“Dreams of so many, on the floor”
How can one man be that good at picking projects to direct? Danny Boyle has yet to write one himself—granted, though, he has worked with the same people multiple times—but he can adapt his vision and style to anything. From musical to drug induced frenzy to children’s fantasy to science fiction to horror. No one does it like him, except for maybe Marc Forster, who I like to think of as the American Boyle. With this new film, Slumdog Millionaire, the Brit treats us to a touching love story backdropped by a world of crime and poverty in Mumbai, India.
It is a simple tale told with gorgeous flashbacks that peel back layers when necessary and enhance the relationships between our lead Jamal and those around him—those on his “friends and family” plan. Here is a young man from the streets, a boy who witnessed his own mother’s murder who lives only to be reunited with the one person he truly loves: Latika. His bond to her leads him towards an adventurous life full of violence and cruelty composed of events so harrowing that one would be hard-pressed to forget even the smallest detail. This is a great fact for Jamal as it will soon be shown how his life was lived in accordance to a destiny yet achieved. When he becomes a contestant on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, it’s as though the questions were written especially for him.
You are probably asking yourself how a film about a game show contestant having questions read as chapters in his life can be good. I know, it sounds like the most contrived piece of drivel. I agree. But trust me, it is far from that. Accused of cheating and arrested by the police, he is tortured to discover how he was able to trick the system. Only when nothing yields results does the Inspector, (the great Irrfan Khan), decide to hear Jamal out and find the truth. What transpires is the film we have come to watch—a story told from a police chair about how the rough and tumble life of a slumdog gave him the specific experiences needed to keep going towards a purse of twenty million rupees. Never one to be conventional, Boyle cuts between flashbacks of childhood, (the actual event being remembered), with Jamal in the hotseat on television thinking of his past tragedies to continue the game as long as he can. His hope is that his love is watching, wherever she may be. With gorgeous cuts at the start—flashes of memories jumbled together as he’s submerged in water or electrocuted—the structured chaos soon calms down to a normal pathway of three converging timelines: childhood, the previous night’s game show, and his present incarceration. We are shown exactly what we need at exactly the right time. The film couldn’t have been composed any other way and be nearly as successful as it is.
It all began in the slums with Jamal and his brother Salim. The two were inseparable no matter how much the older sibling would wreck the younger’s joy for his own laughter. They always believed in each other. Despite taking diverging paths in life, that bond was never broken. These two Musketeers did what they needed to survive, looking out for one another and also for their surrogate third “brother” Lakita. Separated often, the three had a knack for finding one another through the years until an event risked shattering any love between them … an event that proves crucial to what characters do once the final trivia question is asked. Only when the bottom drops and one sees the monsters they have become can he finally try to make amends. It’s a journey through time that proves how strong love is. Money is meaningless unless there is a life to live spending it. Who knows, if you live your life correctly without regret, good things can happen. One doesn’t necessarily need to seek fortune in order to earn it and that fortune doesn’t always have to be monetary.
Boyle orchestrates it all with a steady hand, creating stunning visuals with composition, editing, (especially the numerous chase scenes on foot), and tempo changes. He adds mood with a stellar soundtrack, (I’m enjoying it as I write), and allows his actors to breathe free and give some powerfully natural performances. You have to give all those involved, (perhaps a little more to Loveleen Tandan who helped direct the Indian sequences) credit for controlling three different actors as each of our three leads. All of them stay true to the character, never allowing you to believe they aren’t the same person just at different stages of their lives. Straight across the board, Jamal, Salim, and Latika are three-dimensional people trying to survive no matter what they must do. I really enjoyed the youngest Salim, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, with an infectious and mischievous smile when he tricks his brother, and also the middle incarnation by Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, a boy at the crossroads of a path towards salvation or a descent ending with an eternity in the slum. Freida Pinto’s oldest Latika is wonderful as the troubled girl knowing only the kindness of one man, a man that she pushes away in fear of his death should they run away. However, it is Dev Patel’s Jamal that steals the show. With his blank stare and unceasing drive to find his love, Patel pushes on through it all. Severing ties and mending others to get closer to his dream, this young man never strays from his quest. You can see the wheels turning behind his eyes, calculating his next step.
A tale of destiny and striving to be good, Slumdog Millionaire is an uplifting parable showing how karma works. Everything happens for a reason and nothing is left to chance. Perhaps it is all written, but that doesn’t make the journey any tougher to endure. Jamal could have understandably given up at many times in his life, but his drive would not allow him that convenience. Conquering all odds by coming from the streets, to the point he didn’t even know Ghandi’s face was on his own country’s currency, Jamal gets the chance at a fortune and an opportunity to finally be free. I seriously found myself hoping he’d get the final question correct—it engrossed me that much. You’ll have to watch yourself to find out.
Also, don’t forget to stay and watch the Bollywood number during the end credits … a little treat for all you Indian cinema lovers out there.
courtesy of the Toronto International Film Festival