A review of “Slumdog Millionaire” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ****

Rating: R for violence, language and disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. In English and Hindi with English subtitles

 

 

          Danny Boyle turns his sights to India’s vast underbelly in this vivid exploration of one young man’s steadfast quest for the ubiquitous brass ring.

          In present day Mumbai Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) sits on the hot seat of India’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” game show, poised to win the elusive grand prize of $20 million rupees. Refusing to believe that Jamal is coming by his answers honestly the police get involved, punctuating their brutal torture tactics with penetrating questions on how a simple chai server from India’s poorest slums came by such arcane knowledge.

          With serendipitous charm flashbacks detail Jamal’s rise through hardscrabble poverty to survival of the fittest. Along with elder brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) Jamal travels the poignant backroads of adolescence; first love (to the exquisitely strong-willed Latika played by the lovely Freida Pinto), petty crime and the stark realities of life on the streets.

          Jamal desperately sticks to the straight and narrow while Salim succumbs to adult delinquency as henchman to Mumbai’s most notorious mobster. The brothers’ fates ebb and flow, losing ground and losing touch then reuniting in a sticky state of affairs fraught with the delicious ticklings of destiny.

          This is not your mother’s rags-to-riches story. Youthful vitality vies with Dickensian injustice for a rousing travelogue of dazzling visuals, roller coaster narrative and astonishing array of gypsies, tramps and thieves.

          Boyle’s technique is flat out brilliant, a crazy kaleidoscope of craft and color that’s a matchless homage to India’s limitless favelas – vibrant with revulsion yet pulsating with principled promise. Boyle claims India’s slums are less about value judgment and more about geographic statement; his respect for the hard-working people cheerfully existing in these dense and dismal conditions is evident in every frame.

          Patel, Mittal and Pinto nail their adult roles but their child and teen counterparts deserve enormous credit for their enchanting turns as bright-eyed poppet prophets of the ghettos.

          Bollywood finale adds a touch of whimsy – intermittent clichés so beautifully crafted they ultimately become truth.