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11 May 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

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 


  1. Happy New Year Anu

    Well, I am not very sure of its projection of India... everything they showed is indeed true, but then its not all bad as it made everyone believe... but that's debatable. It hardly bothered me to be honest, I thought it was overrated though, personally, I would have wanted Frost/Nixon or 'The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to win the oscar

  2. Happy new Year, Rohit. What I actually liked about the portrayal of India was that even the grime, the dirt, the crime... was not there to show the West how bad India was, but just part of the narrative. It was incidental to the plot. I also liked that Boyle had an affection for India that was so evident from the first frame to the last. I absolutely agree that the film was over-rated. It is one of those inexplicable things - sometimes, a film catches the imagination of the viewer, and there is no amount of deconstruction that can make you understand why it should be so successful! Slumdog Millionaire was one of those films.

  3. Exactly. Ironically for me, most oscar winning movies fall in this category- No Country for Old men( brilliant, but there were better movies), Million Dollar Baby (overtly melodramatic), The King's Speech (Something was wrong!)....

  4. Exactly. Ironically for me, most oscar winning movies fall in this category- No Country for Old men( brilliant, but there were better movies), Million Dollar Baby (overtly melodramatic), The King's Speech (Something was wrong!)....

  5. Look, the Oscars are like most awards - they give it to the most popular, not the most deserving. I think, even now, the only awards that retain their prestige are Cannes. The critics' award there is worth something. The Oscars stand for prestige, not appreciation. All the movies you mentioned were decent enough (though I personally think No Country For Old men was better than the other two) but yes, there definitely were better movies in contention. 

  6. At least they are better than any of the Indian awards. I mean, movies like Hurt Locker, King's speech were not so popular before they won the Oscar. And we might disagree on this, but I think Oscar is sometimes very unfair to popular movies ( I won't mention those movies, you might just T-off you!)

  7. They used to be; I don't think they are, any more. And most movies that win Oscar nominations are already well-known, having made their presence felt at international film festivals and The Golden Globe. Hurt Locker and The King's Speech were both hits in regular theatres before their nominations came through. 

  8. Of course there was a lot of buzz around these movies, everybody expected Hurt Locker to trip Avtar,  but I don't think in terms of box office collections such movies are even in top 50... even a b-grader like Men in Black would trip them for a higher box office earning. . 
    It is just that there is a lot of bias. Some specific genres are always snubbed. For instance, Tarantino makes immensely popular movies, and he is almost certified ineligible for Oscars. Nominations is all he would get. I don't know if you like his movies, but I believe Academy owes an award to him.
    I was pleasantly surprised when ‘The
    Departed’ won an Oscar for much-deserving Scorsese (expectedly, there was a lot of
    criticism for the choice)

  9.  Rohit, I'll be honest. I *didn't* like Avtar; I thought it was an over-hyped, over-blown indulgence. I absolutely do not mind that mindless action movies, for instance, are snubbed - if that is a bias, then I'll cop to it. I think Scorcese deserved an award much before he actually got one, but then his movies, whether they are Academy-friendly or not, are actually cinematically good, if not brilliant.

    Tarantino? Hmm, not very sure he deserves one. To me, he is one of the over-hyped brigade; someone somewhere said he was brilliant because he cut his movie in a way that no one had done before, so now no one dares say the Emperor has no clothes. To me, there is only so much of self-indulgent camera angles I can take. Besides, it is a fallacy that 'popular' means 'good cinema'. I don't think awards should be given according to box-office
    collections. I mean, think of it: if that were the case, then
    Dabang (a film I enjoyed thoroughly, by the way)
    should win every award there is. The box-office awards 'popular'. The Academy awards (or should award) the cinematic endeavour - or why cannot the Bond movies be eligible for 'Best Picture'? They rake in enough money anyway.

    Typically, the Oscar nominations, even today, go to the best films of the crop, irrespective of their fate at the box-office. That the award itself may not go to the best of the best is fact. But the shortlist always has the best of the year's crop.

  10. Banging my head against the wall, LITERALLY!! 
    83% of my time on your blog has been spent explaining 'what I meant to say in my previous comment". I guess I need to go back to fifth grade to do my revisions on language, I am equally bad at Hindi, trust me!To say that popular cinema means good cinema is not just a fallacy Anuradha, it is a pure SIN. And I am not a sinner
    Let me rephrase, Barring the popular cinema offered by the likes of tarantino and Scorcese, it is mostly unwatchable. And Avatar??? Of course it was a bad movie, whosoever said otherwise!?. "Oscar should go acc. to box office collections" When did I say that?? I am going to cry one day! With the box office collection point I meant to say something completely in contrast to what you understood

    And I am not saying Tarantino should get oscar because he makes popular movies. Rather, I believe he never got an oscar, owing to the reason that he makes popular movies. So when I used the word 'bias', I meant you can't measure every popular movie on the same scale. An Avatar is incomparable to an Inglorious Basterds or an Iron Man can't be put in the same category as a 'Sweeney Todd'. Despite the fact that all of them are popular movies, you can't compare them. Some popular movies actually offer darn good cinema. The Academy awards should definitely be the
    cinematic endeavor, which is why I say Hurt Locker earned its oscar.
    Alright, it gained some popularity from Film festivals, but that doesn't make
    it less-deserving. I believe it is one of the best war movies ever made
    (can't say the same about some other Oscar winners though)

    Sigh! *Please read full comment :P*

  11. Stop hitting your head against the wall! *Grin* I'm sorry. I am not arguing with you, or debating with you. I'm sorry you thought so. When I write, I'm not just replying to you, I also add what thoughts riff off that point; so, when I say that ' I don't think awards should go to box-office collections', I do not mean that *you* said or even implied that - that statement is what *i* think, that is all. I know it is fustrating to think that you have not been understood; I tend to write like I'm 'talking' to you, so sometimes, much gets lost in the translation. I think we agree much more than we disagree, truly I do.

    So relax and give that wall of yours a break. :)

    ps: I'll admit to a bias against Tarantino. I do not like his movies. I also do not think he's ever made a film that was Academy Award worthy. :))

  12. Yeah the reply from you did have a 'calming' effect, I guess online communication has its drawbacks.. never mind.

    Tarantino... Well, if Pulp Fiction din't manage to impress you and if your opinion of him worsened after the Kill Bill series, I suggest you watch Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. 

    But first,,, plzzz watch The Man From Earth!!!!

  13. For some reason,I couldn't reply to you below, so I will do so here. I'm glad we got that sorted out - because yes, without non-verbal clues, writing online can be a very dangerous thing. There is no 'tone' to tell you how something is meant.

    Re: Tarantino - I think we should agree to disagree. I didn't like Inglourious Basterds and I have no intention of watching Django. :))

  14. Last time I checked... You said you hadn't watched Inglorious Basterds... So I believe you saw it somewhere in the last week......
    never mind.. if you din't like even that... then no point arguing. But I still suggest you watch Django... for old times sake! 

  15.  To be very honest, I still haven't watched Inglourious Basterds - I stopped watching quite soon into the film. I find that these days, I have very little patience to sit through a movie that doesn't interest me. :)

    Django - hmm, I'll see. When I'm already biased, that will colour my film-viewing, surely? Besides, I *hate* violent movies. And Tarantino's movies always seem to me to glorify it. Even if that is also my bias, I really cannot take the scenes of violence and bloodshed. :(

  16. you have.. you haven't.. you have...and some. Confusing

  17. Arre baba I began watching Inglourious Basterds; quite soon into the movie, I decided I didn't like it at all, so I stopped. And therefore my statement: I didn't like Inglourious Basterds. What's confusing about that? :)

  18. The 'stopped midway' part is confusing, as you have come up with this after you had already mentioned twice that you had.. and twice that you had not watched the movie. And to be very honest with you, I kind of don't buy it. More so because Basterds hardly had any 'gut wrenching' violence that must have put you off. Just saying.

  19.  Look, I'm admitting a bias here. I do. not. like. Tarantino'smovies. I hated Kill Bill and would not watch Kill Bill 2. With Inglourious, I began watching it, didn't like it - it was a collection of unconnected scenes, and I couldn't bring myself to be interested in any one of the characters. Besides, I honestly thought some of the characterisations were ridiculous - (put it down partly to my bias, and partly to the subject not holding my
    interest, so I think 30 minutes into (perhaps 40? max)

    I zoned out.

    But I was still there in front of the TV while my husband watched it, so you could say 'I watched it' too - only, I really didn't.

  20. Never mind(yeah third time. I know you are counting, probably). You know what, I haven't even dared to watch Kill Bill, it has been on TV sometimes, and I don't go beyond even a single scene. It seems horrible. I always despised these martial arts and those high flying stunts and those superhero kind of dumb movies (Dark Knight series being an exceptional exception)... but other Tarantino flicks.... well, forget it. I was honestly put off with the fluctuations, watched, didn't watch, watched... though I am convinced now.

    And now that I have failed to convince you, I will restate my earlier request.... The Man from Earth!! Do not let the synopsis fool you. There is no CGI, no action. I mean, it's a movie I would never recommend to my friends

    Cya.. bed time.

  21. Simply the worst movie of the decade! Anil Kapoor and brilliance in the same sentence? He was laying it on so thick it made SRK look subtle. He is truly an awful actor. Have u seen him in MI4?

  22. Dear Warrier, ohmm that sounds kind funny. Mrs warrier! You are so right about Inglourious Basterds aside from the opening scene the movie was terrible. Frankly everything by him since his first movie has been "inspired" by an Asian or Italian movie. He simply infuses the germ of an idea what his brand of gratuitous violence and profanity primarily to cover up his total lack of originality. His style and his dialogues are already cliches. Django was awful!

  23. 'Anu' will do fine, thank you. I wouldn't know who 'Mrs Warrier' is if someone addressed me that way. :) Even though I use Anuradha Warrier when I write, I'm not Mrs Warrier in real life. Never mind; it's too complicated.

    Hey, we agree about Tarantino at least. :)


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