Mumbai’s underbelly under global spotlight…. Cinema

Old wine-new high: ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a power-packed story that knits together the hardships and achievements of a slum-dweller who shoots to fame.

Old wine-new high: ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a power-packed story that knits together the hardships and achievements of a slum-dweller who shoots to fame.  



(At PVR Rivoli and other theatres in Delhi and elsewhere)

We have seen it all. And we still do – in our films and in our real life: the slums, the rag pickers, the filthy streets, the mucky lanes and by-lanes, open toilets, abusive police, communal undercurrents, child beggars at city intersections, some singing songs, some “blinded” and some carrying infants, pick-up girls, and kids running after “white tourists” for a coin or a “tip”. And we have seen the high tension on ‘Kaun Benega Crorepati?’ if not its original version, ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’.

So you would ask: What is new here now in this much talked about Slumdog Millionaire?

It’s the story – and the treatment, the high tension you experience despite almost knowing the climax. The film that bagged four Golden Globe awards and ten Oscar nominations, yet doesn’t match the hype it created at the international level.

It is for the story of not one but two boys, Jamal (Dev Patel/Tanay Cheddha/Ayush) and Salim (Madhur Mittal/Aushutosh Gajiwala/Mohammad Ismail), orphaned by “communal frenzy” and grown up on the book of life that lies open in the bitter truth of slums. If the “temperamentally roguish” elder boy Salim chooses to go the wrong side of the law and morality, the younger Jamal reaches the ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ game show through sheer will, luck and street-smart ways and makes it till the second last question. It is also the story of the host of the show, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), the earlier and the only winner so far of the game! He is jealous and intrigued as to how a boy from a slum knows so much and hands him over to the police before he heads for 20,000 million rupees!

What engages you as a viewer is the back and forth, quick and sharp cut to how and why he knows the answers. It begins with sharp shots of questions on the show, followed by shots in the police station, to shots on the life he lived in and out of slums, and back on his reaction to the question, followed by his answers. The much-tortured Jamal releases the secret book of his life before the police inspector (Irrfan Khan) and the constable (Saurabh Shukla) who open their mouths with choicest abuses. In between is the story of Latika (Frieda Pinto), Jamal’s lady love from the slums turned a pick-up girl, “Javed Bhai” (Mahesh Manjrekar) and local goon Mainmon (Ankur Vikal) who runs the business of beggary.

The reason for Jamal, a call centre waiter, to participate in the show is Latika, whom he wants to free from the clutches of the “Bhai”.

You may not find it convincing as to how Jamal learns accented English, or recognises his long lost and now a goon brother through his voice from a telephone call. The film raises a question mark on the credibility of the game shows too.

The film leaves you restless with its intense, disturbing, chilling, high-tension drama. Even the songs or the few cheerful moments don’t provide peace. In recent times we had experienced similar tension while watching the cricket match in Lagaan, or the last-minute goal in Chak De! India!

Our host is portrayed in a negative light, He mocks at “chaiwala” Jamal. It seems to be director Danny Boyle’s desperate attempt to mock at the privileged guys in India. At times the line between “mockery” and “sincerity” to show the truth tends to blur. Boyle manages to trigger doubts on the game show itself apart from providing it a dramatic twist. He should thank his stars for getting away with the choicest of abuses that an Indian film-maker won’t. But you can’t blame him for avoiding “Shining India” and projecting Indian poverty internationally. It exists. Let’s accept it and be ashamed of it. Satyajit Ray did it in his Apu series of films and Hrishikesh Mukherji in Namak Haram, and so did several other film-makers of repute in India.

Doyle has subtly raised issues of child labour, communal violence against minorities, business of begging, health and hygiene and the right to live with dignity. If his film promotes “slum tourism” in India, we may just find sarkari babus waking up from their slumber and doing something quickly. The film may just trigger a social worker in you. The question is: does his research prove that it’s only minorities that are bad guys or is that the only way left for them to survive in a pseudo-secular India?

As an Indian viewer you may not find anything new in the slums and the lifestyle shown here, but you can definitely strike a chord with the game show. You would find Dev Patel, Ayush and Rubina Ali (the youngest Latika) irresistible. Frieda couldn’t match the intensity of Dev Patel as his beloved. Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Surabh Shukla and Mahesh Manjrekar are fine in their sizeable roles.

Watch it if you want to get educated on the finer nuances of “realistic” film-making. You won’t come out regretting for sure. Watch it to see what makes India today international.

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