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The Best of 2008: 'Slumdog Millionaire'

Slumdog Millionaire


This is the first Best Picture Oscar winning film to have made it on any of my recommendation lists. The reason for this is probably because Slumdog Millionaire is one of the few Picture winners in a number of years to have such a creative and electric filmmaking style in both visuals and storytelling devices. It could be argued that the film is simply another way to do an innovative non-linear narrative as Citizen Kane did nearly 70 years ago or a flashy docudrama-type approach into a society's dangerous region as done in 2002's City of God, but what sets Slumdog Millionaire in its own place in filmmaking history is its epic story of uncompromising love between two little, imaginative kids: a boy who never gives up on doing the right thing and a girl who always seems to show up at the right time in his life.

British director Peter Boyle and his co-director from India, Loveleen Tandan (why was she never mentioned in the Oscar nominations for Best Director Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise both won the directing Oscars for 1961's West Side Story after all), paint a very colorful tale of how a boy's life seems to have been deliberately shaped by a higher power in order to provide all the answers to the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?," and that if he wins, it may secure a future with the girl that he has sought all his life. No epic story, however, is without its ups and downs. The boy named Jamal finds himself always pitted against his older brother, Salim. One example shows him in a fierce competition in who can get an autograph from the infamous Indian actor, Amitabh Bachchan, who happens to land his private helicopter near Jamal's family's public toilets, and it is this event that allows Jamal to answer a Millionaire question related to Bachchan because of his personal experience. Salim eventually grows up to be something less than savory due to his dark outlook on life while Jamal continues his personal mission in finding Latika, the young girl he rescued from a downpour, but was unable to rescue from a group of pimps and thugs LITERALLY later down the road. Even the cops, using brutal interrogation methods, have trouble totally believing Jamal as if all of his life's troubles were designed to allow him a better future. Of course, anyone can write this off as a writer giving his character too many coincidences in his favor, BUT the thing to remember here is that Jamal has no guarantee that he will win everything on this game show. Many people (cops, fellow employees, even the show's host!) do not want him to win.

Despite the film's optimistic overtones in an atmosphere of utter futility, which is solidified by India's horrific poverty and indignant class system (apparently, a big problem according to many social critics over there), Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan do not trick you too much into thinking Jamal's life is full of guarantees. Life is full of possibilities and opportunities, but no guarantees. Oscar-winning Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle gives Jamal, Salim, and Latika's world the vibrancy of a child's imagination and freedom while Oscar winning music composer A.R. Rahman (very famous songwriter/composer in India) legitimizes their world with an authentic Bollywood beat. Although the film is not a Bollywood film or a Bollywood musical, it still captures much of that allure. For a film that is meant to be very Indian as seen through a Brit's eyes, the endearing spirit of Jamal seems to parallel the hope and strength of many American movie characters such as Jefferson Smith, Atticus Finch, and Rocky Balboa. A big statement from me, no doubt, but my overall point is that there is something great in all men who do not give up.