Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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I rarely venture into movie theaters any more, being antisocial and all. Danny Boyle’s never been a favorite either: as most of you know, I like happy! not his brand of in-your-face hellishness! But when a friend offered a ticket for this one, I couldn’t resist.

It’s been winning awards at film festivals for several months now, but that’s not what drew me. I just couldn’t wait to see Anil Kapoor in a “Hollywood” movie. Of all the actors in Hindi cinema these days, he’d be one of the last I would expect to see cast in one. For one thing, he doesn’t seem interested in an international career—his son had to explain who Danny Boyle was when he was offered the film; and for another, he has not been making a lot of movies for some time now.

So did he deliver?

Well, first a quick synopsis. A young man named Jamal (Dev Patel) is being interrogated in a police lock-up. The question the police want answered: how did an uneducated boy from the slums get to the Rs. 10,000,000 prize mark on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” (I kind of wish they’d called it “Kaun Banega Crorepati” but the film was made in English—most of the slum children speak English too).

The show’s arrogant host Prem (Anil Kapoor) and the Police Inspector (Irfan Khan) are convinced that Jamal has cheated, and they want to know how.

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The film cuts between Jamal’s performance on the show, and flashbacks from his life in the sprawling Dharavi slums. Beginning with his childhood, he attempts to explain to the inspector how events and hardships in his life have taught him the answers that he’s given on the show.

It’s difficult to watch a good deal of the time. The evils that befall children who are alone in the world are depicted with stark reality (for instance, a child being deliberately blinded so that he will earn more for his masters begging). There are some lighter moments too, but they aren’t necessarily easier to watch! My favorite is when little Jamal, determined to get a look at his favorite actor Amitabh Bachchan, immerses himself in raw sewage to get to him.

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When their Muslim mother is killed during sectarian riots, Jamal and his older brother Salim are left homeless and alone to fend for themselves. The two boys are a study in contrasts: Salim is hard-headed and practical, while Jamal is a romantic dreamer. Against Salim’s wishes, Jamal insists that they include an orphaned girl named Latika in their little family.

As they grow up (all three are portrayed at various stages of childhood by three different actors for each of them), Latika is separated from them first.

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After Jamal succeeds in finding her several years later, circumstances separate him this time from both Salim and Latika. Salim (Madhur Mittal) takes a grim path working for Javed Bhai (Mahesh Manjrekar in a chilling portrayal), the don who lords it over the slums. Jamal works at various odd jobs and never stops looking for his beloved Latika (Freida Pinto), who has also become hopelessly entangled in Javed’s snare.

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The events from Jamal’s short life up to the point of his appearance on the show vividly illustrate the misery and degradation of extreme poverty, the desperation that leads to crime, and also the increasing opportunities in India as it begins to play a large part in the new world economy. This broad background canvas is overlaid with the relationships, choices and events that shape Jamal and eventually land him on a television show watched by millions.

Jamal’s stint on the show is no less difficult. Prem needles him contemptuously at every turn even as Jamal’s winnings pile up. The day’s shooting ends as he wins the Rs. 10,000,000, and he is scheduled to return the next day for the final question—if the police absolve him of cheating. The ultimate prize: Rs. 20,000,000, a phenomenal amount which would change his life completely, although money is not his object.

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Will Jamal be allowed to go back to the show? Can he win the jackpot? Will he find his true love Latika and rescue her from Javed’s clutches?

And did Anil Kapoor deliver in his English-speaking debut? He most certainly did! He is just great as the cynical, arrogant game-show host. He’s never been one of my favorites (not that I dislike him) but he is superb here and shows a charisma that I’ve only recently seen in him (also in Welcome and Tashan).

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As for our other “Bollywood” actors: Irfan Khan plays the part of the police inspector unwillingly sucked in by Jamal’s life story with his usual effortlessness. And as I’ve said, Mahesh Manjrekar is truly scary in his fleeting appearances as the ruthless don who controls Salim and Latika’s lives.

The rest of the cast is perfect too: the child actors who play Jamal, Salim and Latika at two different ages and the grownups who play them as adults are all spot on. It’s shot completely on location in India with Boyle’s trademark gritty realism, and bombards you with sensation at the same pace and with the same force that India itself does (thanks to great editing it isn’t overdone though). Despite the harsh environment, this is a fairy tale which works beautifully; a film about hope, and about possibilities—not just surviving, but thriving; about making the right decisions, not the easy ones. The person who consistently makes good choices throughout his life (not only between A, B, C, or D) is rewarded at the end, and who can’t love a message like that?

I highly recommend it; if it isn’t an Oscar contender I’ll be very surprised (and disappointed). And stick around for the end credits: they roll over a Bollywood-style dance number with music by AR Rahman (whose background score throughout hits all the right notes—ah! sorry!—too). He might just get an Oscar nomination as well.

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Images source: Slumdog Millionaire official website

[Updated to add more photos on 11-14-08. I *heart* pictures.]

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45 Comments to “Slumdog Millionaire (2008)”

  1. Sounds very intersting Greta. I have only recently begun to like Anil Kapoor, and that only after seeing him in my new favorite movie NAYAK: THE REAL HERO.

  2. Still a bit weary (a. because I don’t really rate Boyle, and b. because movie makers switching continents seldom pull it off), but definitely intrigued!
    :-)
    PC x

  3. Mike and PC: this film made me like both Anil and Boyle much more than before, and it was a pretty interesting look at the slums of Bombay. I liked how he both showed how bleak it is to live in that kind of poverty, but also how the human spirit does rise above it and people there find ways to live—not just survive, but live. If you know what I mean. In other words, it wasn’t unrelentingly depressing, and it wasn’t patronizing or judgmental either.

  4. I’ve heard nothing but excellent things about this, Memsaab! The only reason I’ll stay away from seeing it in theaters is it’s rated R for ‘brutal violence’. I’d rather have access to the fast-forward button, especially because the ‘gritty realism’ has to do with the sectarian and in Bombay. :)

    …[Anil Kapoor] is superb here and shows a charisma that I’ve only recently seen in him (also in Tashan).

    Is this because you just didn’t find him charismatic enough, or because you’ve been seeing more of his films lately?

    I’m glad we’re seeing more of him again. Earlier this year, I thought he was the best actor in ‘Race’ too. Really looking forward to what should be his best role (I should say, in a Bollywood film) of the year in Yuvvraaj (November 21). After Tashan (good acting can only do so much to save a film), things can only get better!

  5. Hi theBollywoodFan: It wasn’t OTT violence, it was realistic though. I have seen a few Anil Kapoor films where I thought he was good (Calcutta Mail, Parinda) or I really just liked the film (Mr. India)…but overall I’ve mostly felt “enh” about him and his films. Don’t know why. But he’s really seemed to come alive actually first in Welcome, then in Tashan and now Slumdog Millionaire. Maybe it’s just me, though, who knows :-) Better late than never?

  6. ANNNNNIIILLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!! Memsaab you are sooo lucky to see this movie, I tried so hard to see this at the Vancouver Film Festival, but to no avail! It hasn’t released over here, but I’m waiting for it! It sounds great, and Anil sounds very good, sorry for the fangirllyness I just got another autographed Anil card where he wrote “Happy Birthday and Best wishes Rumnique” on a British Airways flight the same as my aunty! Best birthday present in the whole world! At least right now it’s the best!

  7. That is a most excellent birthday present, Rum :-D I’m sure the film will release in a theater near you one of these days. It only just opened here yesterday. And it’ll be on DVD some day too!

  8. Hi Memsaab

    A few good Anil movies to see include “Woh Saat Din”, “Saheb”, “Ram Laakhan” (this is a multi starrer which also has Dimple kapadia and jackie Shroff with Madhuri as Anil’s jodi). You will appreciate Anil even better.

  9. I actually didn’t much like Ram Lakhan. But I will look for the others :-)

  10. I’m quite sure it’s a British film :-)

  11. You ought to see ‘Taal’. He plays a smaller role compared to Akshay Khanna and Aishwarya Rai, but he’s good fun in it.

    Wonder when ‘Slumdog’ will release here?

  12. This sounds really interesting – I’d love to see it. And I second Banno on ‘Taal’ – I thought Anil was the best thing about the film – he was OTT, funny and fun.

  13. Yeah he was not bad in Taal but he didn’t make me a fan either. The film is not awfully bad though.

    I like Boyle’s style and happy that he was able to pull this off (I only heard good things about this one)

  14. FiLMiNDiA: It is British in the sense that it’s directed by Boyle, but it’s also being distributed etc. through Hollywood film companies. It’s not a Hindi film (or other foreign language film) is basically my point :-)

    Banno: He was good in Taal, as you say probably the best thing in it, but I didn’t like the movie much. Can’t really stand Akshay Khanna or Aishwarya onscreen. I’d rather just listen to the music!

    DG: It’s a great film. You should see it for sure.

    Eliza: I think the pace and feel of India suits Boyle to a T! Maybe he can start making Hindi movies!

  15. As long as they dont require Anil Kapoor to dance, he will perform quite well. :-)

    Can wait to see the film

    Regards

    Nirvana at http://nirvana73.blogspot.com/

  16. Heh :-) Actually, he did a little jig onstage after Jamal won the 10,000,000 rupees and it was quite graceful! But otherwise, there was no dancing required.

  17. Anil Kapoor is not one of my favorite heroes, but he has moved over to character roles rather well. (I would vote for “Lamhe” as my favorite Anil Kapoor ka hero film.)

    Your review has only strengthened my resolve to see this! I didn’t know it was in English, but I guess that makes sense with Danny Boyle directing it.

    Now, I just have to correct all the people who keep telling me about this “Bollywood” movie they read about in the paper. *rolls eyes*

  18. LOL Filmi Girl! I have had to do the same *eye roll* I guess Boyle translated about a third of the script into Hindi (which is subtitled), but it didn’t seem even like that much Hindi to me.

    And I agree (and I guess it’s what I was saying all along too)…he is actually really engaging as a character actor, but I could never relate to him as a hero.

  19. That title suggests a rapper or something equally uninteresting to me! Now that I know its a film, and an interesting one at that – will look out for it. :-) Thanks for writing it up.

    And I totally agree with you about Anil – he is pretty good but I could never take to him, either.

  20. Eeshwar (1989) was the one film that made me an Anil Kapoor fan. Welcome wouldn’t have been near as funny without Anil and Nana Patekar.

    Filmi Girl, that’s interesting about people almost branding Slumdog Millionaire as a ‘Bollywood’ movie. I feel better now, because I read this Danny Boyle quote in the NY Times (at this link) a couple of days ago and was really quite bothered by the implication of the second and third sentences:

    “No, no, no, it’s not a Bollywood film. It’s a good story. It’s a narrative.”

    Right. I think the author of the piece is guilty in some respects too, and the generalization typical of the audience its aimed at, not unlike any film industry, LOL. They seem to be quite out of touch with the real Bollywood. (Weren’t we talking about that after their Jodhaa Akbar review earlier in the year?) Of course, it could be I’m just too biased when it comes to Bombay :)

  21. bollyviewer: Yes, it totally sounds like a rapper movie! I am taking to Anil in his latest films, just didn’t like him as a hero.

    theBollywoodFan: I will look for Eeshwar, haven’t seen it. He was great in Welcome (I think I said that in comments, but should update my post with it too).

    I am so tired of American condescension towards “Bollywood”…I have to deal with it constantly. I’ve become quite humorless about being teased about my affection for Hindi films! I’m sad to see that Boyle said that, because in other interviews he’s been very complimentary about his experiences in India filming Slumdog. Having said that, I also thought on my way out of the theater that it was really sad an Indian director hadn’t made this film or one very like it already…

  22. Also (to continue my rant) I am fed up with people talking about the “interruption” of songs. When used well, as they often are in Hindi films, they don’t interrupt; they enhance and help carry the narrative (yes Bollywood has narratives!) forward and add depth to our understanding of the characters and situations involved. Okay, I’m done for now.

  23. >> He was great in Welcome

    Yes, I was referring to your comment on ‘Welcome’, Memsaab. Pardon the confusion. :)

    You’ve said it rather well. The perceptions turn away a lot of people. They’re not entirely unwarranted, it’s just the generalization that is bothersome. (At least give them a chance!)

    There seems to be an awful lot of ‘borrowing’ from elsewhere in Bollywood today, and if there’s one thing I wish would change, it’d be to have better writers who trust their own thought processes to formulate a decent plot. That’s independent of whether or not the movies are musicals, but just a thought while we’re at it.

    Cheers!

  24. Just this morning I was reading about this in the NY times, and almost decided to see it, but now I am a bit wary of all the stark pain that this one promises- and yet so intrigued about AK and Rahman’s music and WHAR happens in the end…ooh- so torn :)

  25. Anilllll! I saw a scene of him in Welcome, when he was painting and the way he talked and put out his goggles! Wow! Absolutely fantastic! I am sure that great actors like Anil will do a great work again.

  26. Hey Great review Memsaab…I am waiting desperately for the film because of the intriguing story and to see a couple of friends who acted (very small roles) in the film….Hope they release an unedited version in India (they normally chop off films randomly in India)…By the way check my Blog (www.2nfactory.blogspot.com), just posted something that might interest you.

  27. shweta: It does show some pretty grim things, but it’s not gratuitous and in the long run it’s a very positive and hopeful film. I don’t like seeing awful things either (nobody does I guess) but it’s a necessary part of this, and so worth it in the long run. Do see it.

    Saurabh: He seems to be having a lot of fun in this new stage of his career! :-) Yay Anil!

    toonfactory: I most definitely will check it out. You are a v. talented (and knowledgeable) guy :-)

  28. Just saw Slumdog Millionaire today — it just opened in Washington. It has received such effusive press that I was concerned that it had been overhyped. I was wrong — it was excellent and I encourage everyone to see it. Interestingly, the theatre was sold out and it was just a matinee! Any idea when it will release in India? Wonder how it will do there?

    And Memsaab, I feel the same way you do about Anil, but agree that his performance was great. As you suggested, I think he is more appealing to me as a character actor vs. the hero.

    Thanks for the review — I enjoy your site. Sally

  29. Memsaab-ji,
    I’ve been blog AWOL a bit and just did my own post on Slumdog today and didn’t know you’d done one too. I read bollyviewer’s comment on my post which brought me here. Well done! I will link your review into my fluff, teekay? Here’s my fluff:

    http://bollywoodfoodclub.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/slumdog-millionaire-2008-its-not-bollywood-but-is-stars-anil-kapoor-and-irfan-khan/

    Great minds think alike. I even posted the same Irfan Khan pic, though not a surprise since there were only several to choose from on the website. I LOVE the Krishna image you included. Yes, Anil was fantastic hai. :) I loved his sleazy suit and pronunciation of “Millun-aihr” and frequent tossing around of “chaiwallah” acting so pricey and all. :) I like him in general, especially his simpleton role in Beta. I believe that the “Bollywood” parts are what makes the film. If Boyle was acting pricey about non-Bollywood films then shame on him-ji since that’s what made it so great. And his film Millions has lots of masala ingredients too:dead mom (orphans sort of, dad is still around), religious references, trains, coincidences, poor finding $, to name a few elements. Also glad you had the name of the evil don, Mahesh Manjrekar, seen him before but didn’t have the name. That orphan theif don was even worse, I wonder what his name is?

    All the best!
    Sita-ji

  30. Sally: Thanks for your feedback—people are wondering if I’m crazy; the film seems to be carrying all kinds of perceptions on its back and I’m glad to have someone here second my opinion of its (and Anil’s) awesomeness :-)

    sitaji: It’s one of those *wow* I can’t believe I’m sitting through this but how can I not? films…I thought that it had so many Hindi film elements, and really love that Boyle managed to capture that (even if accidentally—Hindi film is so essentially Indian after all!). I’m sad that Mahesh Manjrekar has gotten no credit that I’ve been able to find for being in it (I don’t think he’s even listed on the film’s site); granted, he had a small part but he’s done a lot in Hindi cinema (directing and acting) and deserves a little more notice for this (I mean in addition to the fact that he was great) I think. The guy who played the evil orphanage guy was amazing too. His name is Ankur Vikal. He had quite a presence! Would be interested in finding out what else he might have been in. Just a wonderful film, I really hope people see it.

  31. If anyone is interested, sitaji found a great link to a comprehensive listing of the music on the soundtrack here: http://niftyhawk.blogspot.com/2008/11/slumdog-millionaire-soundtrack-listing.html

    As she points out, Fox’s site for the film doesn’t do it justice at all. I found a better source for the cast and crew here: http://www.inbaseline.com/project.aspx?project_id=190486

  32. Thanks for that cast listing memsaab and for providing me with the name of the evil orphan exploiter, Ankur Vikal. I totally want to see more of him. As soon as he appeared I knew it was BIG trouble, thanks to my Bollywood watching experience. There’s also one of his henchmen, the one who did the blinding and had acid thrown on his face. I just call him crazy eyes, from seeing him in so many Bollywood films with crazy eyed characters. Also the guy who worked in the control booth on the show, he’s very familiar to me too, the one with the elfin face. I will use your inbaseline.com site to figure out their names. :) I don’t like the disregard the fox site gives these important actors; they are what glue the entire film together and need honorable credit in my opinion hai.

  33. I was going to watch it this weekend but I really wanted to see QoS and then I got needled into watching Dostana, so it got pushed back to next week. I’m so glad you liked it because I was beginning to think the hype was a bit much and there must be something wrong with it. I go squinty eyed when people start referencing Bollywood for Hollywood movies – Moulin Rouge took good care of that!

    However, cannot wait to watch this!

    And for all those who want to know when this comes out in India – I believe the date is January some time.

  34. sitaji: I couldn’t for the life of me think who the constable was (Saurabh Shukla) although I’ve seen him in a million things :-)

    Amrita: I look forward to seeing what you think of it. I’m always suspicious of hype too, mostly because my taste is often out in left field :-) But it truly lives up to it and it’s especially a treat if you love Hindi films and India like I do.

  35. Yes! I thought the same thing about the constable too! Thanks for providing Saurabh Shukla’s name! I remember him best from
    Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar (2000) ttha starred Manoj Bajpai & Tabu. Shukla’s character kepts trying to make “blue” films. Also seen him in Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006); Mithya (2008); Bandit Queen (1994); and Taal (1999). I think the guy with the crazy eyes is Abhay Bhargav,
    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1055106/
    who ironically was the one who “altered” the eyes of the orphan.

  36. I wouldn’t characterize ALL of Danny Boyle’s previous films as “in your face hellishness.” Check out Millions from 2004. It’s delightful.

  37. I have heard from several people that Millions is lovely, I will look for it :-) Boyle made the only film that I’ve ever walked out on in disgust—Shallow Grave. I hated everything about that film. But he’s redeemed himself greatly with this one!

  38. Nice overview of the movie. It is now released for limited showing in the states. Dharavi shown in the movie may not be around once the planned makeover is completed.

  39. I’ll believe the Dharavi makeover when I see it :)

  40. Hey,

    Just got the soundtrack and it’s great! I especially like track 6, “Ringa Ringa” — I had to stop wrapping Christmas gifts while it was playing so I could juke out! But the entire album is strong — I can’t stop playing it. It’s available on Amazon and is also on iTunes if you’re interested.

    Have you seen Rab Ne Bano Di Jodi?

    Hope you had a nice holiday.

  41. I love the soundtrack, and I think AR Rahman is getting lots of attention from it.

    Fingers crossed for an Oscar!

  42. Anil Kapoor was also great in ‘No Entry’ – real funny.
    And he was absolutely brilliant in ‘Pukar’. You have to watch it (again?) to see his calibre….

  43. Hi Greta,
    Wow, you really wrote all this before the Oscars, good job!
    I watched the movie just a few days ago, and found it fun, but well, it’s more Hollywood of course than B’wood, although, sometimes these days I found myself unable to tell which is which.
    Anil Kapoor to me was a little underused, because even if (you’re right), he does a good job as “the cynical, arrogant game-show host”, he’s really confined to that. And I’d say, confined: that’s what most of the actors are: Dev Patel (friendly looking and all) always has his gape, and Freida Pinto (beautiful) has a part where it isn’t difficult to be either frightened, or exultant. The kids I liked, perhaps because they’re kids, I don’t know, and you tend to love them as such!
    Like you, I loved that scene where little Jamal drops in the shit and it carves a way for him through the crowd… Gah!
    BTW, for me, the film that showed me Anil’s talent was Calcutta Mail (http://www.letstalkaboutbollywood.com/article-20650656.html)
    Well, we’ll speak again when you’re back!
    cheers, yves

    PS: very nice caps Greta

  44. Didn’t like this movie, liked Salaam Bombay better.
    It seems to me as though Anil Kapoor’s acting has improved with time – though I did like his ruffian take in Mashaal and Yudh (the murderous one who keeps saying jhakaas) and Mr India. I know a diehard fan of his who still loves Prem Kumar Patialawale from Woh Saat Din. Black and White was it, where he had a major role and turned in a great performance. In his days of youthful glory , I remember young men in Bombay, at least, styled their hair like his and wore those loin-crushingly tight jeans ( I have a relative who also tried to speak like him and mostly succeeded.)
    And, when I recently watched Lajja, I actually looked forward to the scenes when he came in.

  45. This is the movie which still remains my hard disk. I keep watching it once a month every time.

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