You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Slumdog

It's hard to believe they found a host even sleazier than Chris Tarrant, but et voila.

I’ve never seen Trainspotting. I know, I know – “go watch it, it’s brilliant, why haven’t you watched it yet, are you even listening to me, go watch it, go watch it, go watch it.” Well, no: despite appearances, I actually do have more important things to do than watch some Scottish drug addicts exist for a few hours – like, I dunno, anything other than that. Never got around to watching 28 Days Later either. Zombie movies aren’t a particular favourite of mine, especially when they’re the victim of the kind of hype that makes it hard to imagine it being that good. Zombie movies are only worthwhile if they’re played for laughs, like Shaun of the Dead, or the original Dawn of the Dead. Straight horror movies just don’t interest me, on account of them being not-very-scary most of the time.

I’m aware that I shall never be a real man.

All of which means that the filmography of Danny Boyle is, somewhat paradoxically, a closed book to me: I’ve seen the coverage, I’ve seen the five-star reviews, and I’ve seen the trailers and footage on clip shows, I just haven’t seen the actual films. So I suppose it’s somewhat fitting that my first venture into Boyle’s work isn’t in something manly like “Druggy Scottish Blokes” or “Fast Zombies”, but the fairy-tale romanticism of “Star-Crossed Indian Lovers”. Yes – I cast aside my incredible distrust of multi-Oscar-winning movies, pulled some trousers on, and went to see Slumdog Millionaire.

I'm not even gonna try to be funny. This is just great cinematography.

There’s not much to say about the movie that hasn’t already been said, of course. It’s really, really great. I’m not sure it’s worthy of its 8,000 Oscars, but then again, I’m not sure I’m the one to ask, since I haven’t seen many other movies over the last 12 months. What is is worthy of, without doubt, is the praise it’s been getting for being an astonishingly beautiful film. It never goes any longer than five or ten minutes without showing you an amazingly well-conceived camera shot – panoramic views of Indian cityscapes, disorienting top-down looks at the chaotically-assembled slums, or just a lonely 4 year old girl standing out in the rain.

And that lonely girl is very important – and not just because she’s the focus of some of the most memorable camera shots. While some might claim that the film revolves around the gameshow (the questions on which prompt the lead character, Jamal, into giving conveniently expository and chronological flashbacks), I’d argue that, while the questions are clearly a hugely contrived plot device, the real crux of the film is Latika.

As much as the film – and the aforementioned plot-device – makes it seem like Jamal’s life has all been building to his appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, it’s also slightly misleading. The gameshow is his (admittedly convoluted) way of finding Latika, the girl whose life has been irreversibly intertwined with his own since the minute they met, as children on the run during the anti-Muslim riots. His life has been building to his chance to, at long last, find happiness with the girl he loved.

It’s what made Slumdog Millionaire a lot more palatable to me than I thought it would be: it wasn’t making a grand statement about poverty in the underbelly of Indian society, and it wasn’t trying to paint a harrowing picture of real life, despite the occasional use of shaky-cam that usually typifies such things. It was just a love story. It’s more obvious in retrospect than when you’re actually watching the movie, but everything Jamal does is based on his need to get back to Latika; to save her.

And hey, who wouldn't fall in love with her?

It’s extremely telling that everytime we see Latika through Jamal’s eyes – whether she’s a 4 year old, standing out in a torrential downpour of rain, or a stunningly beautiful young woman smiling up at him in a crowded train station – she has an otherworldly glow about her, a luminescence that imbues precisely no one else in the entire movie. She is literally Jamal’s guiding light; the movie pushes the concept of her being his destiny pretty heavy-handedly, and everytime you see her, it reinforces the belief that it’s a destiny worth fighting for.

Also, there’s an absolutely ridiculously out-of-tone Bollywood music video over the end credits, which is really something to see. It’s brilliant.

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