Worth the hype…?
Yesterday evening I finally went to see Slumdog Millionaire, that film which has created a whirlwind around the cinema-going world. Did I like it? Yes, absolutely. I remember an interview with Danny Boyle where he said that his aim was to hurl us into the story with no time to acclimatise, and I really liked the unforgiving, unrelenting pace that carried you along all the way through. It was vibrant and fantastically shot, a visual treat that took you on a rollercoaster of emotions – intrigue, amusement, shock, sadness, anger, sympathy and (ultimately) joy. The soundtrack was outstanding – A.R. Rahman has been deservedly recognised; I’m particularly happy about the music because if I’m honest a lot of his recent work had underwhelmed me.
The performances were very good, not least from the three young actors playing the protagonist, Jamal. We all know that Dev Patel plays the Jamal we first meet, sitting in the chair on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? aged 18; but as the film progresses, we are carried on Jamal’s journey, seeing younger versions of him as we discover not only how he knows the answers to the questions, but also how and why he ended up in that chair. I loved Dev in Skins and I was very impressed with his performance in Slumdog too – he’s likeable, charming, funny and sweet. But there was one thing that niggled – his accent. I don’t know enough about voice coaching in the acting world to make an informed comment, but perhaps he could have done with some more training. For a boy who’d grown up on the streets of Bombay and Agra the anglicised accent just didn’t sit properly with the character, and there were occasions when I could barely tell he was supposed to be Indian. It’s a real shame because there’s nothing else about him I could fault at all! Having said that, I’m afraid I think that he was a little bit upstaged by the younger actors, especially Tanay Hemant Chheda who played the middle Jamal. There was something about his protrayal of Jamal that I felt captured the quality of being both innocent yet older than his years – I hope we see some more of him in the future.
So, I can safely say that I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire. But was it worth all the hype? Hmm, perhaps not. I’m not trying to belittle any of its successes or accolades; I’m just trying to put the surrounding furore into perspective. There have been reviews that have suggested that this film is a tribute to Mumbai, and contrasting ones that say that it shows the city as a terrible place – I don’t think it is either. Yes, it shows parts of life that most of us wish didn’t happen, but there’s no denying that all cities have their dark parts; and it also doesn’t show Mumbai as the most wonderful place in the world. What it does is use the city as a colourful backdrop for a yarn well-told. I haven’t read Q & A, so I have no idea how well it was adapted from the novel, but the screenplay was well done – although I personally would have liked to see a lot more Hindi dialogue, because the sweeping use of English seemed a little false. We’re getting a lot better at accepting things in foreign languages (think Crouching Tiger or Pan’s Labyrinth) but we have a way to go.
To sum up Slumdog, the story is interesting but not perfect, the direction is wonderful but not flawless and the performances were engaging but not striking. Yet, whether I thought it worth the hype or not, I couldn’t help but let both sides of my heart swell with pride during the fabulous closing routine of this British-made tale of an Indian boy.