“Slumdog Millionaire” is a Dickensian story of orphans in India. The movie is not for everyone. It combines the most harrowing abuse, betrayal, and tragedy with a piercingly romantic fairy tale. It is the story of a young man who is accused of cheating when he wins “Who Wants to Be a Millionare?” because he has no education and lives in the slums. In flashbacks that reveal his whole life to that point we learn how he knew the answer to each question. The movie has one of the most transcendently romantic moments of the year and concludes with a rousing dance number under the closing credits.
Mark Jenkins has an illuminating interview with director Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later,” “Millions”), putting this film in the context of favored Boyle themes like sudden riches and the guerrilla filming style in the streets of Mumbai (Bombay).
Jenkins: How difficult was it to shoot in Bombay’s slums?
Boyle: The slums are great! You have to contact the right people to go in there, but once we were there and got to know the people, they’re extraordinary. They’re so resourceful, considering how little they’re given by the state. There’s no toilets, there’s no running water, no electricity. It looks filthy and disgusting, and it is around the edges, but you go in the homes and they’re absolutely spotless.
I think the energy of the film is a tribute to the slums. Everybody imagines people just hanging around, sleeping in the sun and not working. They’re incredibly industrious! Working in these cottage industries, and trading. That’s why they don’t want to move out of these places. Because the land is so valuable now, the municipal councils want to move them out to these tower blocks they built in New Mumbai. But they don’t want to go there. They do forcibly move them, but the people come back. They want to live amongst their own kind. Because what they get from their own kind more than compensates for the bricks and mortar that’s on offer out there. To be in the hub of the city, the maximum city, is priceless.
Working from a script by Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”), Boyle stages every scene with verve and brio, confidently flashing forward and back from Jamal’s boyhood to his quiz-show appearance to his mid-game interrogation by a police inspector (Irrfan Khan) who suspects him of cheating. Throughout it all, cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle’s camera bounces giddily through the tin-roofed shanties of Mumbai, while Indian superstar A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack throbs seductively. Not since Fernando Mireille’s “City of God” has a film about poverty and violence been told with such extraordinary panache.