What? Haven’t heard of it? Vaguely recall the name? That’s because this film wasn’t playing in Robeson County at the same time that the rest of the world was raving about it. But, after winning 2008’s coveted Oscar, ‘tis finally here. And like those annoying optimists say — better late than never!
“Slumdog” immediately grabs you. You’ll probably squint your eyes in an effort to shield the unpleasantness. You’ll most likely crinkle your brows to try to understand what is happening and you’ll probably be cussing me for recommending this to all viewers over the age of 12, regardless of its R rating. But just hang on, you’ll soon see why.
Eighteen-year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is being tortured by police. His head is shoved into a pail of water. He is slapped and beaten. Jumper cables are hooked to his toes and the voltage takes his breath. All of this while the night prior Jamal was sitting in the contestant seat of the Indian version of the popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Jamal was one question away from winning 20 million rupees when the show’s time ran out, leaving the nation on pins and needles rooting for their new favorite underdog. But how could a boy from the slums of Mumbai know the answers to such worldly questions? How could a child who lived atop a garbage heap and begged and stole to survive possibly know the answers to questions like whose face is on the American hundred dollar bill? How could a chai gofer who works in a cell phone company’s sales center know which poet wrote “Darshan do ghanshyam nath mori akhiyan pyasi re?”
He couldn’t. (Actually, the film’s researchers didn’t know the right answer either, and are in some hot water about it.) Therefore, he must have cheated. The police (Irfan Khan) arrest Jamal and interrogate him for an explanation: “Tell us how you cheated, or the torture will not stop.”
But we soon learn that he does know the answers. Through a series of unfortunate experiences, Jamal and his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) have learned about life, and about love. And no matter the question, for Jamal, the answer is always Latika (Freida Pinto). Orphaned together after their Muslim parents were killed by rioting Hindus, Jamal has lost and found the love of his life numerous times, and she is the reason that he ended up on the game show.
“I knew Latika would be watching,” he says.
We, too, are rooting for the slumdog. It’s the American way, after all, to cheer for the rags-to-riches stories and to wipe the corners of our eyes for our Cinderellas. Heck, we even elected a one-time underdog to be the president of our great nation. So, no wonder “Slumdog” won the Oscar. But there are a few other reasons, too.
British director Danny Boyle can spin a yarn and then make an angora sweater out of it. The Dickensian story line could have been redundant and complicated, but through ingenuity and good old creativity, Boyle gets the poignant point across through flashbacks and brilliant cinematography.
The actors deserve a round of applause as well. Nearly all of them were amateurs to the big screen, excepting Khan and Mittal. The beautiful Freida Pinto was a former model and local TV personality, while the captivating children who played the early childhood characters were literally plucked from obscurity from the streets of Mumbai. And the musical score was fantastic. A cross between upbeat hip-hop and Indian instrumentals, A.R. Rahman lifted the heaviness from viewers and through his music gave us the intonation of hope and victory the sits ever ready on the horizon.
By the way, did you know that prior to 1988, the winning Oscar was announced “And the winner is... .”? But sensitivity amongst the Hollywood hotshots changed it to “And the Oscar goes to....” Why? Because it hurt the feelings of the nominees who did not win, and shouldn’t everyone feel like a winner? Oh, for cryin’ out loud (literally), give me a break.
Grow a backbone, or have one surgically altered like the rest of your movie star body parts.
And the winner is “Slumdog Millionaire.” Go see it. Enjoy its improbabilities.
Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language, and running at 2 hours, “Slumdog” gets 4 bags of popcorn.