Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning picture reveals a city rarely explored
At the 2009 Oscars ceremony the stars of Hollywood took to the red carpet in usual fashion, primped, preened and ready to be rewarded for their efforts. This year's awards had an international feel, and it was a distinctly un-American film that would steal the show.
From the moment of its release - with director Danny Boyle behind the camera and a cast of little or unknown Indian actors in front - Slumdog Millionaire was set to make a mark in world cinema. The eight Oscar wins it received, including Best Director and Best Picture, ensured it lived up to expectations.
Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle’s first release since 2007's Sunshine. Since becoming a household name as director of the generation defining Trainspotting, Boyle has continued to build his reputation as one of Britain's most talented directors. Recent titles such as 28 Days Later and The Beach (well, I liked it) have ensured that any film with his name attached is worth keeping an eye on.
Set predominantly in the slums of India's second city, Mumbhai, Slumdog Millionaire is the story of one young man's struggle to survive the harsh realities of city life.
At the start of the film we are introduced to the protagonist Jamal (Dev Patel) being interrogated by the police about supposedly cheating on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The cops cannot understand how a ‘dog’ from the slums would be smart enough to succeed on the show. It's an excellent way to open the film - guilty or not guilty?
For every question the police ask, Jamal has an answer, an explanation, a story to tell. Through a series of flashbacks we travel with Jamal back to his childhood. It's a simple but highly effective story-telling technique - the man becomes the boy becomes the man.
But for his role in the first series of teen drama Skins, Patel was a virtual unknown before Slumdog. Despite his relative inexperience he brings a confidence and emotion to the lead role that captures the imagination. From scenes where he’s subjected to torture, to the emotionally delicate moments with Latika, the girl he loved and lost, this young rookie delivers the goods.
Rumour has it that Boyle’s original choice for the role was ultimately passed on because he was 'too good looking for a slumdog', and that his daughter suggested he take a look at Patel after watching Skins. In the end, Boyle would not be disappointed. Quiet and closed off, yet strong and resilient, Patel is perfect in the 'young pup comes good' role.
Huge credit must also be given to the Indian children who make this film what it is. Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar play Jamal and his brother Salim as young boys. Their part of the story has some of the harshest, most intense scenes in the entire movie and the youngsters absolutely shine - particularly Ismail as Salim, Jamal’s older and crueller brother. At times you would be forgiven for thinking that you were watching City Of God, such is the authenticity of Boyle's early scenes.
Though much of the film deals with tragic events in Jamal's life, it is fundamentally a love story. Everything for Jamal revolves around one thing: Latika (Freida Pinto). It is this core dynamic - the chemistry between Pinto and Patel - that elevates Slumdog Millionaire to the Oscar winning heights that it ultimately reached.
The story might be set in India, but Boyle's mark on this movie is unmistakable. The feeling of isolation and the grittiness of the film’s setting is - perhaps inevitably - reminiscient of Transpotting. Boyle's editing techniques are also familiar. In one particularly high octane moment the opening of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is interwined with a gun fight - the gun shots in sync with the music. It's Oscar-winning direction from a world-class director.
But what of the film's short-comings, you might ask? Well, they are few and far between. Boyle accurately portrays a life and a culture that few movies have explored before, with engrossing and enlightening results. For this alone Slumdog Millionaire deserves every bit of praise it gets.