Saturday, February 14, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Lock In Your Final Answer!

Deep down inside, I personally believe some game shows are rigged to a certain degree. After all, organizers do try to profile you through a questionnaire which also contain clauses such as telling-nothing-but-the-truth-or-you-risk-forfeiting-any-prizes-won. So you're presenting yourself on a silver platter for opportunities to exploit both your strengths, if they choose to make you a hero, or your weaknesses, should you so be deemed as being there for entertainment value. This of course does not apply to some situations where obvious hints are provided so that you're given an idiot-proof situation to make away with some cash, should the sponsors be generous.

Game shows are mathematical and probability at its best, and of course one that can be programmed such that the house can win all, or choose to let you go for a little bit of laughter at the side. You can be asked questions that you know or to do something that you're comfortable with, from the profile you built, or when the stakes are too high and the house's appetite for risk is somehow subdued, in comes the real challenge to see if you'd buckle under pressure, or can overcome your fears. For Jamal, (Dev Patel), he's one question away in India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, hosted by Prem Kumar (played by Anil Kapoor, and in real life hosted by Amitabh Bachchan who gets some mention here), to winning 20,000,000 (count the zeroes, man) rupees, given that he's answered seemingly random questions correctly, but on the show's logical break, get arrested on suspicion of fraud and tortured during interrogation to spill the beans.

Based on the novel "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup, this Danny Boyle-Loveleen Tandan co-directed film brings us on an incredible journey through the chapters in Jamal's life, where each episode of his tremendously rich tale of survival had Destiny place every nugget of required information toward those million dollar rupees. Hailing from the slums of Mumbai, we see how Jamal and his brother Salim carve a living out of exploiting their street smarts, even at one point being little artful dodgers themselves in a Charles Dickens tale. It boggles everyone that someone without a formal education could nab those random questions correctly, a tea boy working in a call centre, beating participants like lawyers and doctors. He captured the imagination of the entire nation, that sometimes the wildest of dreams can come true.

You'll find yourself rooting for Jamal, because here's a character crafted so earnestly by the storytellers that it's hard not to root for the underdog. And his story as told to the police inspector (played by Irrfan Khan), especially in his early life, set the stage thanks to the two adorable boys playing Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) and Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) who arrest your attention in a solid tale of two brothers growing up who eventually set foot on very different paths - one unassuming, while the other ambitious. And nothing better to drive the wedge between them than a girl Latika (Rubiana Ali) they knew by chance, and grew up with.

One of my favourite films of Danny Boyle's was Millions, where a cute little boy with tremendous imagination, held court when a bag full of cash come literally crashing down on his play house. Boyle seems to hold court again with a tale of the little ones overcoming impossible odds of survival through the honing of their street-smarts and instincts, and again shows his eclecticism in direction with some dizzying cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle. And providing the score and music to punctuate the movie is none other than the Mozart of Mumbai A.R. Rahman, whom I hope gets his due recognition with non-Indian film fans, and even though I felt that his work here might not have been the best I've heard, it's still a great introductory platform to everyone caught up in the buzz for this movie.

For a story with events firmly written in the stars, and had plenty of coincidence and luck playing a part, it never for one moment felt forced nor contrived. Everything seemed possible, which makes it magical with Destiny having a big say, but one primary fact here is that Jamal had entered the gameshow not to win money beyond his wildest dreams, but to try and reconnect and search for a love that is lost, through a media platform. It's not that far fetched an idea, because I do know from personal experience that this type of scenarios do happen, with differing success results of course.

Slumdog Millionaire is up against very strong contenders for the Best Picture Oscar, but it firmly has my support as one of the best this year so far, and I'm rooting for it to take home the statuette. It's a magical film with Destiny playing a huge part in changing the lives of underdogs, where hope and belief are made chic themes again.

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