I’m not going to write this post as a traditional movie review, i.e., I’m not going to give a detailed synopsis of the plot; I’m just going to address the aspects of the film that are significant to the points I’m trying to make. And also, at this late date, more than a few of you have probably already seen it. For those of you who have not, be warned that I will be covering a few plot points that could be considered spoilers.
The tricky part about evaluating this film is that I think the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If one looks closely, there are some problems. For one, the actor playing the older Salim (older brother of lead character Jamal) is kind of a lousy actor. For another, there are more than a few clichés sprinkled through both the plot and the dialogue. And speaking of the plot, there are devices that struck me as borrowed, whether consciously or not, from many other films, including The Usual Suspects, Forrest Gump, and The Godfather. Once again, though, it is tricky to evaluate this film in a linear manner, because some of these plot devices on the one hand seem borrowed from other films while simultaneously deviating from those films in unexpected ways.
But after I’ve gotten all those little quibbles out of my system, I have to note that I spent a great deal of the film sitting there with a big grin on my face. There were a number of pure surprises that jumped out in the course of it, and a lot to like. The direction was as energetic and imaginative as anything I’ve seen in a long time. Danny Boyle earned every inch of his Oscar. A true unsung hero among the actors was Anil Kapoor in the role of game show host Prem Kumar. To paraphrase the friend with whom I saw the film, he sounded like an Indian Regis Philbin and looked something like a bearded, Indian Dick Clark. He nailed his portrayal so perfectly that I have to wonder whether it was like the old saying about good background music – that the best background music is the music you don’t notice – and perhaps that accounted for Kapoor’s lack of nominations or awards for the performance.
Another thing I enjoyed immensely was the look we were given of the slums of Mumbai. We saw them from the inside, from ground level, and from high above the network of corrugated metal roofs. While we were in those slums, we were given a taste of how these children must have felt, of living in a chaotic world where simple survival required constant alertness, frequent guile, and a whole lot of luck. I felt transported into a world I had never seen before. I got a similar feeling when I saw The Quiet American a few years ago – that same feeling of being shown a place I didn’t know about and had never imagined.
In the end, I still had that same smile plastered on my face, even though the film ended as I thought it surely must. The predictability of the ending was a complete non-factor in enjoying it. Likewise for a key character who died, as we thought he must, dying in more or less in the manner we thought he must. If you haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire, I heartily endorse it. For all of the derivative or otherwise flawed elements in the sum of its parts, the whole of it is an original, highly creative, and immensely satisfying movie-going experience.