OPINION: A Look Back - Slumdog Millionaire
Slumdog Millionaire is one of Danny Boyle’s greatest achievements. A tale of a young Indian boy as he sits in one of the most famous chairs on the planet, recalling his life events in order to win 20 million rupees and change his life forever. As the film celebrated its 10th year since release last Monday (12th of November), I’ve decided to review the film’s best bits and share some facts about the movie.
Slumdog Millionaire was Dev Patel’s first lead role in a film (as readers from the UK will know, Dev’s first on screen role was in the first generation of Skins, a British television drama where he played Anwar). Since Slumdog, Patel has continued to make waves in the entertainment world, both on the big screen and the small screen. He was nominated for Best Actor at the 89th Academy Awards for his role in Lion and will star as the title role in The Personal History of David Copperfield, set to be released in 2019. However, Patel was not initially considered for any part in Slumdog. Boyle auditioned many young male actors for the part, however he found that Bollywood actors were generally “handsome, strong hero-types” and he needed “an underdog”. It was Boyle’s daughter, Caitlin, that suggested Patel for the lead role of Jamal Malik.
Jamal is an 18 year old from the Juhu slums of Mumbai. His upbringing was simple, surrounded by family and friends, until a fire left him with only his brother, Salim, and friend, Latika. The children travel around India and the non-linear narrative follows the different paths the characters take, with the timeline of the film concluding in the present, as Jamal is faced with the 20 million-rupee question.
One of the most memorable scenes of the movie is where a young Jamal is in one of the four restrooms shared by his community in the slum. He holds in his hands an image of Indian film star Amitabh Bachchan as the star’s helicopter starts to land nearby. However, as Jamal has lost his brother a customer, Salim locks him in the bathroom. Faced with the choice of missing the chance of seeing his idol in the flesh, Jamal jumps into the hole in the ground, submersing himself in the excrement of his slum community. Cut to a fantastic long shot which shows Jamal, covered in brown from head to toe, emerge from over a hill and scream the movie star’s name as he runs towards the crowd. Luckily, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, who plays child Jamal, did not actually have to immerse himself into a vast pile of feces in real life. Instead, the brown gloop was made up of a mixture of chocolate and peanut butter, two foods which retain a thick brown appearance when combined. Yum.
Interestingly, Amitabh Bachchan – who autograph’s Jamal’s picture of himself in the scene reviewed above – has been the host of the Indian Who Wants To Be A Millionaire since the show’s conception. The Indian television title for the show is Kaun Banega Crorepati (known locally as KBC) and first aired in January 2000. It was Bachchan’s first television role and the show remains one of highest viewed television series’ in India.
As the film celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is crazy for audiences in 2018 to imagine a world where the film had a straight-to-DVD release. During the making of the movie, the creators went so over budget there were fears the funds would not stretch to cover the costs of promotion. If the film had not been released in global cinemas, it would not have been nominated for any awards and wouldn’t have been viewed by the number of audiences it has.
Slumdog Millionaire was well received by critics. It won eight of the ten Academy Awards it was nominated for at the 81st Academy Awards celebrations, including those for Best Director (Boyle) and Best Picture. However, native audiences were more critical of the movie’s portrayal of Indian people and their lifestyle. The conflicting worlds of rich and poor in the film are made obvious, and this caused some controversy at the time of Slumdog’s release. Reasons for this included Patel’s use of a British English dialect, and due to the fact that Boyle is British he was unable to capture the character of India in his film. The film was accused of glorifying poverty and not addressing the very real issues at large in India; it confirmed stereotypes to the Western audiences that some say the film was made for. Moreover, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, an acclaimed Indian filmmaker most famous for his releases in the 1980’s and 1990’s, even went so far as to name the film “anti-Indian”.
The final scene of Slumdog is its best. It is a celebration of Jamal’s victory, not only in winning the game show but also in his victory in winning the heart of the girl who made it all possible: Latika. The pair are reunited on a busy train, Jamal runs to her through the crowds who line the streets having watched him on television. The song “Jai Ho” is what the film might be best known for, with the English version of the song (performed by The Pussycat Dolls) spending time in the U.K and U.S.A’s Top 20 Billboard Charts. The original recording of the song - the one used in the final edit of Slumdog, written by A. R. Rahamn - won an Academy Award and the Grammy for The Best Song Written for a Motion Picture in 2010.
The song plays over the credits as Jamal and Latika lead a traditional Indian, Bollywood style dance in the train station. Some of the female dancers are dressed in saris, whilst others are in more casual clothing, as one might be at a train station. This clever use of wardrobe places the film firmly in modern day India and changes the Western perception of the country’s people. Cuts to scenes of just Jamal and Latika dancing unite them in the eyes of the audience, and the song evokes a feeling of relief: we are happy the couple are safe and we are relived they have been reunited.
Overall, Slumdog Millionaire has cemented itself in popular culture. A modern day classic, almost everyone has watched the film and enjoyed its soundtrack. With this film, Boyle cemented himself as one of Britain’s greatest directors, displaying his ability to adapt his style to a screenplay which celebrates such a colorful culture. I’m sure Slumdog will continue to influence its audiences for another 10 years to come.