We have always been suckers for underdogs. Maybe we see something of ourselves in every David who takes on the seemingly invincible Goliath. Maybe a part of us aches to be the common man who rebels against the establishment. 'Slumdog Millionaire' taps into this springwell of emotion while lulling the nearby center of logic into a nap. The David of this story is a young Jamal who finds himself at the center of an implausible run of events that has left him close to winning millions in a gameshow. These events are running on a track that Jamal hopes will take him to his final destination, his love, Latika.
The screenplay is the prime mover of this movie. It whizzes you through like a fast train to Borivali. It does not stop to give you the Lonely Planet spiel about Mumbai. It cannot for the only objective of this movie is to tell the story of Jamal, not to add to your general knowledge. This it does through a series of flashbacks. We are taken along for the ride to watch the kid grow into a man and then to cheer him on when he is at the threshold to riches. The camera captures much of this ride wonderfully exposing a side of Mumbai that is not seen very often. Given that the narrative doesn't bother to provide the explanation, the camera pulls off the double duty expertly, showing us what we need to know. Back to the screenplay, there are no incidents to show how observant Jamal is or how fantastically photographic his memory is. Nothing at all that really explains how he knows obscure trivia. You just understand that he needs to be on his feet just to survive in a world which treats his ilk as something disposable. The out of place luxury in his otherwise slumdog life is his love. This he pursues despite the dire circumstances he finds himself in.
All 3 actors who portray Jamal fit the role like a T. But Dev Patel has the most scope and doesnt waste an inch of screenspace offered to him. From dogged determination when he is looking for his love to silent pain when she turns him out of her house, his earnest face conveys them all with ease. The camerawork again adds to this via some nicely composed close ups and great lighting. Irrfan Khan walks on as the police inspector who in listening and questioning Jamal, substitutes for the audience. From language to body language, he essays the role perfectly. The other characters are aptly cast but the Jamals are brilliant.
Though there are images moving on the screen for the first few minutes, the chant of O..Saya is what really kicks this movie off. Rahman's score sets the tone for several other scenes and showcases the creativity of the man in a format we are not quite used to. Even the bollywood musical style Jai Ho at the closing titles, while seemingly incongruent with the rest of the movie, is a fitting finale that the crowds need after watching Jamal triumph. The soundtrack has already won some awards but he is now up for a Golden Globe and despite being a household name in India, is a relative unknown to the West among the other names in the race. I am rooting for him to bring this one home. Of course he doesnt need this validation, but this is one underdog for whom we have always been suckers. Jai Ho !