Last year, when the winner of the Best Picture Award was announced there was very little surprise. ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ had won several awards before the Oscars and the momentum had kept going.
Of one the most original winners, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ told the story of a young boy from Mumbai’s slums who appears on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ in an attempt to find his long lost friend. He is able to answer the questions as he is able to use his past experiences, resulting the film being shot in a series of flashbacks as we are taken through the boy’s story.
The film featured a cast of unknowns as is one of only a handful of Best Picture winners in which no actor has appeared in any other Best Picture winner. The acting is fine, although as the film is a series of flashbacks into the boy’s youth, the main characters are played by a series of different actors, and therefore no actor really gets enough screen time to steal the film. Dev Patel plays the protagonist Jamal at his oldest, and he delivers a steady performance as the boy accused of cheating on the game show. The game show host, played by Anil Kapoor, is over the top and more of a caricature, and the childhood friend and love interest played by Freida Pinto, is sweet, but it’s hardly a knockout performance.
Instead, this film is a success because it is so beautiful. The colours, the music, the scenery all pull the audience in and it makes the film as exciting as could have been possible. Personally, this film would not have been my choice of winner in 2008 (I would have opted for ‘The Reader’, although I realise that I am largely on my own there), but in terms of direction, ‘Slumdog’ was definitely a worthy winner.
One of the successes of the direction is the contrasts that it manages to put into the film. We have, what is essentially a violent and quite dark subject matter. We see prostitution, child abuse, gun crime throughout the film, but also friendship, love and great humour. It is a feel-good film, but does not gloss over the gritty background to the story.
This is a film where the cinematography really does shine. The camera weaves its way through the slums and crowded trains bringing the claustrophobic atmosphere to life which endeavours to transport the viewer to India, and manages to show beauty in the least likely of places.
The only thing that I would really like to change about the film is the flashbacks are delivered in chronological order and I would have preferred it if they were shown in random order as that would have added to the mayhem which the film tries to portray, especially as it is unlikely that the order of the questions would match the order of the events in his life, but this is more of a personal preference, and in fairness the story is not the most realistic to be committed to screen.
This film was much hyped when it was released, and although it does not manage to quite reach the top 40 of the Best Picture winners of all time, it is a thoroughly enjoyable and watchable film largely thanks to the stunning production.