Sunday, February 8, 2009


Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and Loveleen Tandan will most likely win best picture, so I am posting it first. It has ten Academy nominations and took the Golden Globe. While it would not be my choice for best pic, I did thoroughly enjoy this movie! It is more accessible than my pic, and it is a beautifully adapted, shot, edited, and scored feel-good movie that is not sappy (even with orphans and true love and one-dimensional villains), not sappy because it is punctuated with violence, and chase scenes, a little suspense and a little luck, and because… it is beautifully adapted, shot, edited, and scored. Besides, everyone (except the Indian Regis Philbin) roots for the underdog, as does sometimes even the Academy. And there is no underdog like Jamal (Dev Patel) as contestant, as beautifully understated as one could wish. Also, thanks to cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, garbage heaps and colorful rags become works of art.

Orphaned brothers Jamal and Salim Malik survive by their wits in the slums of Bombay (Mumbai). The older brother Salim (Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala,as teen)is ruthless, calculating, and practically amoral. Salim repeatedly betrays Jamal, then saves his brother’s life (eyes, really), then betrays his brother some more, then redeems himself. Jamal, on the other hand, has ‘a never ending love’ for Latika, whom he encounters on the streets after having just lost his mother. His childhood love, just like his determination (for an autograph), revealed early on, is tenacious.

The hell of growing up on the streets is contrasted to the Taj Mahal as “heaven.” It is probably no coincidence that the opera upon which young Jamal happens is Gluck’s “Orpheus and Eurydice.” Jamal’s lyre is his truthfulness (“too truthful” says his less brutal interrogator), a purity of love to which Latika (Freida Pinto,as teen)must be drawn, just as the audience is drawn to Jamal. But a viper, first Mamam (Ankur Vikal), then Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), takes Latika, and Jamal returns to the underworld (of gangsters) to rescue her. On the TV show “Millionaire” Jamal, as well, “dared more than any other man ever dared for his love” [Edith Hamilton]. But, Slumdog Millionaire is full of surprises, and this film, “bizarrely plausible,” will make you laugh out loud when you hear the last game show question. I enjoyed the twists on the allusions to Greek mythology, Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and perhaps even Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Only the Dickensian aspect stays true to its inspiration.

Based on the book Q & A by Vikas Swarup, this is a story about more questions and answers than those asked by a game show host: About the death of his mother, Jamal says, “I wake up every morning wishing I did not know the answer to that question.” Other salient questions: the relentless “Where is Latika?”and the incredulous “You still believe in Salim?” with feel good answers: “… safe” and “God is great.” Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) has done a wonderful job putting the stories into a seamless yet jolting screenplay. I wanted to dance during the closing credits along with the clearly joyful cast. But this film inspired no self reflection.

-Lycia Alexander-Guerra, M.D.

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