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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, November 29, 2008

 
Saturday Night At The Movies

(Note: Dennis wrote the following before the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. He left it up to my discretion whether or not to post it. I don't think it is disrespectful or in poor taste, but if any of you do, place the blame on me, not him --- d)


Love means never having to say you’re sari


By Dennis Hartley















“Computer-ji! Who is Keyser Soze?”




Leave it to Danny Boyle, who somehow managed to transmogrify the horrors of heroin addiction into an exuberant romp (Trainspotting), to reach into the black hole of Mumbai slum life and pull out the most exhilarating “feel good” love story of 2008. Slumdog Millionaire nearly defies category; think Oliver Twist meets Quiz Show in Bollywood.

Using a framing device reminiscent of The Usual Suspects, the tale unwinds in first person narrative flashback, as recalled by a young man who is being detained and grilled at a police station. Teenage “slumdog” Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a contestant on India’s version of the popular game show franchise “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” has been picked up and accused of cheating, on the eve of his final appearance on the program, which could cap off his prodigious winning streak with a cool 20 million rupees. What makes Jamal suspect to the show’s host (played with smarmy aplomb by Bollywood superstar Anil Kapoor) is his apparent detachment. Despite the fact that he’s continually hitting the jackpot with the correct answer to every question, his pained expressions and mopey countenance suggests a slouching indifference. After all, he’s a dirt-poor orphan from the streets, so shouldn’t he be beside himself with joy and gratitude for this opportunity? What could possibly be motivating him to win, if not greed? Love, actually. But don’t worry, I’m not going to spill the beans (masoor?) here and spoil anyone’s fun. Suffice it to say, when you see the object of Jamal’s devotion, portrayed by the most classically beautiful, drop-dead gorgeous young woman to grace a screen in many a moon (Freida Pinto, whose “STARmeter” on the Internet Movie Database has gone up nearly 2000% since last week), you’ll be rooting for our hero (and rutting for Freida).















Of COURSE there’s a train station kiss (duh!)





Just like the best Bollywood offerings, Boyle’s most epic tale to date (co-directed by Loveleen Tandan with a script by Simon Beaufoy, adapted from Vikas Swarup’s novel) is equal parts melodrama, comedy, action, romance and kismet. It’s a perfect masala for people who love pure cinema, infused by colorful costume and set design, informed by fluid, hyperkinetic camera work (from cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle) and accompanied by the type of rousing, pumping, eclectic music soundtrack that you’ll want to download into your MP3 player immediately after leaving the theatre. (OK, this paragraph reads back to me like hyperbole, too. But c’mon, I’ve been toiling away at this self-important endeavor in my modest little corner of the inter-tubes for 2 years…who DO I have to blow around here to get quoted on a movie poster? But, as usual, I digress.)

While this is structured like an old fashioned, slam-bang entertainment, it still contains many snippets of Boyle’s patented brand of visceral, in-your-face “smell-o-vision”; the flashbacks of the protagonist’s hard-scrabble childhood in the impoverished slums of Mumbai spins the neo-modern Indian folk tale vibe into Brothers Grimm land for a spell. Speaking of “smell-o-vision”, Boyle actually out-grosses his “worst toilet in Scotland” scene from Trainspotting. I will say no more; if you gag easily, just, um, be prepared.

Patel and Pinto have an appealing, effervescent on-screen chemistry (some viewers may recognize Patel as a regular cast member of BBC-TV’s cult series, Skins ). Madhur Mittal is excellent as Jamal’s brother Salim, with whom he has a complex and mercurial relationship. I don’t know where Boyle found them, but the child actors who portray the pre-teen versions of the three core characters and other supporting roles deliver some extraordinary performances; from a pure acting standpoint I think they are actually given the more demanding and difficult scenes to play, and they pull it off in a convincing, genuinely heart-wrenching fashion. An honorable mention goes to Ankur Vikal, who plays the most evil villain of the piece, a Fagin-type character who exploits street children in the worst way possible (no one will accuse Boyle of sugar-coating slum life).

Believe the hype-this one really delivers the num-nums. I never thought I would actually say this in a review, but I literally felt like dancing in the aisle when the lights came up (and I would have, but not for two seriously arthritic knees; so as a public service, I courteously refrained). Oh, and you’ll definitely want to stick around for the credits, particularly if you are a Bollywood fan. And if you feel like dancing, knock yourself out!

Slumdog international: Salaam Bombay , Water, City of Dreams, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, Nil by Mouth, Naked , Insiang, Dodes’ka-den, Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves , Umberto D. , The Harder They Come, Rockers , The 400 Blows,La Haine , Tsotsi, Cairo Station, Bye-Bye, Colossal Youth, Pixote, Black Orpheus , City of God, City of Men, Rodrigo D: No Future, Our Lady of the Assassins, Los Olvidados, Amores Perros, Secuestro Express, Once Were Warriors, The Godfather Part II , West Side Story, Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, Fort Apache, The Bronx, Paris Is Burning, The Pawnbroker, The Brother From Another Planet, Across 110th Street, Juice, Boyz 'N the Hood, Colors.

Previous posts with related themes:
Sita Sings the Blues
Eastern Promises/This is England

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