Dharavi may be the world’s biggest slum, but the grit and determination of its inhabitants is what acclaimed British director Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, is about. Scripted by Simon Beaufoy (of The Full Monty fame), the film is an adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s novel, Q & A. As the story begins, the irrepressible hero Jamal (Dev Patel) is close to winning the top prize in the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? but the producers and police are convinced he must be cheating.
But the producers and the anchor Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) are convinced Jamal is transpires cheating. “How can a slum dweller, a chaiwala in a call centre know the answers which even professors did not know?” they wonder.
Handed over to the police, Jamal is tortured to make him confess the truth. But it turns out that each question Jamal gets right is linked with his troubled past. The schematic screenplay uses the questions as a way to uncover that past.
It being a Danny Boyle film, the answers involve sprints through chocker back-streets, grisly flashbacks to the slum where a nine-year-old Jamal and his older brother, Salim, spend most of their childhood running from pimps and gangs.
The film has been nominated for six awards in the British Independent Film category of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. A remarkable feat considering Dev Patel and Freida Pinto are both first timers, while children brought up on the streets play Jamal and Salim.
Director Danny Boyle of Trainspotting fame, said, “They are brilliant actors, you don’t have to teach them about acting… It is part of everybody’s DNA (in India).”
Boyle has a carnivalesque approach, doesn’t ignore the violence and squalor — the crushing poverty, children sifting through garbage, heartless, casual crime — yet celebrates the resilience of the orphans. “I feel the temperature of the film is appropriate to my reaction to the place, which is that I loved it desperately. You kind of leave India at the end but it kind of doesn’t leave you — it changes you.”
Anil Kapoor is impressed by the book: “ It was a novel idea and I wanted to be part of it.” And he has played that eminently. Swarup is satisfied with the adaptation. “My own take is underclass. The whole idea of the quiz show being an ubiquitous expose of life history through the film medium has been well-achieved,” he said.
What has wowed the London audience and critics is that there is no sermonising or running down of Swarup’s underclass. It weaves a dream for them, and is Boyle’s tribute to “Mumbai, the maximum city”.