This review comes rather late in the day, since every one would have seen the movie. It is fascinating that a movie about India, made by a British film maker, and produced by Hollywood should elicit such strong opinions - people either liked it immensely or disliked it vehemently. I was recently asked to review this movie for a community newsletter that was running a whole feature on it. So, for what it worth, here is my review.
The hype over the movie nearly killed it for me, but I had read the book, originally titled Q & A, and it was an interesting, fast paced read. Part fantasy, part Dickensian in its tone, it was nevertheless ‘a tale well told’. It made me interested enough to go see the movie in a theatre, something I had long given up doing. Cut out the hype, wade through the reams of print devoted to every last second of the production of the movie, call it an anglicised version of countless masala movies churned out by the dozen by the Hindi film industry, at the end of the day, it is still a good movie.
Be warned though, that the book and the movie have nothing in common except the premise of the game show. The protagonist’s motive for appearing in the game show is not the same in the book as in the movie, the romantic angle is missing completely, even the questions are different. Yet, the movie stands alone, as does the book, in a way that is quite unique. Both are good.
What works for the movie is the direction, the near-perfect casting (I will come to that later), and the ambience that the director lovingly recreates, of a Bombay that is gritty, dirty, poverty-stricken at one end, and flashy glitter, and quiet elegance at the other, with the upwardly mobile middle class bridging the gap.
Answering charges of the movie portraying India in a bad light, I would say not. You can choose to ignore the seamier side of life in India, but it is prevalent all the same, and nothing you can do or say is going to wish it away. Danny Boyle picturises India with an affection that is rarely seen, and that works in the film’s favour, Bombay becoming as much a character in the film as the people.
Taut editing, the director’s trademark cuts, the music, the script – everything worked in tandem to produce a movie that hooked you with the first shot and kept you interested enough till the last. What also works, for me at least, is the unapologetic viewpoint that the movie shows – that crime, at least for some of the characters in the movie, does pay. The point is not whether this is morally right, the point is that life does not always conform to ideals. If it did, then original sin would not flourish.
Coming back to the cast, Anil Kapoor is brilliant as the game show host – slightly sleazy, more than condescending, and completely elitist. Likewise, Irfan Khan as the inspector, Saurabh Shukla as the sub-inspector, Mahesh Manjrekar as the main ‘villain’, and Ankur Vikal as the leader of the begging ring, are part of an ensemble cast that show you how really good actors can make even the tiniest roles truly outstanding.
But the stars of the movie are the children – the trio who play the three main protagonists in their childhood, and the second set of three children who get to portray the characters as adolescents. It is in their innocence that the movie actually comes to life. Madhur Mittal is likewise a revelation, playing the older Salim with absolute panaché. Strangely enough, the weakest links are today’s media darlings – Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto, the latter having nothing much to do, but doing it rather well, all the same.
Yes, the movie has its flaws, and in retrospect, I can point each one out, and then some more, starting with the absloute coincidences of every game show question being somewhat connected to Jamal’s life, to the lost-and-found motif that Manmohan Desai made his very own, but in a movie where children in a municipal school study the Three Musketeers, and the lovers agree to meet (and actually find each other!) at Victoria Terminus, Bombay, at rush hour (has the director ever seen VT at rush hour?!) it is better to suspend disbelief, and enjoy being taken for a well-crafted ride. I did.
© Anuradha Warrier