BY MISSAK ARTINIAN
There’s a good reason why “Slumdog Millionaire” has won countless awards, including four Golden Globes, and has been nominated for 10 Academy Awards. It’s not just your average movie. It’s an experience.
And the year’s most breathtaking and unforgettable one, at that. This is the stuff that Hollywood, and even Bollywood, strive so hard to produce, but only succeed every once in a blue moon.
The film takes place in the lively city of Mumbai, India, chronicling the life of Jamal Malik and his romantic quest to find his childhood friend Latika. As the title of the film implies, Jamal is a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
He manages to surprise the show’s audience and host because he answers every question correctly. No one can fathom how an uneducated teenager from the slums can do so well.
Little do the doubters know that Jamal is successful not because he’s a genius, but because every question coincidentally sparks a significant memory in his mind, which is effectively expressed to the viewer through a series of flashbacks.
We come to understand how Jamal knows the answers to the questions, and furthermore, what events in his life lead up to the present. Every memory is a key to the answer.
Through these flashbacks, we see young Jamal go through a whole slew of trials and tribulations alongside his brother, Salim, both rascals as children, who together trudge through India’s most poverty-stricken streets in deplorable conditions, witness the murder of their mother during the Hindu-Muslim riots, get mixed up with gangsters, and train hop through India, landing on iconic sites like the Taj mahal.
The cinematography is astounding. By juxtaposing the most poverty-stricken and polluted parts of India (in flashbacks) with the more industrial metropolis that is Mumbai, we come to understand a new meaning of challenge and hardship, and at the same time, admire the economic progress of India and the endurance of its people.
Along the adventure, Jamal befriends Latika, a homeless girl also from the slums. This newfound relationship brings about a personal conflict between Salim and Jamal, and when Latika is separated from the two brothers, Salim is ready to forget about her and move on with his life.
Jamal never does, and so they both branch out in different directions, Salim on a path of greed and corruption, and Jamal on a path of love and devotion. Both paths intersect and are intertwined with Latika’s.
It is not greed or money that drives Jamal to participate on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Rather, it’s his clear and steadfast conviction to find Latika. He hopes that she will be watching.
Although the romantic plot line has been done over and over again in the history of cinema to the point where it feels generic and formulaic in most other films, it feels fresh and innovative in “Slumdog Millionaire.”
This is partly due to the film’s strong emphasis on character development and mostly due to the film’s delivery and direction. Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay exudes with narrative force. We are invested in the the character’s lives because we know their pasts and we are anxious about their futures.
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Jamal and Salim reunite in their adult years on a high rise building still under construction. They both sit on the edge of the building, observing not only the industrialization and progress of the city, but their own personal progress as well.
They are no longer in rags covered in dirt. Salim tells Jamal that India is shaping up to be the economic center of the world. And they are both, in his words, “in the center of the center.” I felt like my seat in the theatre was in the center of both centers.
What started out as a low budget independent film in which few people believed in, has quickly turned into an Oscar-worthy masterpiece. How fitting that the film’s plot revolves around a slumdog who no one believed could do great things. Perhaps the film’s fate, like Jamal’s, was already written.