It is not a rags-to-riches story as the title may suggest. It is the story of how Jamal Malik (played by Dev Patel, who does a good job) finds different ways to win back his childhood love, Latika. It is the story of two brothers from the slums who follow two different paths, one evil and the other good. Eventually, goodness triumphs and the hope of Jamal, a mad and unrealistic hope, helps him get what he wants.
Maybe, the average American found this interesting as “Yes, We Can” seems to be their new national anthem. But, to us, the average Indian, there is nothing new in the storyline. It is just like any other average Indian movie. (Indian, here, does not comprise Bollywood alone). The movie starts with the cops (Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla) interrogating Jamal on the charge that he cheated his way towards Rs. 10 million on the popular game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? They try all kinds of tricks, including shock treatment, to make Jamal accept that he cheated.
But Jamal is a tough guy and that is the point the director is trying to prove with those scenes, which do not make any sense. (A request here would be to use Irrfan Khan in a better way next time). In fact, Jamal is portrayed as a boy who does not buckle under pressure easily and the director has done a decent job in trying to achieve that goal.
The ‘O Saya’ song provides a glimpse of what is in store for us with its lyrics suggesting that Jamal cannot be touched by anyone. This is a movie about Indians and the director has rightfully pointed out our obsession with cricket and Bollywood by showing the boys from slums playing cricket in an air strip and how Jamal knowingly misses a customer for their toilet business but does not miss a glimpse of Amitabh Bachchan, beating all odds.
The scene is humorous and makes us smile. But, Danny boy, the next time you decide to make a film on India, think about our other areas of interest too. The past and the present rub shoulders with each other, quite emphatically, as Prem Kumar’s (Anil Kapoor) booming poses questions to Jamal on the show and Jamal answers each one. Anil Kapoor plays his role in the best possible way.
Everything about Prem Kumar is perfect, which includes his voice, too. Amitabh was the original choice for the role. But he refused it and one can understand the reason behind that decision as we watch the movie. Right from the start when Prem Kumar mocks Jamal as “chaiwallah” till the end when he hands over Jamal to the police, the slum dog is not made to feel at home on the show. The average Indian may hate him for those antics and that is a big price for Bachchan sahib to pay for a role in a Hollywood movie. Every time Jamal has to answer a question on the show, he has to relive his troubled past. Nothing is more difficult for a man and Jamal does that without a tear in his eyes (Further proof to the fact that he is tough). But, there are a few things which have been blown out of proportion.
Jamal can relate to seven out of a total of nine questions. Too many coincidences for comfort. Or, the time when Salim recognises Jamal’s voice over phone. Considering the fact that they had separated at a time when Jamal’s voice had not broken, the scene looks illogical. The religious fanaticism in India is shown well when the Hindus attack the Muslims and the police (read state) turn a blind eye to the brothers’ appeal to save them.
But, considering its global appeal, to the unknowing foreigner, it would look like Hindus in India beat/kill Muslims at sight. The scene in which the two brothers meet Latika for the first time, the elder brother wields his authority over the younger. This is better portrayed in a scene where they part ways in a fight for her, Salim emerging the winner. The entire sequence where the two brothers become beggars is heart-rending. The cruelty and gruesomeness is portrayed brilliantly and so is the affection between the brothers at that point of time in their lives.
Their escape from that life is a journey for us, thanks to A.R. Rahman’s background score. The time when Salim consoles Jamal when the latter thinks about Latika is that point in the movie when we feel it has been rightfully nominated for the Oscars. But, it stops there and we are never made to feel the same again.
After that, it is a story about the lives of two boys. One goes in search of money and power and the other, love. The boys playing the role of teenage boys act too cool for that role. Maybe, the director wanted to glorify that part of their lives. But, it is not in synchronisation with the slum dog roles they are playing. The scene in which Jamal finds Latika for a second time in his life shows why Jamal participated in Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. When Jamal asks Latika to come with him, she asks him, “And live with what?” Jamal says, “Love”.
In the scene where 20 million is at stake, Jamal calls Salim as it is the only phone number he knows. Latika answers his call and he is more than happy with that, even though she does not help him in his cause. Just like the good, old days, the “pyaar hua, iqraar hua” days when the script suggested only one thing to the public. The scenes before Jamal has to answer the question, which will win him twenty million rupees, show the nature of Indian public.
The nation, starved for celebrities, goes gaga over the event, where one amongst them is going to make history. Just like us, who hold nothing back to put a deserving man on the pedestal. Just like us, who accept such men as one in our family, irrespective of caste, colour and creed.
So, are the nominations, awards and the hype surrounding the movie worth it? NO. An Englishman makes a movie about India, the centre of the world at present, as one character points out, and gives the American audience what they want to see. The unclean slums and crowded streets of India are packaged properly and presented to the global audience (One must admit, grudgingly though, that it is true).
Rahman, though, deserves the honour, although his score in SM is definitely not his best. It is quite similar to 2007, when Martin Scorsese was awarded the Best Director award for The Departed. The award though, if given, will be a definite boost to the creative talent in India, as Rahman himself pointed out.