Sunday, 7 June 2009

Slumdog Millionaire - DVD Review (single disc)

Directed by Danny Boyle, starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor and Freida Pinto, written by Simon Beaufoy.

It has been said before, and will be seen by some as only a quotation, but let me say it anyway. In the words of film critics and regular Joe cinema-goers alike, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is a masterpiece.

Based on the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup, the film tells the story of three children growing up in the ever-changing metropolis of Mumbai, India. The narrative of Slumdog Millionaire operates on many different levels, showing us Jamel’s (Dev Patel) awe-inspiring struggle to find his destined love, the beautiful Latika (Freida Pinto), the tortured relationship between him and his forceful brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), the jealous attempts of quiz-show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) to thwart Jamel’s chance to win twenty million rupees, and also the growth and transformation of Mumbai as a city, over the past decade.

Slumdog Millionaire is one of those films that defies the rules and becomes both critically acclaimed and a box office hit. With eight Academy Awards under its belt and grossing an impressive $352 million worldwide (even more impressive considering it almost went straight to DVD), it is a film that has obvious universal appeal. It is hard to pin down what it is that makes Slumdog so popular, because all the elements of this film of so skilfully crafted. Superb casting, flawless cinematography, breathtaking locations, expert writing and an emotive musical score all work in unison and could all be claimed as the key to its success. Or it could just be that deep down everyone wants the underdog to get the girl.

As already mentioned, the casting of Slumdog Millionaire is a masterstroke. With the main characters being shown at three different periods of their lives, each actor chosen needs to not only perform superbly, which all do, but physically resemble each other. The likeness between the nine individuals who take on the different forms of Jamel, Salim and Latika is so striking that you really feel you’ve been there for the whole of their epic journey, that you’ve grown with them as they do on the screen. Dev Patel in particular stands out in his first headline feature film role, oozing charisma and intensity, only looking nervous when his character sits on the hot seat with the chance of winning millions.

Being a Western viewer, I felt that Slumdog Millionaire opened up a new world to me in the form of Mumbai. I do not see myself as an insular or Eurocentric person, but I did feel challenged by Boyle’s vision of modern India, through the almost biopic film of its capital. Stunning images dripping with colour and life are suddenly replaced by ones of horror, cruelty and pain. We see the Taj Mahal in all its splendour, but also the landfills of waste that people scavenge through for a living. Despite what may be said about this film, it is not ‘feel-good’ for the most part, unless you happen to enjoy torture and mutilation. However, at no point does the film fall into the trap of becoming overly moralistic and avoids preaching to the audience. We see India and Mumbai as are, flawed but also beautiful.

Being an avid music lover, I find that often the composition for a film can be its making or breaking point. With this in mind I can safely say that A.R. Rahman’s score did not disappoint in the slightest. When listening to the songs and instrumentals used within the film, the themes and emotions pour directly into your ears, flooding you with the strange, thriving majesty of Mumbai, the danger of Jamel and Salim’s journey, and most importantly the yearning that fills the protagonist’s heart to be with his true love. The musical highlight of the film is obviously the triumphant and anthemic Jai Ho, along with the dance finale that accompanies it, paying tribute to the Bollywood film industry that the film owes much to.

If there is a tiny flaw in Slumdog Millionaire, and I am clutching at straws, it is that the subtitles seemed rather disjointed. Random lines of dialogue would suddenly be accompanied by a visual translation; where as other sections in Hindi were left untouched. In some cases a thickly accented phrase in English would be subtitled. This may have been the cause of editing issues or possibly an attempt to include those who would not be familiar enough with the accents shown in the film. However, in using the indigenous tongue of the film’s location Slumdog Millionaire retains its believability, regardless of subtitling issues. 

As well as the main feature, the single disc version of Slumdog Millionaire includes some interesting extras, such as a making-of documentary, some commentaries by cast and crew, and a few deleted scenes for good measure, making it a respectable package for the price of a single disc release.

Regardless of my personal need to go against the flow, I conceded this time to agree with the majority, and join in the praises of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. Heart-achingly powerful and incredibly uplifting, this film will most likely be my favourite one of the year. The bar has been set.

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