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There was a lot of hype in the run-up to the release of this film, and I think if I'd heard the hype first I would probably have written it off and not gone to see it. But in fact I first heard of it when I saw a trailer, some time before the hype machine went into action. As soon as I saw the trailer, I said to myself "I have to see this film".
That was quite a few months ago now, and in the time since then the media have built it up to the point that you could be mistaken for thinking it was the next best film since Ghandi. I'd like to think I wasn't taken in too badly by the hype, but nevertheless I went to the cinema with some optimism that I was going to enjoy my evening.
The film covers the life of Jamal, a young man from the slums of Mumbai in India who somewho manages to get into the hot seat of the TV quiz show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?". After successfully answering most of the questions, the show breaks for the night, and he is promptly arrested on suspicion of cheating. The movie then charts his life by way of a series of flashbacks in between scenes of the police interview that explain how he came to be in this position and how he knew some of the answers. At the same time, it follows the ebbs and flows of Jamal's relationships with his brother and a girl named Latika.
The one thing I couldn't get away from right through the film was a nagging feeling that the whole thing was a promotional exercise for the quiz show makers -- the company Celador behind the film is the same company that owns the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" franchise. But having said that, I've seen other films where they've made up a fake game show for their story, and in those cases it often ends up feeling too fake. So I'm prepared to forgive the Slumdog makers for using a real game show for their story; It certainly helped make it feel more authentic.
And that aside, the film was indeed highly enjoyable to watch. The cinematography was excellent, as was the acting. The vivid colours leap off the screen, and draw you right into the povery of the Indian slums, but not in a way that feels dirty; rather it feels vibrant and alive. The film is very well shot.
Each of the three principle characters has three actors playing them -- one young child, one older child, and one adult -- for the various stages of life that were portrayed. All the principle actors were excellent, but I was particularly impressed with the acting of the younger children. They portray life in the slums so vividly that you almost feel you begin to understand it. I'm told that these children were genuine slum kids, and frankly, I don't think anyone else could have acted those parts.
The story is very well written too. The plot twists around; never letting the characters pause for breath before taking them round another corner of life's roller-coaster. Fate deals Jamal one body blow after another, but then fate turns around, and all those adventures in his earlier life turn out to be key to answering the questions in the game show.
The film-maker emphasises the destiny aspect both at the begining and end of the film with a game show-like question asking how a kid from the slums could know all the answers: (a) He cheated; (b) He's lucky; (c) He's a genius; (d) It is written.
The answer, of course, is (D), and so we find that every major event in his life is leading him to this one moment.
One thing that the film bizarrely manages to miss out in between all the flashbacks is an explaination of how Jamal managed to get onto the show in the first place. There are a couple of moments where you think an explaination is imminent, but it never quite materialises. There are one or two other areas of the plot too where events move too quickly or loose ends are not tied up; I was left with the feeling that perhaps these scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor? An example is how they are forced into begging for Maman: the story is told, but I felt it missed some vital elements to hold it together better.
I also felt that the ending was rather weak. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say that the final set of events felt slightly contrived; it just didn't seem to really tie in to the earlier parts of the film. One felt as though it was going to tie up, but then it didn't.
On the other hand, as I sit here thinking again about the ending, I can see what the film-maker was trying to do. I guess this is the director's way of telling us that the ending was all part of the characters' destiny, so fat would have it happen even if the pieces don't quite fit. This is certainly how he paints the whole film, but for me it felt again as if there was a scene missing that would have explained it.
But don't let those last couple of paragraphs make you think I didn't like it: I did, and I can categorically say that it is a good film. Go and see it; I guarantee you'll enjoy it. What I'm not quite so sure of is whether it's worthy of all the lavish praise and awards that it's been gathering. Yes it's good, and it is worthy of a lot of praise, though perhaps not quite as much as it's been getting. My rating would be more of an 9 or maybe 9.5 out of 10, rather than the 10/10 (or higher!) that the media seems intent on giving it. Or possibly I'm just getting cynical -- if it hadn't been hyped so much, I probably wouldn't have been looking out so keenly for the flaws.
One final note: If you go to see this film, don't stand up as soon as the credits start rolling. As with many films these days, there's a bonus few minutes of entertainment after the main movie is finished. It's not authentic Bollywood, but it's a fun little extra.
I hope you go and see it. Enjoy.
Spudley Strikes Again