Review: Slumdog Millionaire (5/5)

Jamal is an uneducated street kid. He works as a “chai wallah” (or tea server) in a call center company and lived practically his entire life in the slums. With this credentials, his only shot at a staggering 20 million-rupee cash pot is through the lottery or games of luck such as “Deal or No Deal” or “Wheel of Fortune”, but not on game shows that require intellectual prowess such as “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire”.

So after Jamal consistently gave correct answers to questions that covered the fields of poetry, mythology, history, cinema, and sports among others, the show’s host and producers were suspended in disbelief. They got him arrested and tortured on suspicion of cheating on national TV. To quote the unnamed cop who is cross-examining him, he said, “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?” Jamal matter-of-factly remarked, “I knew the answers”. Of course he does. He does not only know the answers, he experienced them first-hand. It is as if every single unfortunate incident in his life has been building up to this. Life may be cruel to Jamal but through this quiz show, life is about to redeem itself. Living life is certainly a form of education in itself and as the old folks say, experience is the best teacher.

So then begins the interrogation with Jamal. He walks us through his life and explains how he knew the answers to the game show questions. In the eyes of Jamal, we see how his mother was brutally killed in a Hindu-Muslim riot, how he was forced to beg on the streets by a mob of child exploiters, how he escaped their clutches, how he met his first love Latika, how his brother Salim intentionally separated him away from Latika, and how he found her only to lose her again. The narration segues from tiered flashbacks to the videotaped game show.

The inspiring love story between Jamal and Latika may be the emotional jolt that gives the film a humanistic touch, but to label “Slumdog Millionaire” as a simple love story would be an unqualified insult to Simon Beaufoy’s sweeping and tightly-penned screenplay that utilized Mumbai as a central character in itself. We see the shanty houses as they turn into skyscrapers. We take a glimpse at the harrowing criminal underworld abundant with cold-blooded murders, greed, brutality, and exploitation. The expose on the roundabouts of the Third World life gives the film an undeniable social resonance.

Meanwhile, Danny Boyle’s commanding direction guides us through the nooks and crannies of Mumbai’s alleys to give us a personal tour of the city – not afraid to show the gritty and the dirty. With the film’s frenzied pace and dynamic camerawork coupled with an eclectic score, we find beauty in the ugly. In “Slumdog Millionaire”, the grotesque marries the exuberant to produce a vivid travelogue reeking of vivacious energy and effervescent colors.

And now, Jamal is only one multiple-choice question away from 20 million rupees and a chance for the better life fate has kept him away from for 19 years. Will he get the correct answer? Will he use his last lifeline – call a friend? Yes or no? Is that your final answer?

In the heart-thumping climax, we become witnesses of cinema’s most intense dramatic build-up. It is an ultimately gratifying finale, but it is inevitable not to be moved to tears. The coherent script ties all the elements together in panache of grand visuals and exploding emotions. “Slumdog Millionaire” is no doubt the best film of the year.


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