Slumdog Millionaire – Film Review

Update: Slumdog Millionaire nominated for 10 Academy Awards! Go to official Oscar site here.

slumdog1I settled into my seat in the Landmark Renaissance Place Cinema in Highland Park, Illinois expecting to see an interesting film set in India. I knew it was the story of an indigent young man from Mumbai who has a reversal of fortune through his performance on a television game show. I didn’t expect Slumdog Millionaire to be the serious and powerful film experience it turned out to be.

We are spectators, sometimes voyeurs, in the lives of Jamal (Dev Patel), his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and Latika (Freida Pinto), a girl they encounter purely by chance. After a brutal episode of communal violence, the boys lose their mother and are on the run completely alone, save for Latika. They set up temporary residence in a city dump and are lured to an orphanage home by two men with cold bottles of Coca-Cola. The men teach the children to beg for coins in the street and both Jamal and Salim become proficient. Soon they discover that some of the children become disabled at the hand of these men and escape in the night on a train. Although they try, they fail in their effort to bring Latika along.

The boys learn the grifter trade quickly and steal from tourists who visit the Taj Mahal. They get in deeper and deeper, when something happens that cannot be undone in their effort to reclaim Latika. The brothers’ relationship sours as Salim asserts his place as the elder and casts out Jamal to be with the girl. Over time Jamal finds Latika and his brother again, but is unable to pry her away from life in the underbelly. Jamal lands an opportunity to be a contestant on the most popular TV show in the country, Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He believes that she will be watching, and might make a getaway on her own.

Director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) draws us into Jamal’s life though the questions that are asked on the show. Each question triggers a scene from Jamal’s life that advances the story as well as provides the answer to the question. Is it luck or fate that these particular questions are chosen? Jamal progresses further than any one ever has and is arrested on suspicion of cheating. The police inspector walks him through every question via a video tape and asks him to explain how he would know the answer. Jamal has a believable story and is released to return to the show for one more all or nothing question.

slumdog2Mr. Boyle captures the frenetic movement of India during day, night, bright color and muted darkness. Movement and music are his grammar. We see Jamal’s tin-topped slums transform into soaring high rises as India takes its place on the world stage. This financial progressiveness is what gives Jamal his fairy tale chance.

The performances are strong where they need to be; Jamal, Latika and the game show host, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) are the pivotal characters and do a splendid job of keeping the audience guessing and propelling the story forward. There are an array of locations and settings, all well lensed and nicely edited into a rich quilt of a story.

Slumdog Millionaire took four Golden Globe awards, including Best Motion Picture (drama) and Best Director. However, I haven’t seen it overwhelmingly show up on critic’s Oscar nomination predictions, which puzzles me. Perhaps it may be the fact that in the end it’s a love story. Or that Mr Boyle enlists the two stars and a train station full of extras to perform a dance number over the credits. Not sure why that’s there except maybe the filmmakers thought they needed to release some of the pressure they built up along the way.

Recommended for serious filmgoers who appreciate international movies. Visit the official Slumdog Millionaire web site here. Buy the soundtrack. It’s fast, loud and highly repeatable.

Photo credits: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Mumbai Tragedy will be Game-Changer for Social Media

Arun Shanbhag
Photo: Arun Shanbhag

I was up very late last night tracking the terrorist attacks in India on Twitter using TweetDeck and Tweet Grid. My mind flashed back to September 11th and the parallel was immediately made by dozens of people and news agencies. My wife was upstairs watching the events unfold as Breaking News on CNN. I was in the study with two very active computer screens. The two experiences couldn’t have been further apart.

One was a polished, worldwide news organization keeping to standards and practices, while trying to report it as it happens. Their viewpoints are limited to one or two, and those reporters may not have the ideal vantage point. It’s all about timing. The other experience is powered by ordinary citizens who are in the moment, positioned in precisely the right location. They aren’t being paid to report. They don’t have formal journalism training. They simply type, most on their cell phones. It’s raw, emotional and astounding.

If the London bombings signaled the emergence of Social Media as a citizen news platform, last night’s event has solidified its place. Hundreds of people on the ground in Mumbai, some inside the Taj Hotel were Tweeting their thoughts. It was mind numbing to experience.

There were reports that Indian the authorities were requesting the public to stop Tweeting, as they feared the terrorists would be monitoring and get intelligence on what the police or army were planning. This has not been officially documented. You can read a great post by Amy Gahram here, who has done some sleuthing on this issue.

From Tweet Grid
From Tweet Grid

Regardless of whether officials asked for Twitterers to stop, when the dust settles there will be a lot of study and debate over Social Media and specifically Twitter, and the role it should play in reporting news or events. I believe there will be an attempt by some to change the landscape and place limits on this medium to prevent terrorists or organized crime from leveraging it to forward their political agendas or commit crimes. It’s a debate we should welcome, as it could have serious consequences.

Last night the Tweets were coming in so fast the updates were like flashes, staying on the screen for mere seconds before being pushed down by another, then another, then another.

Is this a convergence of society, media and technology? I think it’s probably more like a collision.