Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire is good but..

Posted: January 25, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Slumdog Millionaire, although an India focused story, released in India much after it’s international release.

By this time, it had already won Golden Globe awards. It had already become one of the high grossers of the year. And it had already been nominated for 10 Oscars.

Given this backdrop, when I walked into the cinema hall to see it yesterday, I carried with me, a helluva lot of expectations. And I was sure that the expectations will be belied. They usually are, when they hype is so much.

So here’s my take on the film.

Yes, certainly a nice story, well depicted. An underdog’s tale is an age old formula milked by many a filmmaker, and the audience always laps it up. As it did this one. Born is abject poverty, in Mumbai slums, can life get worse? Yes, it did. When the mother dies in the communal riots, their ‘slum house’ is burnt down, and all that the two brothers have, are each other. That they remain cool and calm, and not cry their guts out in self-pity, is perhaps an indicator of life in the trenches, in poverty of that kind. Which is something that perhaps, more fortunate people like us, may never identify with. A typical Ekta Kapoor soap opera would have dragged the scene of a mother dying in this manner, over 4 episodes at least, with white clothes galore, and tons of glycerine used in tears, and sharp close ups of ladies with teary eyes and what not.

In SDM, life carries on. Beyond crying for mom, there is a life to live. There is survival at stake. The same ‘selfish’ survival attitude is seen at least on couple of other occasions. Once, when the brothers after trying hard to get their third musketeer girlfriend to join them inside a running train, don’t manage it. They don’t dramatize and come back to the scene of risk again. They feel bad, but they move on (well, the ‘hero’ returns later.. that’s different). Likewise, the elder brother, gets a break to move into the higher echelons of the crime world, and better prosperity, and chooses to move on. If his brother does not come, or is languishing somewhere, too bad. Each one’s to fend for himself, in this ‘real world’ that many of us don’t have a clue about.

Nor is there over dramatization of the communal feel. That their mother died at the hands of another community’s rioters was accepted by the kids as an incidental happening. In today’s terror spewn world, I suspect that the Gen Y feels quite like that. Or close to that. Like we Gen-Xers might have thought about Cancer. That it’s tough. But it happens. And we can’t help it. And we must move on. Does Gen Y feel like that, about terrorism? I wonder…

The story shows how events leave an indelible mark. In the film, these marks come back by sheer coincidence, as answers to the millionaire contest questions. The larger understanding that I take, is that events that have left a mark, shape your destiny for sure. In one or another way.

When I used to see young kids coming out at traffic signals in Mumbai, and selling interesting bits, and I could see a perfect sales person in them, I had admired their enterprise and their amazing survival instincts. In fact, I had dedicated a post to them, many months back!!

Those same survival instincts are shown to the fore here. Hanging on for dear life on top of running trains. Taking on local hoodlums, standing across of them, with a revolver in hand, and realizing that they will never forgive, even going ahead and killing them. Finding a way to sell wares in trains, becoming an impromptu guide for the Taj Mahal on the view of a dollar bill, and such other incidents, showcase the same fearlessness, from the characters. And I am sure these exist in abundance, in any street kid of their type, found in ample numbers on the streets of Mumbai.

The learnings on the street, the daily survival grind against enemies known and unknown, prepares the hero well. At the crunch time, in the Millionaire contest, when the celebrity anchor pretends to assist him out of sympathy, the hero knows. Whether to trust or not! That judgement has come out of the hard grind on the survival mills.

In terms of the cast, first the desi ‘stars’. Irfan Khan, the wonderful talent that he is, has not much to do. And he does that well 🙂 Likewise, another great, underrated talent, Saurabh Shukla, the pot bellied cop, is decent in the small role that he has. Anil Kapoor is the one ‘miss’ in the film. He just does not get the role as the anchor of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He is too subdued, too casual. I think the show, at least from what we have seen of it, in its Indian versions, has a lot of drama, a lot of poise, and where the anchor is the real star. His pauses, his sudden outbursts, his loud emphasis on the word, “Millionaire’ (Karodpati in India) are what make the show, the show. Anil Kapoor, in spite of having such excellent reference points to see in Amitabh Bacchan and Shah Rukh Khan as anchors, does not deliver well. Freida Pinto, for all the acclaim that she is getting, again has a small role. Madhur Mittal, as Salim, is again not a powerful portrayal. He is okay. Could have done a lot better. And which leaves Dev Patel as the protagonist. He does a sincere job, conveys the innocence as well as the street smartness, the fear as well as his love, equally well. Still, from an Oscar nominated film, I cannot even mention Dev Patel and Tom Hanks together, in the same sentence. Dev Patel’s is a good debut performance, and one can see hope of a great actor emerging. Period. Golden Globe worthy?? I wonder.. !

All in all, all these make for a fascinating story, and an enjoyable 2.5 hours in the seat.


Yeah, there is always a ‘but’!


  • The expectations that I carried were more than a good story, well rendered. I was looking for exceptional scenes, exceptional acting, inspirational ideas. I did not really see them.
  • I was looking for some incredible music compositions for warranting 3 Oscar nominations for A R Rahman. Well, there was good music, but I have obviously heard so much better stuff from A R Rahman.
  • I was looking for material justifying TEN Oscar nominations. No, I really did not find that here.
  • Acting of Anil Kapoor, Madhur Mittal has clear flaws. Dev Patel’s is also a good debut, but that’s it. I presume Danny Boyle might have also set out to make a ‘good movie’ and may not have had any pretensions of the kind of fame that the film has ultimately got. If he had any clue that he was working with Oscar-level material, he would have gone for a better actor than Anil Kapoor, or at least take few more takes from him, till he got it right!
  • Some of the characters could have been developed a bit more. We see the pain in Freida’s eyes at the end. But we do not get much of a glimpse into her mind. Anil Kapoor’s character has his sense of jealousy with respect to a chai-wala going on to win so much, in his game. He is sarcastic, and even goes to the point of misleading him. Why does he do that? Why is he carrying such a strong feeling against the hero? That’s left to our imagination. Wish some of these could have been developed a wee bit.

So why did the film receive the extent of acclaim that it has done? My takes are:

  • That it was probably a very ordinary year for Hollywood, otherwise. Maybe there was no exceptional cinema (or not much, anyway) that came out this year. And so, one likes the few that make the basic cut. And Slumdog did that. For example, if I glance over some previous Best Film winning movies, I cannot see Slumdog having much of a chance, as a comparable film also, against the likes of Million Dollar Baby, Chicago, Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Titanic, The Last Emperor, Gandhi, etc.
  • That western audiences have about had it, with the sci-fi, fantasy bits, pedalled about, for long, as good cinema. I have never been fascinated by the utter make believe in the name of science fiction. And I have questioned whether writers have completely run out of story ideas that come from real life, the kind that we can identify with, and understand? Well, Slumdog offers that kind of a story, and perhaps people want those back now!
  • That India remains the flavor of the day. Where earlier, the snake charmers and the elephants are what the western world knew India as, today, with the increasing relevance of India in the global economy, there is a curiosity in the western world, about “what the real India is like”? And surely, it could not have become as good as a western country (‘it has not’!) in terms of lifestyle and all that jazz. So what is that real India like? Danny Boyle gives it to them, and the curiosity of the western audience ensures large success.

All this of course, is my speculation, as I try to understand the success of Slumdog Millionaire, and specifically, the EXTENT of success, what with 10 Oscar nominations and all that!

Well, some people struggle for success, others have success thrust down their throats 🙂

Sorry, I am being uncharitable. At least I can say that Slumdog Millionaire was lucky to be in the right place at the right time!! JAI HO… !!

  1. Tom McRae says:

    this is one of the most amazing movies ive ever watched it funny inspiring a definte work of art its truly and amazing love story

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