Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Quick, Colorful Trip to Mumbai

Slumdog Millionaire

a review by Charlie Leck

I saw the movie yesterday – the movie everyone is calling a pretty sure bet to win numerous awards around the world. If it doesn’t take best picture from the Academy it’ll be because the movie has no connections to American Studios. In spite of that, it’s still an odds-on favorite to take best picture.

Before I go on and on about the movie, here’s a NY Times review by Manohla Dargis to give balance to all the good things I’m about to say.

Let’s start at a totally appropriate place – the credits at the conclusion of the movie. I didn’t budge as they rolled by and I noticed that the others in the small, afternoon audience around the theater also stayed, as if glued to their seats. The colors and sounds and pounding emotion for those several moments were worth the price of the show. Brilliant!

Slumdog Millionaire will probably exhaust you if you allow it to take control of your emotions. If will certainly overwhelm you if you suspend your own place within reality for two hours. Sounds and sights roll by you so quickly that you feel as if you are rushing here and there, caught up in frenzy.

The main setting is in the city of Mumbai – that same Mumbai that was recently attacked by a handful of Pakistani terrorists who captured the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel and held it hostage for so long. India is emerging into great wealth and with that materialization comes all the tangential problems of white collar crime and everlasting greed. The picture will show you India in its time of debouchments. It is a colorful picture, but it isn’t pretty.

You’ll witness vivid ethnic, racial and religious hatred. You’ll see portrayed the height of greed as people clamor roughshod over each other to obtain a share of the money pie. You’ll peek at sexual exploitation at a level we don’t want to believe exists. You’ll watch the unconscionable violence of the uncaring. And finally, you will enter the world of people who act only upon their most basic instinct to survive another hour – hour upon hour.

Humans can be reduced to the level of the animal in the wild. This film sometimes does it.

Yet – and here is the wondrous part – it is an extraordinary cinematic achievement that this film is made so vividly colorful and watchable. So much so that you are held captive and captivated by it.

At bottom, it is a love story. It is pure, unbelievable fantasy set in stark, desperate reality.

The screenwriter, Simon Beaufoy, says he was haunted by Charles Dickens as he wrote. Watching the movie, that comment becomes completely understandable; for, this is Dickensian fiction wrapped in descriptions so realistic that you feel immersed in the setting. There are those who have set aside David Copperfield or The Tale of Two Cities because they were too gripping and too descriptively real; and in leaving these stories the readers missed the complex joy of the unfolding fantasy. As in David Copperfield’s London, this film explores the social conditions of contemporary Mumbai and the affect those conditions had on one child/young man (Jamal).

Upward mobility in 19th century London was viewed as generally impossible and the triumph over hellish and satanic-like poverty was the ultimate fantasy story.
The conditions in the 21st century slum city section of Mumbai are even worse than those horrid descriptions drawn out by Dickens. Rising out of and above those conditions is not realistic. Yet, this is what Slumdog Millionaire is all about.

It is not so much the achievement of wealth that is so incredible. What makes Slumdog Millionaire such a fantasy is the victory over the satanic forces of evil. Goodness and love, in the end, triumph.

There are moments when one is tempted to flee the theater during the presentation of this movie.

“I don’t need this,” I could feel myself saying.

Yet, there were thrilling and delightful moments enough to keep me pinned to my seat.

Then, at the end, there is Latika wandering in the train station among the thousands upon thousands of commuters. And, Jamal is there waiting for her.

Forgive me for this, but I think their love will make you love more thrillingly and deeply; and you will want to join their dance of utter joy and celebration – if only one’s bones were not so aged and stiff with pain.


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