Slumdog Revisited

Apr. 3, 2009
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Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (out now on Blu-ray disc) was the unexpected indie success of 2008, rising from the brink of oblivion to triumph on Oscar night. The British director of Trainspotting and 28 DaysLater has matured without losing his exuberant panache. Cheekiness is kept in check in this brutal yet hopeful story about a poor boy from Mumbai, Jamal, who makes good amid the bright lights of India’s biggest TV quiz show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Jamal also finds himself in police custody, beaten, tortured and interrogated because someone thinks he’s winning too much money on the show. “What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?” his tormentors demand.

But despite minimal schooling, Jamal has a memory like fly paper. Most everything he ever saw and herd sticks and he’s able to call up answers to most every quiz show question. But why in the course of his hard life did he happen to see and hear the answers to so many tough questions? Underlying Slumdog is the eternal question of chance-v.-destiny. Was it written somewhere that Jamal would be the lucky slum boy?

Cutting deftly from jail to TV studio, from past to present, Boyle constructs Slumdog Millionaire from fast (but never dizzying) edits. The flashbacks of official brutality, heinous criminals and an assault by Hindu fanatics on his Muslim neighborhood illustrate how (but not why) Jamal came across the answers he gives before a cheering national audience rivaling “American Idol” in numbers.

Along with editing, Boyle composes Slumdog Millionaire from dozens of camera angles, many askew but revealing. The slums of Mumbai are a frenetic crazy quilt of sound and color, a worn but vibrant patchwork. While beautiful to see, Boyle’s film never romanticizes poverty. Jamal has survived unspeakable horrors with only resourcefulness and good fortune saving him from starvation and death. Humorous, sweet and heartbreaking, the happy outcome of Slumdog is hard earned.

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