First of all apologies for the lengthy silence. It's one of those points in time for me when it's difficult to work up excitement over all things Indian cinema related. Everything exciting is coming out close to the end of this year, and I'm never in the mood for anything in my large pile of DVD's-to-watch. I haven't seen a single 2009 movie yet. It's odd.
But let's talk about what I have seen, specifically that little movie that won the Best Picture Oscar.
Slumdog Millionaire is a quizzical - pun unintended - piece of cinema. It weaves together the realism of violence and misfortune of the streets, gangsters, religious zealots and orphaned child beggars, with the dreamy escapism of Bollywood films, love conquering all obstacles and the idea of fate, 'kismet'. You could argue that because of this, it portrays Mumbai or Bombay perfectly, the two sides of the city both brought on display. At the same time, for this particular viewer at least, it created a strange discord - I didn't know how to allow the movie the benefits of both styles, how to reconcile the illogical parts with the ones that made more realistic sense.
You must all know the story by now. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, who I previously loved in the UK television series Skins) is a kid raised in the slums and out on the road, who ends up on the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, hosted by Prem (Anil Kapoor), and against all odds, knows the answers - simply because he does. Accused of cheating, he is forced to relay his life story to a police man (Irrfan Khan), a tale of misfortune but also of success, and of his search for his childhood love, Latika (Freida Pinto).
It feels a bit silly to critisize the movie for things I felt were unrealistic, in a way that quite bothered me, because for one, I did truly enjoy the movie. It was powerful and had a lot of great elements coming together effortlessly. Then, for two, who am I to say what is and isn't realistic? Despite my long interest in India and my knowledge of it, I'm oh so far from all-knowing on the subject. And yet -- would slum kids truly learn such fluent English while being out on the streets (or on the rails, as it were)? Would they ever, later in life, converse fully in English? These are small complaints but they threw me off all the same. It's odd how I could easily suspend my belief on the existence of fate, but not these smaller things.
The film is nicely paced, and especially the scenes with the children actors - first very young and later slightly older - were fantastic. As Jamal matures, Dev Patel carries the role splendidly, but the adult Latika, played by Freida Pinto, is sadly not as convincing. This made me lose interest in their love story just the tiniest. If Freida did have the chops to pull off the role, it felt like she was not giving her fullest and was more of a pretty face than anything else. The other actors, such as Anil and Irrfan, are as solid as one could expect - the layers in Anil's Prem were a pleasant surprise for me. The sound design and music overall deserved the Oscars they received, punctuating scenes fantastically. The song-and-dance, which is surely not a spoiler at this point, is not up to Bollywood standards (the choreography is partly fine, partly reminds me of cheesy 90's Hindi films) but if nothing else, allows the film to end on a high note and was not as bad as I initially expected.
I think it's wonderful that Slumdog has gotten the success and publicity it has and that India, too, has embraced the film as if its own. I'm glad to have seen it and enjoyed it - even though it doesn't quite make any of my favourites lists.