You can see that before the Oscars, people didn’t exactly know what to do with Slumdog Millionaire. Sure, it was heavily marketed, but it appears they just couldn’t wrap their brains around how exactly they would market it. Was it bollywood? Was it drama? Was it a comedy? Something more alternative? The (final) answer to that question: it’s a little bit of both, but at the same time something else altogether. The chaiwalah has done it again!
A thousand billion million Rupees
Jamal and his brother Salem are two sides of the same coin. But still throughout their lives two things are predominant: money and love. Jamal leans towards the love side of things, whilst Salem craves money. We start our journey with Jamal – our main character, a low-payed tea servant at a callcenter, who by chance enters the Indian “who wants to be a millionaire”. Whether by luck or not, he appears to know the right answer to just about every question. That’s the reason he got arrested and tells his interrogators his life story, and how he managed to know all of those answers (and wishes he didn’t).
The premise is a stroke of unconscious genius: as unknown the country of India might be for us westerners (and believe me: once you see this movie you’ll notice you know nothing of the place), the show “who wants to be a millionaire” is an international standard up to the point where you can actually compare the chairs and the lighting and see it’s all the same. I don’t think this was done on purpose, but it is an interesting idea that makes your head spin and broadens your mind.
Is that your final answer?
The story is undoubtedly one of the strong factors in this movie: it constantly rushes around between past and present, takes twists and turns you can’t always see coming. And once you get the idea of what the movie is about and what the storytelling rules are, the fun changes from seeing what is being told to how it’s being told. You can never predict the relationship between the questions and the answers in advance. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.
But story aside, even if you don’t like jumping through time the way I do and find the whole premise too absurd for words, you can just go see this movie as well. Reason? It looks very, very good. In fact, it has a style to itself I have never seen in a movie before – but I have seen it. I’ve seen it in animation, but never in a live action movie. The way the kids run through the city in the opening scene is simply breathtaking: it’s alive with colours and the camera shakes, pans and zooms like there’s no tomorrow, treating us to a piece of visual poetry.
This is a movie you will want to see. It’s pretty, it’s well-written (if you can ignore the corniness of the dialogues) and it just drags you in. It never drags or gets boring, but always keeps the pace
flowing. And: if you came to see it expecting to see Bollywood… let’s just say there’s a little surprise somewhere in there. It’s not very subtle. You can’t miss it.
Jamal: The guide book was written by a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing Indian beggars!