“What's your favorite movie?” It's something everyone gets asked at some point in their lives, and I seem to get the question a lot. Any real film fan, I assume, would struggle for hours to pick just one favorite and likely give up before deciding on one, but when someone asks you for one, that's your limit. Since the moment after I first saw Slumdog Millionaire I have mentioned it as my favorite film whenever anybody asks. Granted, there are other great ones, with Schindler's List and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest being two of my other absolute favourites, but those titles just don't seem to be a good answer when I am asked for one true favorite, nor do they resonate with me as much as Slumdog does.
The plot revolves around an Indian man, Jamal Malik (played fabulously by Dev Patel, from the upcoming movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), dreadfully poor since the beginning of his childhood. For all his life, the caste system has forbidden him from taking part in any type of interaction with higher social classes. The film opens with a scene involving our protagonist being brutally tortured. He has been accused of cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Throughout the entire film, Jamal recounts the questions he was asked during the session of the game show, along with every significantly eventful occurrence in his life that led him to the correct answers. We see more than just glimpses of Jamal's lifelong struggles with his elder brother, Salim (played in adulthood by Madhur Mittal), and his love for Latika (Freida Pinto), a girl Jamal met early on in his life and the main reason he decided to play Millionaire.
I haven't seen any of director Danny Boyle's films other than Slumdog, and I don't really think I need to in order to appreciate his style, especially if he has one as distinctly unique and profound as top-notch directors such as Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen, and Stanley Kubrick. If I ever do watch another one of his films, I would never expect it to be as stylistically astounding as this film. It may be a document of India's horrible caste system, and it is based on Indian author Vikas Swarup's Q&A, but Slumdog, for the most part, is a British production. Possibly the best part of the film is the end, which ironically is the only clear nod to India's cinematic culture. The film wraps up beautifully with a Bollywood-esque dance number during the credits, making the anthem to which it is set ('Jai Ho') an automatic win for Best Original Song at the 2008 Oscars. The song is in a foreign language, and it's so catchy; it feels even more magnificent when we see the dance number. Unlike Jai Ho, the rest of A.R. Rahman's soundtrack doesn't sound all that great when merely listening to it, but when seeing it in the film, the intense dubstep beats propel it powerfully in the proper direction, keeping us fully engaged.
It takes little research to discover that Slumdog is a romantic drama. Much of the film's latter half is, in fact, devoted to elaborating upon Jamal's love life, and he actually phones Latika, the woman he loves, upon choosing the 'phone a friend' option on Millionaire. (It's not much of a spoiler, as that is actually the image featured and artistically rendered on almost every promotional poster for the film, as well as on the DVD art.) It would be extremely incorrect, though, to categorise such a film as a 'chick flick'. Slumdog is just about the most reverently told romantic drama story I have ever witnessed. It's one of the very few films I wanted to go out and buy right away. Shocking, unsettling, moving, and drastically changing, this is one intensely enjoyable and thoroughly captivating film, regardless of who you are. I've only seen it twice, but I would guess that it endures many viewings.
Thursday 17 April, 9:35pm (repeats Sunday 19 April, 1:40am) on SBS World Movies
Streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand
UK, USA, 2008
Director: Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Starring: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla
What's it about?
A mumbai teenager reflects on his life after being accused of cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Picture.