‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Movie Review

Slumdog Millionaire

I had wanted to watch this movie when I first heard about it in December. However, I never got around to a viewing until late January after which the film had already won Golden Globes, SAG Awards and been nominated for 10 Oscars. It almost seemed unfair to have had the bar set so high as it couldn’t possibly fulfill the hype. And unfortunately, after watching it, the movie seemed very ordinary for me. I should offer a *spoiler* alert for those who haven’t seen the film as integral pieces of the plot may be discussed.

It may be worth mentioning that I missed the very start of the movie but was caught up quickly by the time I arrived. The movie focuses on three orphaned children from the slums of Mumbai and details a rags to riches love story. As the movie went along, I really enjoyed the premise of re-telling the background story of each answer and the back-and-forth cuts were carefully done. I would have preferred to see a running sidebar on the Millionaire show to see how many questions our hero was away from the ‘million’ and also if the same life lines from the U.S. show were available for use. While it was unfortunate for India to have gained recognition in this film through the portrayal of slum villages, it also wouldn’t be fair to ignore the fact that these areas exist, as they do in many other countries around the world. Despite the Western praise, the movie has been a cause for protest in areas of Mumbai.

I actually think there was dialogue in the movie that did not translate well in the subtitles. Luckily my early years at Hindi class paid off and I think those who could understand the language may have connected a bit more with certain scenes. I also wish the film did a better job highlighting Amitabh Bachan, the actor who came down in the helicopter in the autograph scene. To put it in perspective, there probably isn’t a single actor in Hollywood who is on the same scale as the iconic Bachan is relative to the Bollywood scene. It’s also cool to note that Bachan is the actual host of India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Meanwhile, the actor playing the host in the movie was another recognizable face for me, Anil Kapoor, who I was a big fan of back in the early 90s (Ram Lakhan anyone?). It’s always interesting to see Bollywood actors cross over to the Hollywood scene (Amrish Puri in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom rings a bell). I’m hoping this movie is a launch pad for the two main stars, Dev Patel and Freida Pinto, both of whom did a good job in the movie.

What bothered me about the film however was the stretching of reality as it went along. For example, young Jamal (Dev) going back to Mumbai to find Latika (Freida) seemed too easy. To keep things in perspective, try finding a ‘Mary’ in NYC without the assistance of any technology. Furthermore, it seemed odd how much the kids were able to get by speaking English without finishing any formal education. Millionaire is also a show that is never shown live as the last scene depicted, and the phone-a-friend list is predetermined at the time of filming. It seemed like we really had to suspend reality to allow for the Hollywood ending. Also, it may have been the 5hrs sleep I was on and most definitely my lack of literary knowledge, but I was convinced at the time of viewing that Jamal answered the last question incorrectly and the proceeding events were a fantasy sequence. Why else would a million dollar winner be stranded alone at a train station after a monumental win? Where was the media? Again, maybe I expected too much and perhaps I am being too critical but concluding the fairy tale love story with a convenient happy ending accompanied with a dance scene is what prompted me to stop watching Bollywood movies in the mid-90s in the first place. That being said, I think it will probably win the Best Picture Oscar in a relatively weak field but give me Boyz in the Hood any day over this above average film.

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