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    Review: Slumdog Millionaire - City of Bollywood

    City of God (2002) tells the story of a good kid from the teeming slums of Rio who struggles to escape the gravitational pull of poverty, crime, and prejudice in quest of love and a better life. Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a good kid from the teeming slums of Bombay/Mumbai who struggles to escape the gravitational pull of poverty, crime, and prejudice in quest of love and a better life. Thus, a genre is born.

    Like City of God, Slumdog Millionaire exposes the hidden life of third-world urban poverty to mainstream audiences through the presentation of a sympathetic character fighting mean odds, but while Slumdog is a highly entertaining, suspenseful, and beautiful film with a popping soundtrack, the infusion of Bollywood melodrama and cardboard characters keep it from achieving the excellence of its Brazilian predecessor. Perhaps Bollywood isn't the right reference point. Though filmed in Mumbai, the screenplay was written by Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) and directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, The Beach, 28 Days Later). While the score and cinematography are vintage Boyle, the story combines grit with cheese in a style that is pure Full Monty.

    The narrative is presented mostly in flashback. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a young Muslim man from the slums who is on the verge of winning the jackpot in India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which symbolizes the dream of a better life. (Due to the relative value of the rupee, the grand prize is 20M rupees.) But Jamal isn't particularly interested in money. He just wants the girl. In between his Millionaire screenings, which have been split over two days, police brutally interrogate him to prove that he has cheated, for no one can believe that a slumdog could know so much. Jamal tells the interrogators his story and wins them over with his straightforward earnestness. (His tale offers several demonstrations of an easy facility for lies and cons, but the film isn't quite self-conscious enough to acknowledge the inconsistency.) Jamal's story is a tragic one, but despite having been orphaned, destitute, exploited, betrayed by a brother who vacillates between criminal selfishness and selfless loyalty, and deprived of the only love of his life, Jamal maintains an indomitable spirit that seduces the audience as easily as the interrogators. Patel's performance and those of the young actors who play Jamal as a child make up for the more coarsely drawn supporting characters. The clever turns of plot will keep you eagerly engaged. The lush cinematography, especially in the first half of the film, and energetic soundtrack, a mixture of Bhangra pop and traditional Hindi music, will indulge your senses. In short, though Slumdog is not a cinematic masterpiece, if you let it take you in, you will enjoy yourself immensely.

    City of God ends with a new batch of young criminals intent on perpetuating the cycle of violence into the future. The hopefulness of Slumdog Millionaire offers a happy counterpoint to that bleak picture, and perhaps it's appropriate. Though progress has been deadly and uneven, India is a nation on the rise. Untouchables, repressed for centuries, have begun to exercise political power. At one point in the film, Jamal's brother points out the skyscrapers that have replaced the slums in which he and Jamal grew up, and before playing on Millionaire, Jamal finds work as an assistant at an international call center. It will take time, but perhaps Jamal's confident hopefulness is not unfounded.


    That reminds me that when I was a kid, on Saturday mornings we used to watch B films starring Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall and the Bowery Boys.  They started out in the 1930s acting in Dead End, a serious play and somewhat sanitized film set in the slums, and then as the Dead End Kids, played supporting roles in crime dramas like Angels With Dirty Faces with famous actors like Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Cagney. By the 1950s their adventures were formulaic and tame, but they was our only exposure to the idea that some people lived in slums.

    Just a feature request, not related to this post.

    I hope there's a way to read multiple full articles on one page. Now I have to click one, back, click another, too painful.

    An alternative is to have links at the end of one full piece to "Previous post: blah" and "Next post: yada". Then it's a single click.

    When I read, I want to move as little as possible, and see only content change. Scrolling is most efficient in that sense.

    It wasn't enough that I gave you comment RSS? Wait, I think that I've got a violin here somewhere. Seriously, I tried to see if there was an easy solution to this and the only one I found didn't work, so I'm afraid that you'll have to put up with the extra clicks for now. I did, however, just switch the rss to full text for you.

    I love this post, Genghis.  I am looking forward to watching this movie.  It's not a Bollywood production, just about Bollywood -- Mumbai, right?  Looks like fun.

    It's not even about Bollywood (any more than a movie about gangs in L.A. is about Hollywood), though it pays homage at points.

    Slumdog finally made it to my town and I saw it today. I loved it from the very first second. It was so colorful, the music was wonderful, and the story was told in an interesting way. I loved the characters and the story.

    I saw it as less of a love story and more a story of determination to have the life he dreamed of. 

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