- We'll always have Punjab
Based on Q&A, a novel by Vikas Swarup and jazzed up by The Full Monty's writer Simon Beaufoy, the movie chronicles the improbable rise of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an 18- year-old dirt-poor orphan from the slums of Mumbai who becomes a celebrity as he wins a fortune on India's most popular quiz show, their version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Interrogated by police who think he must have cheated, Jamal flashes back to harrowing stories of his childhood, each revealing an answer to one of the game show's questions. In the process, we learn of his relationship with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and his love-at-first-sight affection for Latika (Freida Pinto).
There are villains and heroes in every segment of Slumdog, and wild humor mixes with great despair. Jamal recounts terrible cruelties from his impoverished childhood, as he and his brother rely on street smarts to keep them alive. The street hustling days take on a Dickensian form as a Fagin-like character, Mr. Nanda (Himanshu Tyagi), befriends the street urchins so they can beg for his orphanage of young criminals.
The three main characters, Jamal, Salim and Latika, are each played by brilliant actors. The smarmy host of Millionaire (the excellent Anil Kapoor) never comes off as friendly; instead he's perfectly creepy, arrogant and vile. Irfan Khan is exceptional as the somewhat compassionate police interrogator, subtly showing sympathy for Jamal while offering torture as an option.
Slumdog surges with colors like a moving comic book and the story reads like a good graphic novel. The camera work pulls out all the stops, the scenes cut flawlessly with low angles, overhead shots, and always-changing compositional structure. A relentless cinematic energy pours off the screen, flooding the viewer with images. Boyle's vigorous style takes a hard-boiled view of poverty and crime at all levels of society, then reverses gears showing a blossoming love story. He then changes it up again to suck the audience into an almost participatory role in the high-adrenaline game show. Although the film takes liberties with coincidences, some unbelievable characters and questionable plot developments, the sheer ambience keeps any discrepancies at bay.
There is also very cool use of artistic visual subtitles, presenting translations with different colored boxes on varying sides of the screen. The music is hip, intriguing and mesmerizing, to the point that every time an Indian pop/rock song or disco-like number came on I immediately said to myself "I must own that song."
As the police inspector said to Jamal, "your story is bizarrely plausible," so is Slumdog Millionaire. With dazzling, fantastical realism and dynamic storytelling, the film has an enchanting fairy tale quality. This dexterous and energetic story is a testament to the vitality of the human spirit and experience, the power of knowledge, and diligent resilience - all served up with a dose of cartoon vibrancy. There's virtually no room for the dust to settle. By the time the ending credits Bollywood dance number starts you are sure to be dazzled by the hectic, woozy ride that is Slumgdog Millionaire and like me, might start replaying the best scenes over in your head immediately upon the walk to the car...Slumdog Millionaire ★★★✩
Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Himanshu Tyagi, Directed by Danny Boyle/ Loveleen Tandan. Rated R.