Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire is the Oscar hogging movie of the year, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Anil Kapoor. The screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Vikas Swarup.

Jamal [Dev Patel] grows up in the slums of Mumbai. By chance, he gets invited to the quiz show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” After getting to the penultimate question before the time runs out, he is arrested and accused to have cheated. In flashbacks, Jamal tells the police officers of his life in the slums, growing up with his brother Salim [Madhur Mittal], meeting the love of his life Latika [Freida Pinto], being orphaned and how he came to know the answers to the questions.

The movie has praise after praise heaped on it and it is a good film. But – of course there’s a “but” – it is not as good as many reviewers (and all the Oscars) want to make you think. It has some impressive stuff, but also some bigger issues.



Okay, the acting was mostly mediocre, nothing spectactular in either direction – good or bad – with the exception of Anil Kapoor, who was amazing as the slimy bigoted show host. He was so good that I actually wanted to cheer him on, despite his essential “villainity”.

I liked the score more than I thought I would. I’m usually not much for music that sounds like a European imagines that Indian music should sound like, and I was afraid that the score would be just that. But it wasn’t – A. R. Rahman did a good job and consoled me a little that Thomas Newman didn’t get an Oscar this year.

[The movie got the Oscars for Cinematography, Directing, Editing, Original Score, Original Song, Sound, Best Movie and Best Adapted Screenplay. In my opinion, it deserved Cinematography, Editing and either Original Song or Original Score (with the other going to Thomas Newman). Anil Kapoor should have gotten a Best Supporting Actor nomination. The rest was overhyped. ]

Danny Boyle’s directing was okay, nothing spectacular, either, I thought.

slum-dog-millionaireCutest child ever?

My major complaint was the screenplay. I did like the idea of having each question relate to a phase of Jamal’s life, it was poorly executed. Some connections were very thin, but even thinner were the explanations why Jamal knew some of the answers. Just because his brother owned a gun, he knew the inventor of guns? Because he had to sing this one song for begging, he knew who wrote it? What if that never came up? And he has a vision of Rama, although he’s a muslim, knows that it’s Rama and therefore can identify the bow and arrows as his trademark? And also, how come he didn’t guess the answer to this one question about what it says on the flag of India (was it the flag? I’m not sure) – Jamal is uneducated not stupid and the possibilities (and the laughter of the audience) made the right answer very clear, I thought. [I know, considering the rest of this fairy tale plot, this seems like nitpicking, but somehow these were the things that made it hard for me to suspend my disbelief.]
I know that it’s hard from me to judge because I come from an entirely different cultural background but to me it felt like the questions didn’t really increase in difficulty towards the end.

In any case, I expected more from Simon Beaufoy, the guy who brought us The Full Monty.


Another thing that troubled me about the story/script was Latika. That was another prime example of women are not people, they are prices for our heros and they will only get them if they do really, really well. No matter whether Latika really loves Jamal or not, she’s his reward for weathering all bad circumstances and always doing the right thing.
[Plus, the whole “Jamal kisses her scar which immediately literally rewinds all her pain about it”. Sorry, but usually women do not entirely measure their self-esteem on whether or not a man finds them attractive. I know that a lot of people want to have the world working that way, but it doesn’t. Now go away.]

And not a thought is given to Salim, who sacrifices himself for his brother. Jamal doesn’t ask about him when Latika answers his phone, not his brother and when they meet in the end, there’s nothing, not even a short “Salim? – sad look” sequence. Instead, there’s dancing.

Speaking of Salim, his sudden religiousness came a bit as a surprise, didn’t it? I mean, there was nothing, nothing at all before the praying scene to indicate that he even believed in god.


Oy vey, and all of these issues without even tackling the whole question of “Is this poverty porn?”. Honestly, I didn’t think that it was porn in the sense of complete focus and exploitation of one topic. I felt like it just showed the poverty as a part of life in that part of Mumbai. But if I put on some of the cultural blinders I work very hard to get off my face, I guess I can understand the concerns that people from Europe or the USA will think that all of India is a slum (except for the Taj Mahal). Because there is nothing else shown than Jamal’s world, which is the slums. But as the movie is told from Jamal’s perspective that’s not really something to reproach the movie for.

So, I thought it good, but not ZOMG! AMAZING! It’s worth to see, but rewatchability is not really a given.

[Other people’s takes: Lekhni, The Mute Oracle, Ruhi, Prestidigitator]

11 thoughts on “Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

  1. Kalafudra

    You may want to read the book that is behind the film. The cinematic treatment does appear a bit shallow. But some of the quiz questions required some cultural context which wasn’t provided. That song being sung by the blind kid? The words are about evoking God to get a glimpse of Him; the singer is blind and cannot see; the poignancy arises from the fact that the devotional number was written by a blind poet named Surdas (the answer to the quiz question). Blind people are often referred to as Surdas also. The gun maker’s name is the same as the inventor’s so if he saw the gun and knew the brand, he could pick it out of the multiple choice options and so on. I guess disbelief does need to be suspended in toto in all films. I feel that everytime I watch a Bond film – it is like a Hindi action film with all its absurdity but somehow the dialogue is in English :-/

    • Thanks about the info about the song – I didn’t know any of that. [And the song should have at least been translated in the subtitles of the movie, imo. Would have been kind of important.] Anyways, if blind people are referred to as Surdas, I get how he knew the answer to the question.

      I still think that my point about the gun question is valid, though – even if he knew that his brother’s gun was a Colt (if it was a Colt), all the other names given were also names of people making guns – like Wesson etc. So, I can own a Glock and have only had contact with Glocks, still the inventor would be Colt…

      In any case, I don’t know why that bothered me so much, while other things – as unrealistic as they might be – didn’t bother me at all…
      Maybe it’s because it contradicted the movie’s own internal logic. I would have had less of a problem if the explanation for his knowing the answers would have been “he just knows” than trying to explain the answers and then failing.

      • I think the whole film predicated on ‘how he knows’ (how a slumdog knows enough to become a millionaire on a quiz show) so not addressing that would kind of have done away with the movie’s existence :-)

        I think a third of the film is not subtitled and only those viewers, who know Hindi were laughing. I am not sure I get the logic of it. But then again you know how languages express things differently and have different lengths? (Like when you translate a simple line in English to German, it suddenly is a longer sentence?). SOme of that would have happened definitely…

        Anyway I love films but my logic does rather get in the way so I can empathise with how you feel..

        • I don’t know if it would have done away with the movie’s existence – it would have done away with the narrative structure, certainly, which would be a loss, but the movie could have continued to be.

          Yeah, I was wondering about the subtitles/no subtitles/changing to English-thing as well. And of course, translation would have been changing it. But it works for other movies, so why shouldn’t it have worked here?

          Oh well. Nothing that can be done about it now. :)

      • Kalafurda, blind people are called Surdas. The hero knows of Samuel Colt as his once was a servant of a hit-man in Mumbai. The dumb Australlian espionage agent who gets caught trading Indian secrets, the completely different ending. Nothing of that sort is shown on the movie. I would suggest you read the book from cover to cover. Further, stop commenting on things you do not know. Blind people are called surdas in India..what shit!

        • As you can might see by the first comment on this post, I was informed that blind people are called Surdas in India by an actual Indian person. I don’t know if your last sentence is to imply that they aren’t since you yourself state in the first sentence that that’s the case. Either way, I didn’t know, I now know and I already said that in that case him knowing the answer made sense.

          I haven’t read the book, I don’t plan to and the movie has to stand on its own. If it’s only explained by the book, it’s failing.

          Btw, this comment comes very close to trolling, but I’m leaving it here anyway. Your second comment didn’t make any sense, so I spammed it. If you want to engage in a meaningful, respectful discussion of my opinion on this movie, I’m always open to it. If you want to insult me and make misplaced references to Zimbardo’s psychology of evil, you will get blocked.

  2. I’m glad you took the time to review the movie. And the review was spot on. There are many reasons why I am angry at this film – the most recent of which was the realization that Springsteen’s The Wrestler wasn’t even nominated for the award that ‘Jai Ho’ won.

    • Thanks!

      You might remember this, I posted it a while back:
      A member of the Academy walks into a bar. He starts chatting with the bartender, and the subject of who he nominated for “Best Original Song” comes up. The academy member says he really liked “Down to Earth” from “WALL-E” but couldn’t really think of anything else that was Oscar-worthy this year. Bruce Springsteen walks in and punches him in the face.

      It really is a shame that it wasn’t even nominated. A great song. And Slumdog could have done with one best song nomination… Although it’s kind of ridiculous when you think about it, I’m angry at the movie because of their Oscar hogging, too. I mean, it’s not like they decided which Oscars they should get…

  3. Pingback: Answering Questions Asked Through Google XXXII « Stuff

  4. to answer your question about the Colt…..Salim says the name of the gun when he’s holding it to Jamal’s head…..i dont remember the exact words but he says “the holder of the Colt .45 is telling you to back off” or something of that sort…thats how he knew

    • Yeah, that doesn’t really clear up anything. I mean, even if Salim says that he has a Colt that doesn’t mean that Samuel Colt was the inventor of the revolver. I mean, if Salim had said “Like Samuel Colt, the inventor of the revolver, I own one” that would have been different.

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