Saturday, March 21, 2009

SlumDog Millionaire

SlumDog Millionaire was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won 8, including Best Picture and Best Director. This, despite being a seeming underdog, in a Hollywood world of big stars.

How did they do it?

A. It's another one of those poverty stories. Thus, there's the human interest element in it.
B. America wanted to look like it's actually caring for the Third World.
C. Danny Boyle is a great director.
D. It is the best.

The movie started with a similar question: how did Jamal Malik, a street kid from the slums managed to be one question away from winning 20,000,000 rupees in Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Did he cheat? Was he lucky, a genius? Or because it is written.

That simple, yet stark question transports us to the sullied, rough streets of Mumbai, made more brutal with its desolate parallelism with the bright lights of the television studio.

Jamal and older brother Salim are far from having a charmed life. When their mother dies during a Hindu versus Islam attack, Jamal and Salim had no choice but to fend for themselves, adding to the already big statistic of homeless, street kids in India. Together with the "third musketeer" Latika, they face the harsh realities of being orphans in Mumbai.

And Slum Dog millionaire serves the harshness hot, fresh and guileless. From falling into the hands of gangsters to beg for money-- to working, peddling and stealing in trains, and working as tour guides in Taj Mahal, Jamal and Salim eventually grow up. Salim is a hardened dangerous deviant while Jamal is his exact opposite. But the one thing that drives him to go on in life is his great love for Latika.

Even after several years of parting ways with Latika (she is left behind when the brothers run away from the gangsters), Jamal convinces his brother to go back and search for her. Little did they know, far more dangerous ordeals await them in the Mumbai underground scene.

Touching on sensitive and serious themes, SlumDog succeeded in inserting humor here and there, in places you will not expect. This device is irony at its finest. The best example? Let me say Danny Boyle's depiction of the dirtiest restroom in Trainspotting is nothing close to this!

But what made SlumDog easy on the eyes and lovable to watch was its central theme of Jamal and Latika's love story. It's bittersweet, most times frustrating and heart-aching. It just made me want to shout and root for them. Or even to yell at the top of my voice on the scene when Jamal is meeting up with Latika to escape, "Look out,the villain's coming!"

A. It's another one of those poverty stories.
C. Danny Boyle is a great director.

Based on the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, SlumDog Millionaire is indeed a poverty story. There are already existing documentaries and films touching on this topic. But SlumDog brings home the award with an exceptional backbone of the poverty-- a striking contrast with a quiz show promising instant fortune. And sure, it helps that it's timely, with this period being the era of reality and quiz shows. In fact, the SlumDog can be in Wowowee in our country (Hep! Hep! Hooray!) Another definite plus is the fact that Director Danny Boyle and his team actually got real-life slum kids to act in the film.

British Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and Sunshine, did more than doing his homework by not only immersing in the Mumbai slums, but also by paying homage to Hindu commercial cinema. The opening chase scene in the movie was actually based on the "12-minute police chase through the crowded Dharavi slum" in Black Friday (adapted from S. Hussein Zaidi's book of the same name about the 1993 Bombay bombings). The autograph whose Jamal sought at the start of the film was actually Bollywood Star Amihtab's, who is kind of like our "FPJ" here.

And the result is a thorough well-researched take on poverty in India.

B. America wanted to look like it's actually caring for the Third World.

The Oscars has actually been a credible award-giving body (pretty much the opposite here in the Philippines), with its history track of awarding notable stand outs, more recently Crash in 2006 and No Country For Old Men in 2007. I have to give it to them for not going for Benjamin Button. So, no, definitely SlumDog won not because it's a "third world" story.

My answer?
D. It is the best.

And yes, perhaps, IT IS WRITTEN. Slumdog captured the hearts of millions worldwide.

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