Slumdog Millionaire is a journey, a trip down an individual’s memory lane as he recounts the struggles in his life that has, ultimately, given him his opportunity to win big amidst struggles to do with the fact he is suspected of cheating. The film is of the humbling variety, the uplifting and of the downbeat for good measure – chances are you’ll laugh; chances are you’ll cry and the chances are you’ll feel most everything else in-between. English director Danny Boyle has created something that throws just about everything into the mix, but arises as something far, far more than a disposable gimmick. The film’s visual approach is one that teeters between the chaotic and the calm, pausing for those tense and dramatic moments of thought and recollection whilst nicely integrating the urgent scenes of chase and memory recollection. The film’s pacing and approach is one of a careful nature, one that criss-crosses numerous genres yet remains focused on its study.
Boyle identifies the route the film is going to go down in the opening few shots. After an establishment that we are in India, 2006; Boyle presents us with two extremes immediately announcing the overall tone of the film. Jamal Malik (Patel) sits in a chair in an interrogation room and is hit around the face as he is questioned in urgent, close up format. Running parallel with this and in the past tense, he is sitting in another chair – the self-proclaimed ‘hotseat’ – attempting to win big on India’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ quiz show. Still being grilled and still the central figure of ridicule from the host and the audience, he wades onward.
The juxtaposition of being interrogated and electrocuted as a part of that, twinned with the fun; seemingly good natured; rather upbeat and familiar setting of the ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ television studio is an instant and sticking one. Boyle manages to get across the range of emotions he’ll deliver in the film, often all within a short space of time, as well as establish the manipulation of time that he hopes to accomplish.
Needless to say, he achieves it and how. Frequently, there will be passages during which the film will flicker from something quite light hearted to real potential danger and then back again to the television studio as the tension is racked up to do with being the focus of attention. Some incidences include, very early on, when Jamal and some other boys from the slums play cricket on a runway and happily play away despite the immediate danger from landing planes. This activity is then interrupted by hostile guards who pose a new danger but then the kids seem to have fun in escaping.
The film is an account, an account of times past by someone who many deem to be in a position they do not feel is possible. The primary theme is underestimation, that a ‘slumdog’ as Jamal is called, cannot possibly know anything and thus, when he’s on the brink of cracking the show’s top prize he must’ve cheated. But the accusers do not know any better. All through Jamal’s life, incidences and objects have forced him to pick up on tidbits of trivia that have stuck and on the quiz show, it has aided him in getting as far as he has. The delving into the past as a new question arises consistently offers a refreshing tale within an initially gripping premise. During the film, we learn of his brother and his predicaments as well as the scraps, jobs and potential love interests he finds himself in offering a range: from the humorous, to the touching, to the downright creepy.
Jamal sits opposite Prem Kumar (Kapoor), the game’s host. They aren’t in direct competition despite the banter they share but the study is quite clear and that is to do with what’s on the surface and what’s below it. Nobody believes a ‘slumdog’ could get to where they are in the game but through Jamal’s accounts, it is possible; whereas Prem comes across as a friendly and upbeat television personality who’s game for a laugh although backstage, we see him for what he really is. This is the key distinction between the two and the chief study for these sequences: underestimation and what is on the surface vs. what is below the surface.
Although essentially a love story and a film that strongly believes in its themes of fate, the film doesn’t concentrate on any particular aspect too much or too little thus creating a mystical aura as all these emotions and events and so forth flash by, dragging you through each of them but always giving you a chance to absorb what’s being presented. The liberties to do with the questions being presented to him in the chronological order of his life anyway did not bother me, nor did the fact they paused for a commercial break during a live question. Slumdog Millionaire is effective dramatically and touching at the other times it needs to be; tapping into hope and the errors of people’s ways when labelling a certain ‘type’ of individual. It is certainly worth a look.