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The Chai Wallah Oscar
by Asa Butcher
2009-03-12 09:53:02
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Slumdog Millionaire
Directed by Danny Boyle
Celador Films, 2008

The Ovi readers that eagerly followed my live update on Oscar Night may wonder why it has taken me so long to present my review of Slumdog Millionaire, the film that walked away with eight statuettes at the 81st Academy Awards, including the coveted Best Picture. I have no excuse for the review's tardiness, especially after I caught a preview of the film a few days later at Helsinki's main multiplex at 6:15AM, yes I did write AM, and thoroughly adored the experience – the film, not the waking up obscenely early.

Honesty is the best policy when writing reviews, so it would be remiss of me to claim any high expectations of Slumdog Millionaire. The fact that the film had won Best Picture has meant very little ever since Chicago diluted the quality usually associated with these winners and I was worried that the film would be a Western-attempt at a Bollywood production with extravagant dance sequences and garish colours, but I was happily proved wrong on both counts.

Slumdog Millionaire is a worthy recipient of the Academy's top prize, as well as many, many other gongs including the BAFTA Award for Best Picture, the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture and even the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards voted it Best Film. I know that I was not alone in my Bollywood concerns, especially after catching the film's train station dance sequence on YouTube but that is the only moment and it takes place over the final credits. I have nothing against Bollywood films, but I also don't have anything for them either; it is a cultural taste that has always been indifferent to my cinematic taste buds.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of Slumdog Millionaire, allow me to enlighten you: Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an 18 year-old orphan from Mumbai's megaslum and he is one question away from winning the grand prize on India's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". However, he is accused of cheating and we then follow the story of his life as he attempts to prove his innocence to a suspicious police inspector.

Simon The Full Monty Beaufoy's Oscar-winning screenplay, from Vikas Swarup's novel Q & A, has been deftly and vibrantly brought to the screen by Danny Boyle, a British director I have been following since his 1994 film debut with Shallow Grave and his 1996 follow-up Trainspotting. Fans of the latter film will revel in the opening scenes of Slumdog Millionaire as some of the slum kids are chased through the streets reminiscent of the opening to Trainspotting - you can almost hear Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" playing in the background!

Danny Boyle's success at winning his first Oscar for direction from his first-ever nomination is thoroughly justified, even in the face of competition consisting of David Fincher, Ron Howard, Gus Van Sant and Stephen Daldry. Boyle has managed to capture so much energy and it is throbbing up on the screen, pushing you along and eager to learn all you can about this one boy's turbulent life. From the very first scenes of Malik's torture, we are on the side of the hero and are emotional hooked on his journey, even though we all know the final outcome - I even knew the answer!

Each of the main characters, from the hero Jamal Malik, his elder brother Salim and Jamal's lifelong love Latika, are portrayed by three actors across through the various flashbacks and each actor is superb. The actors that represent the characters while they are children in the slums were really children from the Mumbai slums and they not only bring added realism but a cheeky charm that you can't fail to love, especially during the autograph scene… I'll say no more. The false depiction of slum life may have been criticised by some quarters, but to me it was truly believable and that is the point of a film - you should believe that you are on the surface of Mars or a man can fly, if you want realism then watch a documentary.

It maybe hard for some of you to conceive, but Slumdog Millionaire finally opens in Finland tomorrow (March 13th) with the name Slummien miljonääri - a mere three months after it received a general release in the UK and the DVD release is on the horizon - but I encourage you all to go and see Slumdog Millionaire, the film that critics in the American “Heartland” voted the best film of 2008, because you won't be disappointed. And that is my final answer.

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Emanuel Paparella2009-03-12 10:46:20
Thanks you Asa for rehabilitating this wonderful movie in the pages of Ovi, for I am afraid that at the time of the Oscar some of the comment on it were redolent of an a priori harsh pre-judgment. This review corrects that critical flaw.

AP2009-03-13 02:47:03
A bit too light for my taste - as an Oscar winner, I mean. The photography is great. The phrenetic camera is somewhat annoying (you feel there is some showing off) and the vision of India is somewhat folkloric. But otherwise fine.
A documentary can be very dreamy - that's what I think when I remember the poetic "66 seasons" by peter kerekes or the fabulous "santiago" by moreira salles, just two examples.

AP2009-03-13 03:09:04
There are some other things, like: I think it tries to elicit easy emotions, I still can't understand why the final dance and I truly think the best actors were the children. But we are in the Oscar-dissection domain here.

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