Last night I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire, and enjoyed it tremendously, in spite of the hard parts.
The movie opens with scenes of torture. I thought it was going to be a dark and unpleasant story — especially since the preceding trailers had been for some awful, stalker-type movie whose name I didn’t want to catch.
While it had a dark side though, it wasn’t a grim movie, but a cleverly layered, carefully woven tale of a young slum-dweller in Mumbai, told through the device of the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ game show.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote Slumdog Millionaire based on the Boeke Prize winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize nominated novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup. To hone the script, Beaufoy made three research trips to India and interviewed street children, finding himself impressed with their attitudes.
I have never visited India. I have no idea of the factual ‘truth’ of the depictions of poverty, slums, violence and sheer dogged survival. I ‘know’ only what I’ve heard, read or seen in movies and other reports.
When the movie opens the main characters are children — perhaps aged around 6. Their lives are rooted in the mountains of trash and filth and danger they literally live in. By contrast, I was sitting in a comfortable, safe movie theatre in Nelson, New Zealand, where our children are (mainly) coddled, protected, washed, fed and schooled.
As the movie unfolds the protagonist is answering questions on the ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ game show. The show exposes classism, as Jamal, the contestant, was ‘only’ a chai-wallah — a tea-boy. The host used this against Jamal, attempting to humiliate him. Jamal though handled it well.
The game show questions allow us to see Jamal’s life unfold, as we see how he comes to know answers such as whose picture appears on a US$100 bill. That’s the kind of thing no Mumbai slum-dweller should know the answer to.
I don’t want to reveal the story-line, but will say that the movie ends with hope and redemption. Along the way it exposes India’s transition to a world away from the slums. Oh, and nobody left during the credits …