Scoville Units Unite

01 Feb

Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire looks set to sweep awards at every ceremony for the next few months. The rags-to-riches love story covering three time periods in the main characters lives is brilliantly shot, directed, cast and acted. It certainly lives up to the hype. If you enjoyed Boyles previous films – Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, 28 X Later, Sunshine etc, you will enjoy this too.

The question is, underneath the main plot of the film what does it show of the slums and poverty in which the majority of the film is set?

The first thing you notice about the slums is the grime, the cameras chosen really show off the filth everywhere. Danny Boyle chose to shoot parts of the movies in the real shantytown of Mumbai rather than sets. The kids play cricket on the only available flat area – the airport which backs on to their homes. After being spotted they are chased and beaten by the Police. After a short period seeing their basic lives the turning point is a sectarian attack by a gang of thugs angry at people having a different religion to themselves. The police are now turning a blind eye to the brutality of the sectarian mob. The children are rendered homeless and living in a garbage dump, an even worse situation than they had been in before.

From here you see a number of different routes out of the lives of the slum dwellers. There is begging in a Fagan style gang. Involvement in criminal gangs and as a teaboy in a call centre. No positive or progressive lifestyles are shown for those in poverty in the film. This narrow look at life only focuses on the main characters and not the wider society they live in and really limits the film to be a love story set against a backdrop of abject poverty rather than a film that takes a serious and detailed look at this life. This has been the basis of most of the criticism of the film, and I admit slightly disappointed me when I had watched it. To be fair though it was never marketed as exploring these issues, I had just hoped it would spend a small amount of time looking at them rather than featuring them as the fluff for the background of the love story.

Review after review have described it as a feel good movie. Certain parts of it were certainly cheerful, laugh out loud moments. The ending is as feel good as the reviews train you to expect. Other parts of the film are far from feel good. Part of the opening of the film is seeing Jamal, the main character being brutally tortured. Seeing the poverty in the shantytowns, the exploitation of a young woman was not a cheerful part of the movie. One early scene had me squirming as some reviews had mentioned child abuse being an issue in the film and I had mistakenly thought it may be sexual rather than physical, verbal and emotional. Those last three are certainly aspects of the movie although thankfully the former was not, although it was certainly implied that a girl was to be sold to a man.

The movie is certainly entertaining, deserving of its praise and all the Oscars which may fly it’s way. It is a film I would highly recommend anyone to see. It is not however one you will be laughing all the way through as the reviews imply. When I saw it on opening weekend in a packed screen the end was greeted with complete silence. Probably the most suitable way to digest the complete story you have been shown.

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