Nominated for best film at the academy awards to be telecast on this Sunday Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire was supposed to go straight to DVD after some success at film festivals: playing at the Landmark Theaters it is one of the strongest contenders for on oscar. Perhaps it has won over American and British audiences but will it win over the Academy? It has yet to win over Indian audiences even though a third of the film is Hindi. Slumdog Millionaire is set in Mumbai, and is the story of two brothers Jamal and Samil and their girlfriend Latika. After their mother is murdered in an anti Muslim riot, Jamal and Salim are forced to live in the slums and become prey for a slumlord who in exchange for room and board send the children out to beg and pockets their earnings. Salim gets wind of the extent to which they are to be exploited and the three children run away when attempting to board a train, Latika is left behind. The film stretches in time from their early childhood to early adulthood.
The narrative thread is held together by a television reality game show that was created in the UK and is part of an international franchise Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The globalization of this reality show can be noted in over 100 countries. Jamal becomes a contestant on the show and through the questions he is asked, flashbacks of his poverty stricken upbringing are revealed. How is it possible that he knows the answer to the questions - is he not cheating? In numerous ways the answers to the trivia questions on the show were revealed to him in real life experience.
The problem I have with the film is the reality game show and although you may rightfully protest but that is the point of the movie, it is not. The point of the movie is to show a rags to riches story for children who are forced to grow up hard, and are used by everyone. The host of the talkshow has the same contempt for Jamal as the slumlord who exploits children. The film based on the novel Q and A by Indian novelist Vikas Swarup did not take up this game show, but screenwriter –Simon Beaufoy did. The game show not only captivates the audience but the entire Mumbai metropolis. Everyone seems to watch it, and everyone finds it the definitive way out of poverty apart from begging, stealing, trafficking and slumloarding. There is nothing in between and it is these extremes that make the story a black and white fairy tale.
The hard stories of these children and the brilliant cinematography of Anthony Dod Mantle, editing by Chris Dickens and Original Music by A.R. Rahman certainly deserve Oscars this year, but whether the film should win best picture for the dazzling interface of an empty form of TV entertainment as narrative device is a question. Reality shows are not about reality but are superficial illusions that make us forget the real causes of the poverty of hour lives in get rich quick schemes.
For Move Magazine this is Moira Sullivan
© 2009 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 2/18
UK - 2008