Driving over to the airport this morning, the car radio brought the news that Slumdog Millionaire was doing well at the Oscars. Just how well didn’t become apparent until after I’d got airside, and the TV behind the coffee bar explained that they’d won eight awards (out of the ten they were short listed for) including Best Picture.
As mentioned earlier this week, we caught Slumdog Millionaire at the Victoria Square Odeon just over a week ago. It was a film that brought back memories of working and sightseeing in Mumbai (and nearby city Pune) nearly ten and a half years ago.
Early on in our trip, drivers and Indian work colleagues warned us about giving to beggars. There was a reminder that some - but not all - of the adults and children sitting along the sides of the street were not the sole beneficiaries of their collections. Some of the striking injuries so obviously displayed would have been deliberately inflicted to boost the children’s earning potential. Under no circumstances should we wind down the car window to give money to people begging in the middle of the street. Yet I’ll never forget the sight of the one legged one armed man hopping across the busy junction to bang his fist violently on the car window as we drove through Mumbai.
To our shame we followed our hosts’ instructions to the letter, leaving the country after fifteen days without having handed over any Rupees to those asking for them. (Though the driver who looked after us all week did get a bit of a bonus as we handed over our spare cash to him as we departed … Indian Rupees are a controlled currency, so you’re not meant to take them in or out of the country, though that didn’t stop Hogg Robinson getting us some before we left, and I used to carry just enough in my wallet to get a return ticket from Lisburn to Belfast on the train!)
Slumdog made be think about Oliver Twist. Kind of on a bigger more organised scale? Made me think of Enid Blyton and the Secret series (you’ll find my adult review of Secret Island elsewhere on the blog) as children ran away to fend for themselves, though Slumdog’s youngsters had a lot more challenges to face than any of Blyton’s characters.
Normally, I’d be uneasy about a film that was based around flashbacks. It’s a device that’s hard to pull off. But Slumdog rewrote the textbook. Despite the jumping backwards and forwards, there was never a timeline that you were completely on top of. Even the present day police interview proved enigmatic, not realising until much later in the film that he hadn’t actually won the big money yet and was still to come back the next night.
The brothers’ relationship is complicated. Jamal (played as an adult by Dev Patel) always seems to be under the shadow of his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal ). Jamal’s instinct is to protect Latika (Freida Pinto), yet his minder prefers to assure his own security and comfort above all others. Yet there’s a softer, emotional side that still rescued his wee brother from being blinded. And as the film draws to a close, there’s a realisation that his decisions to become the tough guy and always work for the biggest crook in town has ultimately been destructive to himself and those around that were once close.
Yet allowing Latika to flee captivity in return for his own life wasn’t a straight swap or a simple act of redemption. It was crowned with taking his evil boss with him, ridding Mumbai of a powerful crime baron … though perhaps just leaving a vacuum to be replaced by someone else. Someone better qualified can comment on how Salim’s actions fitted in with culture and religion. Jamal’s winning came at a price. And his reunion with Latika - I did warn you there could be spoilers! - is unlikely to be adopted by Disney for conversation to an animated fairytale romance.
For all the poverty and hardship on show throughout Slumdog, there’s also a celebration of Indian heritage, architecture, humanity, enthusiasm, kindness and love. It’s a great film. While director Danny Boyle’s Sunshine was a visual masterpiece (and a cryptic success), Slumdog is more engaging and gripping. Not one that I yet fully understand. But one that will stay with me for a long time. And one that means I picked up Q&A - the novel the film is based on - at the airport and plan to read it soon.