After hearing so much about the film from friends, l decided to go and see Slumdog Millionaire. And boy was it a treat, fully living up to its word-of-mouth reputation.
Slumdog Millionaire is a very rare combination of British social realism with the escapism of Indian cinema. The British realism meant that it dealt with the lives of folk in the slums of the mega-cities of South Asia, something South Asian politicians ignore at their peril and which Indian cinema has singularly failed to address. At the same time the film offers some hope in the form of a bit of Indian escapism with the central character winning a TV contest worth millions of rupees.
The film has a novel way of telling the story, with our hero Jamal Malik being asked to explain to the police how a common cha walla like himself could have won the TV contest in the first place, and each question answered involves an episode in his life. In my family we use the term cha walla as a term of endearment to encourage a fellow member of the family to make tea for the rest of us after a meal. Here it is used as a term of abuse and a means of keeping people like our hero Jamal down.
Slumdog Millionaire also broke some of the other rules of commercial cinema, with its use of subtitles which are generally discouraged, and by not having the narrative of the film explained by a white character, as would usually have been the case before in such films set in India. It not only failed to fit the Bollywood formula but Hollywood turned it down as well. Well their loss is certainly our gain.
So director Danny Boyle has done it again, with a film that is the equal of his earlier social realist portrayal of life on a Leith estate in Trainspotting. And Slumdog Millionaire can certainly look forward to winning more awards from the film world and beyond. For Boyle’s next project I would suggest a film adaptation of The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth, a novel in verse based in San Francisco.