I originally saw Slumdog Millionaire in Austin back in October 08 and was lucky enough to be at the screening where Danny Boyle was doing a Q&A. He came across as a lovely guy, really enthusiastic about the film and not at all jaded by all the questions. After all that and seeing the film, it was no surprise that he got an achievement award at the AFF Awards Luncheon the next day.
I was a bit concerned about seeing the movie a second time, as this can ruin films you've loved on the first watch. But no, I still came away from this one with a lump in my throat and my faith in the world restored. Yes, it's a crowd-pleaser.
Jamal Malik, the Indian main character, is first seen in a police station getting interrogated (in a very non-human-rights-friendly fashion) by the local cops about his involvement in the show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Jamal is winning the show and is the talk of the country, yet the cops don't believe that a boy from the Mumbai slums can be this lucky. He has to be cheating.
Jamal maintains that he simply knows the answers - and to prove this, he goes through his personal history and shows them how his life to date has led him to this moment and given him the tools he needs to succeed. He is destined to win the show - to quote the opening lines, "It is written".
As Jamal's tough childhood unfolds, growing up in the slums with his brother Salim, we are taken on a colourful journey of the senses, all scored by the great Indian composer A.R. Rahman with the help of Tamil hip-hop star MIA. The plot encompasses poverty, religious persecution, torture, child traffickers, gangland killings and betrayal. Life is hard for those in India's lower castes, and Boyle casts a sympathetic but never patronising eye over it.
The child actors who play Jamal and Salim in their youngest incarnations are outstanding but they are matched by the teenage actors playing them in the present day, most notably Dev Patel, who plays Jamal as the gameshow contestant. Jamal, it emerges, is motivated not so much by the show's prize as the chance it affords to find and win over his childhood friend Latika. I guarantee that by the end of the film you will be on the edge of your seat, anxious to see if he succeeds.
Slumdog Millionaire is the first stone-cold classic of 2009 and a hot contender for this year's Oscars. I for one will be placing my bets....