Slumdog Millionaire: A Review

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Wednesday, December 24, 2008 with 3 comments
I remember in the early 2000s that my mom, after one of her Malaysian business trips, brought home with her some Bollywood CDs. Believe me, Bollywood and Malaysia, even I could not see the connection. We plugged it in on our VCD player one afternoon, for lack of anything better to do, and subsequently got our first taste of what Indian movies were like--infectious conviviality, out-of-this-world choreography, exotic world music and endless dancing. It left an indelible mark on my budding partiality for foreign films and since then thought that ALL movies coming from India were made that way. But "Slumdog Millionaire" would prove otherwise.

Already in the running in next year’s Academy Awards, "Slumdog Millionaire" defies the perception I had of what Bollywood productions are like, saved for the ending, but I’ll give it to them. After all director Danny Boyle has made a believable film, for the first hour at least, of what life is like in the slums of India (and any country for that matter).

For the uninformed, "Slumdog Millionaire" is about one man’s search for a lost love that led him to a life journey where he got rich when he bagged the pot prize in India’s version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." Watching the story unravel, I was reminded of other foreign films like "City of God" and "Central Station"--particularly the parts with the little Jamal, Samil and Latika in it--as far as the overall tone of the scenes, the cinematography, editing, and the camera play. The cat-and-mouse chase into the squatter’s area brought another film to mind, "Kubrador," especially when the kids were on a heated pursuit atop the shanty rooftops. Understandably, it was visually stunning with "Slumdog" given that the Gina Pareno-starrer was an independent production.

As the characters aged, it became apparent that it was about to turn into a love story between the main protagonists, Jamal and Latika, and the attention-drawing atmosphere that the film had for me in the first hour waned. To borrow a word from a colleague, it became "formulaic"--boy meets girl, boy and girl get separated, boy tries to find girl, boy and girl meets in the end, boy and girl lives happily ever after. The film took a dismaying turn from the cinematic buildup it initially got and I was waiting throughout the second hour, up until the ending, that it veers back from the detour it took, but that attention-drawing feeling never returned.

I would have likened too that "Slumdog," it being "foreign," be made in India’s national language in its entirety. Somehow speaking in English--like during the interrogation, the kitchen scene with the then-teens Jamal and Samil, and others throughout--loses the authenticity of the movie being what it purported to be. But other than these personal observations, "Slumdog" is still a film worthy to be seen, with believable depictions of life amidst poverty, aboard a cinematic train ride throughout cultural India that after two hours or so, one’s craving for this movie created by the buzz it got will finally be satiated. 4/5.
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