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Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire. Feature film. (2008, 120 mins) IMDB

...tough to critique after all the hype...

E

arlier this year, before the Oscar announcements, someone I know at the gym asked me if I had seen SLUMDOG. "No," was my reply.

"What are you waiting for?"

"When it comes out on DVD."

"Oh, man. You've got to see it now."

This dance of questions and answers continued day after day and I started to call him slumdog. If he wasn't from Mumbai he wouldn't have bothered to ask me and boast about it. It got worse when the Oscars happened and the film picked up a bunch of awards. I didn't watch the show so I'm not sure what it won, but I think it was the top-dog, not slumdog.

In other years, the producers and distributors would have used the Oscar buzz to put butt into seats at theatres. That's what they want, but this year they took a different course. While it was still in theatres and not long after the Oscars, they released the film on DVD. Go figure.

The time between a film's theatrical release date and DVD release has gotten shorter and shorter. I think I know why. Marketing. So much money goes into marketing a film, getting you and me to know something about a film, they get a double up effect in that people remember it by the time the DVD comes out. Or, in this film's case, they know about the buzz from all the free publicity. Remember, the Oscars is all about selling and promoting and marketing films. It's not about who is the best performer, the best writer or the best film. It's about getting your attention so you'll go to the theatre and buy a DVD.

Back to the guy from the gym who bugged me about the film. Because of all the hype, I read some summaries to find out what the film was about. I learnt it's about this boy who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, got on a game show where he won big-time so much so everybody thinks he had to have cheated. I asked him, how does an uneducated boy know enough to answer the questions and win the contest? He wouldn't tell me.

"You'll have to see the movie to find out."

Since I've seen the movie, I have the answer to my question. He didn't cheat. He was simply fortunate enough to get questions for which he knew the answer or if he didn't know, he guessed correctly.

The film is structured with flashbacks. The young man is in a dingy prison where a beefy guard tortures him about how he knew the answers. He won't talk. Enter the captain of the guards and more torture. Again no answers, but eventually he begins to answer. Enter the first flashback to the show where the host introduces our hero as a guest. Then the first question which leads to another flashback into the life of the man as young boy. It's during these flashbacks we learn about him, see his struggles and understand why he knew the answer.

This structure continues as the boy loses his mother, grows up, moves around etc. until he's grown-up, living in Mumbai and working at a call centre where he serves tea. He's mocked by the game-show host for being such a lowly person.

While we follow this struggle to live, to survive, we follow his interest in a girl he met as a boy. There's a love story to go along with the quest to win the money.

The climax happens in two spots. There's the contest. Tension is built around the final answer. Did he get it right and win the big prize? The build up to this moment works, but the bigger build up is the reuniting of our hero and the love interest. For all the right reasons, they come together in a moment that says: love and people are what matter, not the wealth from winning a contest. This message is echoed in a sub-plot involving his brother who ends up with gangs in search of hedonistic gain and eventually his death.

It's a typical message from Hollywood (although this isn't a Hollywood film).

My question is why does Hollywood send the message of love over money when all the people involved in making these films spend their time doing the opposite, and seemingly, live luxurious but miserable lives?

Posted 2009/05/12 at 19h42ET in Movie Commentary.

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