Friday, May 22, 2015

Slumdog Millionaire (Best Picture 2008)

I don't know anything about game shows in general, or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in particular, and I don't know anything specifically about India and its culture. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire.

Dev Patel plays Jamal Malik, an 18-year old "chai wallah," a tea boy at a a telephone call center in Mumbai (Bombay). He has gotten onto the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and has won millions of rupees. After the episode is broadcasted live, he is taken by the police and tortured because they believe he has somehow cheated. So he begins to tell the police investigator how he was able to answer all of the questions correctly. For example, for how he knew who a big Seventies Bollywood film star was, he tells the story of how as a child he met the actor and got his autograph....only to have his elder brother turn around and sell the autograph away from him for a few rupees.

For the rest of the film we continue to move back and forth between the questions on the game show, Jamal in police custody, and the flashback stories of Jamal's life. Near the end these three storylines converge, and we are brought up to "the present." The inspector believes Jamal did not cheat, and he is allowed back on to the game show for a second episode. The reason Jamal went on the show in the first place was because he hoped to get the attention of his girl-friend, Latika, who always watches the show, but who has been separated from him. He hopes she will see him and come to him. Eventually the film ends on a happy note, with everyone dancing in the train station.
Young Jamal, Latika, and Salim
I am not going to get into a lot more of the details because this is a film that you will want to watch unfold without any spoilers. I will say that it was very interesting to see the types of things Jamal ended up knowing, though. For example, Jamal knew that Benjamin Franklin was on the US $100 bill, but he did not know that Gandhi is on one of the rupee bills. This is because as a young teen Jamal wa a tour guide at the Taj Mahal, and he always dealt with foreigners who paid in cash. He never dealt with the higher rupee notes, so did not know that Gandhi was on any of them.
Jamal and Salim as young teenagers. 
Speaking of the Taj Mahal, Slumdog Millionaire was filmed on location in Mumbai. I consider the city and the surroundings almost another character in the story. It is a fantastic, almost "exotic" location for me because I have never been there. So even when some of the drama was Dickensian or coincidental, the locations ensured that the film was never dull to watch.

Of course, the film would never have been worth it if the stars had not been enjoyable. Dev Patel is in nearly all of the scenes, but you never get tired of watching him. Anil Kapoor portrays the game show host, a slick and entertaining celebrity with a definite dark side. He is willing to make fun of Jamal, but then starts to be in awe of him. Their scenes are fun to watch as they pretend to be on the same side, but we know that the host is actually trying frantically to figure out how Jamal keeps winning. Freida Pinto is sufficiently beautiful and charming as Latika; you can totally understand how Jamal is obsessed with her. And Madhur Mittal plays Jamal's older brother, Salim. He is in the fewest number of scenes of the four leads, but his over-protectiveness bordering on Evil hovers over the entire story.

One possible complaint you might have if you see Slumdog Millionaire is that approximately half the dialogue is in Hindi with English sub-titles. As someone who lived in Japan and whose wife is not a native English speaker, I am used to watching movies with sub-titles. If you are not, however, the texts may be hard to read or may go by too quickly. As I mentioned, the film's story does jump around in times and locations, so you must be willing to pay attention. If you're willing to give it the attention it needs, you should enjoy this film.

Slumdog Millionaire won Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as five other Academy Awards, the most of the year. However, it was not nominated in any acting categories.

Slumdog Millionaire
*Academy Award Best Picture of 2008*
Produced by Christian Colson
Directed by Danny Boyle
Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy
Based on the book Q&A by Vikas Swarup 

This trailer really sells the movie. It's a good one. 

As an extra treat, here is the Academy Award winning song,
Jai Ho, that ends the film. 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Reader
As a teenager I watched some of the original David Frost interviews with Richard Nixon, so I didn't really want to watch Frost/Nixon, a movie about them. In fact, I try not to watch anything about President Nixon. My wife watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but I thought the idea of a man being born old and growing younger to be preposterous, so I abstained. I did see Milk, however, which was great. Sean Penn won his second Best Actor Oscar for his role as doomed San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk. And Kate Winslet beat her co-star Leonardo DiCaprio to an acting Oscar for her role in The Reader. She won Best Actress as a German woman on trial in Nuremberg after WWII. She was very good, but the film was not great.

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