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.
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.