|Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Saurabh Shukla, Freida Pinto, Irfan Khan, Madhur Mittal
|December 18, 2008
When Slumdog Millionaire screened at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, it received a standing ovation. It came as no surprise when it won the People’s Choice Award for best movie. Given that Toronto is the biggest film festival in the world, this is a huge honour. Previous winners at Toronto have included Hotel Rwanda, Whale Rider, Amelie and American Beauty. Most Oscar bloggers have declared Slumdog as a “shoe in” for a best picture nomination at next year’s Academy Awards.
As I sit at my computer, I’m telling myself to trust my gut instinct. Don’t bow to public pressure. I have to be honest and say that while I enjoyed the film, I found it overrated. It reminds me of the thoughts I had for the much loved Little Miss Sunshine two years ago. I was certainly in the minority by declaring it “good but not great.”
When Slumdog Millionaire begins, we see teenager Jamal Malik (Patel) sitting in the “hot seat” on the Indian equivalent of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? He has just won 10 million rupees which is about $300,000 in Australian dollars. When he returns tomorrow night, he will tackle the final question and try to double that total.
The game show host, Prem Kumar (Kapoor), thinks that Jamal has been cheating. He can’t understand how a homeless kid from the slums of India could manage to know so much information. He wants Jamal exposed as a fraud and so he gets the local police involved. They forcibly take Jamal back to the police station and try to beat the information out of him.
The head Police Inspector (Khan) soon realises that Jamal is no con artist. When grilled about each question, we go on a flashback to find the part of Jamal’s life where he first learned the answer. There are some nice memories and some not-so-nice memories.
This makes up the crux of the movie and I like this method of storytelling. Instead of focusing on Jamal’s success on the show, we reflect back and find out what made him the person he is today. Simon Beaufoy’s (The Full Monty) screenplay touches on some of the social and economic problems within India. We also discover that the reason Jamal is on the show is to impress a girl. Her name is Latika (Pinto) and despite knowing each other for a long time, they seemed destined to be apart.
I don’t know how to say this but the reason that I didn’t love this film (as others will) was because it felt a little weird. The current day Jamal is dull and despite all the flashbacks, I never really understood him. How did he have such strong feelings for Latika? I struggled to see the connection between them. I also wanted to know more about his young life – particularly the darker chapters. Certain events, such as his mother’s death, are not explored. I also took issue to the fate of Jamal’s brother and the way it is handled.
Now that I’ve vented my frustrations, I should finish on a positive given that this is still a film worth seeing. I liked the Indian backdrop and especially the work of cinematographer Anthony Mantle (28 Days Later, The Last King Of Scotland). I thought Anil Kapoor gave the best performance as the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire host. You’re never quite sure of his intentions and if there’s one thing I won’t forget about this movie, it’s the way he pronounces the word “millionaire.”
My thumbs are up for Slumdog Millionaire but unlike the audience at Toronto, I won’t be giving it a standing ovation.