Slumdog Millionaire

imagesFORGET the twitter about aggrieved national sentiment. For, Slumdog Millionaire is neither poverty porn nor slum tourism. No, unlike what the desi nationalists’ blogosphere claims, it is not a case of the infamous western eye ferreting out oriental squalor and peddling it as the exotic dirt bowl of the east. No, Slumdog Millionaire is just a piece of riveting cinema, meant to be savoured as a Cinderella-like fairy tale, with the edge of a thriller and the vision of an artist. It was never meant to be a documentary on the down and out in Dharavi. And it isn’t.

Danny Boyle actually treads into familiar territory. He takes the typical Bollywood tale of two brothers who have only one mission in life: survival. And he takes them through the usual ups and downs that we have witnessed so many times in the best and the worst of Bollywood masala : the tenements, the riots, the underworld, the brothels, the streets, the gutters, the stations, the separations, the reunions, the friendships, the rivalry, love, longing, despair…followed by final victory. And this heartwarming stayin’ alive saga unfolds dramatically against the backdrop of Mumbai’s underbelly, which stands by as a throbbing witness to the coming-of-age of its three protagonists, the three musketeers, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), Salim Malik (Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Frieda Pinto).

The three colourful characters travel their own separate paths. While Jamal, who steals your heart away with his first plunge into no-man’s land (the shit pit on the edge of the slum), manages to wipe off the dust and grime and grow straight, Salim ends up as the Gunmaster who trusts only his Colt 45. Harsh reality forces him to become the henchman of the gangster (Mahesh Manjrekar) after a series of unethical choices. Latika, the frail orphan, ends up like all damsels do. Completely distressed, first in the brothels and then as the gangster’s keep. But she hasn’t given up on love and hope (she knows her love, Jamal will rescue her), just as the film never gives up on life.

Jamal’s journey from the slushy dump of human excreta, through the nightmarish world of child beggars, ends in the hot seat of the Quiz Show, where he must confront an arrogant quizmaster (Anil Kapoor) who is hell bent on showing a lowly chaiwala his true place in society. How can a chaiwala know all the answers on `MY SHOW’, he asks, and tries his utmost to put an end to his rags-to-riches dream run which will see him winning Rs 20 million as prize money. Little does he realise that the tumult of life has taught Jamal all the answers, including seemingly innocuous ones like who wrote the hymn, ` darshan do ghanshyam ’.

The high point of the film is Anthony Dod Mantel’s state-of-the-art cinematography which serenades Mumbai with unbridled passion. It keeps pace with the breathless editing and hurtles you through the narrow alleys of the shanty town, where you can even see the flies on a sleeping dog or the flash of a menacing steel blade that slits a pretty face. AR Rahman’s music score adds a pulsating beat to the proceedings, even as Simon Beaufoy’s script delicately transforms Vikas Swarup’s novel into a film. But when it comes to performances, it’s the kids who walk away with all your taalis .

Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) and Latika (Rubina Ali) are absolutely mesmerising in their first stage, as three young orphans taking the cruel world in their stride, without losing out on their childish buoyancy and kinship. Definitely Dickensian in scope and intent. And definitely, the best part of the film which captures the protagonists in three different stages.  (Times of India)

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