapoor, Dev Patel, Freida Pinto
Direction: Danny Boyle
Hats, caps and wigs off. There’s reason to dance on the streets. Here’s a masterwork of technical bravura, adorned with inspired ensemble performances and directed with astonishing empathy. Above all, it has that emotional wallop to make even the stonyhearted cry and laugh out loud with its little big people.
So a hard rain’s falling over Mumbai. Two pint-sized boys have found shelter, a girl trembles, she could die any minute. After an argument, she’s allowed entry. That gets you where it matters – in the heart. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a reminder that you may turn your eyes away from the half-dead street girl begging for a rupee. But she’s there, be it in India Shining or Dimming.
Freely adapted by Simon Beaufoy from the Vikas Swarup book Q and A, the screenplay cleverly leapfrogs between different age-spans in the life of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), who in his 18 years has been through it all. To snag an autograph of Amitabh Bachchan, Jamal has dived into slum shit (a shot that’s affectionately funny as it’s yuk). He has survived a communal riot, lost his mother, escaped from a Fagin-like boss of maimed kids and scammed tourists (at Agra’s Taj Mahal, no less). Yet Jamal has not lost his love for that childhood girl in the rain. Think destiny.
It could be the hidden hand of God, then, which props him on the hot seat of Kaun Banega Crorepati. Anchorboss (Anil Kapoor, marvellously smooth) is insulting but Jamal’s unperturbed. He knows the answers. If not, his guesses are as spot-on as a seasoned casino gambler’s. At the end of the game show, he longs to walk into a happy ending with his Rain Girl (Freida Pinto, impressive), never mind if she’s a pawn on a gangster’s chessboard.
Perhaps, his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, first-rate) will quit his alliance with the underworld too. Now if that’s very Deewaar, oddly enough Boyle frequently uses Bollywood flourishes: kids separating on railway tracks, the end-credits group dance, and more coincidences than you could catch in a TV soap.
More: Jamal’s investigation at a police station for cheating on KBC is straight out of a Ghayal drama. Only the boy uses his eyes as lethal weapons instead of battering ram muscles. In effect, the Bombay cinema touches are taken to another level -- through a non-linear structure (a second viewing enhances the editing dazzlery between the past and the present) and Anthony Dod Mantle’s artistic cinematography vaulting from low angle shots to aerial views of the city.
AR Rahman’s music score moves brilliantly from the implosive to the explosive in keeping with the Boyle dynamics.The director’s Trainspotting, by the way, appears to have been a draft for this Millionairezooming.
Inevitably, that classic ‘forgiveness factor’ is involved in overlooking several implausible points like the reunion with the blinded child beggar. Then there are omissions like no visible remorse for the killed mother, and the allowance of a clipped British accent for Jamal, excellently portrayed otherwise by Dev Patel.
Ultimately, the negatives don’t matter because of the film’s three valuable sub-texts. One, that there’s light at the end of the gutter. Two, a love story built on dreams must grapple with nightmares. And last but certainly not the least, the underlying current of secularism which makes Jamal and his brother Salim, accidental victims of a communal riot but not its avengers. As Jamal handles his last question, the entire nation prays for him.
Literally every performance rocks. Still, your heart goes out most of all to Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubiana Ali, the kids who portray the knee-high Jamal, Salim and Latika. They’re extraordinary just like the rest of Slumdog Millionaire. As one of its songs goes, Jai ho!