Forget the Oscar nominations, the Golden Globe wins, the rousing reception at dozens of film festivals and the approximately $60 million grossed so far. Slumdog Millionaire is inherently a Bollywood film. I mean that in the best sense of the word.
Slumdog is unapologetically life-affirming, fantastical and totally implausible.
For years, Bollywood directors have aspired to create a Hindi Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That is a Hindi film that can shatter barriers of language, geography and sensibility and connect across the globe. Slumdog Millionaire is that film. Only its creator isn?t Indian, he's British.
Slumdog Millionaire is director Danny Boyle?s passionate love letter to the city of Mumbai. Danny and his cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle perfectly capture the grime, grotesqueness and frayed glory of our maximum city.
It?s a horrifying, Dickensian space in which children are casually orphaned, mutilated and prostituted. But it?s also a space in which an improbable love story, which has its origins in a totally Hindi film-like childhood romance, finds a happy ending.
Working from the novel by Vikas Swarup, Danny and his writer Simon Beaufoy have essentially turned the Bollywood film on its head.
So, instead of realistic emotions tethered to an unrealistic landscape and plot, we have an unrealistic plot tethered to a hyper-realistic landscape. Mantle?s camera pores over Mumbai, from its over-arching high-rises to its filthiest slums. But the story that takes place here is pure fairy tale.
So Jamal Malik, a chaiwalla at a call center, played by Dev Patel, is on the brink of winning the top prize on Kaun Banega Crorepati. The show?s arrogant and creepy host Prem Kumar, played terrifically by Anil Kapoor, has Jamal arrested because he is sure that Jamal is cheating. But as the police interrogate him, we go into a series of flashbacks and discover how and why the slumdog has all the right answers.
At one point in the film, the police inspector, who has been listening to Jamal?s story remarks "It is bizarrely plausible". Actually it?s not.
Would the Mumbai police, for all its corruption and brutality, torture a young boy only because he may have cheated on a quiz show. Would a famous talk show host publicly belittle a winning contestant only because he is poor? I don't think so.
There are many places in which the film stretches credulity to snapping point but Danny tells his story with such a propulsive momentum that you can?t stop watching or ask 'how can this happen'. The visuals are superb and even when the plot wobbles, the acting stays on target.
Three sets of actors play the three leads - Jamal, his brother Salim and the love of his life, Latika. The child actors Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali, are the lifebloods of Slumdog. They are excellent. Their section is the best part of the film.
Dev Patel has an endearing presence but a shaky accent and Frieda Pinto, playing Latika, seems more fashion model than slumdog.
Unfortunately, the two also have to exchange dialogue that might make Karan Johar cringe. At one point Jamal says to Latika, "Come away with me". She asks, "...and live on what?" to which he replies, "On love".
Eventually then, Slumdog Millionaire isn?t a great film but it is an immensely pleasurable one. As Veeru said in Sholay, "is story main emotion hai, drama hai, tragedy hai".
What more can you ask for? Slumdog Millionaire is a must-watch. I strongly recommend that you see it.