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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dan Romascanu - Slumdog Millionaire (2008)


- Image from Slumdog Millionaire -

I confess that I have too little knowledge about the genuine Indian cinema, and I need to rely on films like this one to understand the culture and the people of the country. Danny Boyle's surprising Oscar blockbuster is a strong and colorful explosion of images of different segments of the Indian society, from the lowest unlucky kids in the slums, born to violence and abuse to the gangsters and nouveaux riches privileged of the developing India of today. Kids abuse, crime, poverty, religious and ethnic tensions, the old and the new India all get their place on screen, and the viewer can feel the rhythms and the immense power of this country even if he never visited it.

The structure of the story is inspired by the trivia Millionaire TV show, the main hero being a semi-an-alphabet tea boy in Mumbay who reaches to the almost final win stage raising the suspicions of the police. Under a harsh interrogation he starts revealing the secret of his matching answers - all questions relate one way or another with experiences of his life. It's a little bit like the Forrest Gump hero connected to all important events of the American history of the second half of the 20th century. Here it is his own life, a life of violence and tragedy that seems to fit with the show questions and provide him all answers. One can interpret this as a fine saying about the relationship between popular television and life, but this is not the focus of the film. The biography of the superbly acted hero feeds the colorful and realistic rendition of the Indian landscape presented through the eyes of kids unhappy by birth and destiny and filmed with pace and non-hesitating realism, sustaining the interest for most of the film.

It is the final part that changes the tone and turns the movie into melodrama and romantic story. I have mixed feelings about this change of tone, including the finale which makes a deep reverence to the Bollywood style. On one hand the director seems to give up to the cruel and dark vision that dominates the first part of the film. He seems to have feared that if the register stayed there we would have got just a strong and violent social drama, lacking too much the human dimension. With the romantic component controlling the final part of the film the whole message looks different, the film is closer to popular entertainment, and even the TV trivia game ends by being seen from a different perspective. The success of the film is no doubt due to this change of register in the final quarter of the screening time. Maybe all successful films (and certainly these who aim to wining Oscar awards) need a certain dose of melodrama. Due to this final the film achieved success, but I am not convinced that it really got better.


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