Danny Boyle‘s latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, was an eerily appropriate choice of a film after the attacks in Mumbai. The movie itself was very an interesting mix of City of God and Born Into Brothels with a bit more romance (too much romance in my view, but then, there is ALWAYS too much romance from my perspective).
The movie opens as Jamal, a young man born in the slums, is being brutally interrogated by the police (meaning, tortured) as they suspect that his current success at the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is due to his cheating. Jamal’s response to the policemen’s inquiry as to how he explains his success is simply "I knew the answers."
As the interrogation continues, each question of the game reveals an aspect of Jamal’s life, like pieces of a puzzle progressively put together and revealed through flashbacks. How does he know whose famous actor acted in a particular Bollywood film (the answer us quite… well… interesting)? How does he know which US president is on a $100 bill? How does he know the poet author / composer of a famous song? Etc. Each is answer is revealed in the texture of his life, from the death of his mother in an anti-Muslim riot (Jamal is Muslim), to the tourists at the Taj Mahal all the way to the transformation of the Indian Bombay to the global city of Mumbai.
And then, there are the three Musketeers.
At the same time, of course, the background of life in the slums is omnipresent and significant as the answer to each question is incorporated (literally) in Jamal through his very being as slumdog, as a structurally violent condition.
The movie is a wild ride, as Boyle’s films often are, with great music and incredible views of the slums both from the inside and from above. Some passages are difficult to watch while others are actually humorous (as little Jamal plays guide to clueless European tourists at the Taj Mahal, or as he plays location scouts for film producers).
The narrative structure (something to which I always pay close attention, hence my amazement at the movie Memento) is very tight and does not leave any moment of rest to the viewer as we go back and forth from the gameshow stage to the different flashbacks, rhythmed by the questions.
Oh, and be sure to stay all the way to the end of the credit. You won’t regret it. Don’t be one of these idiots who gets up and leaves as soon as the movie is over.