Jamal Malik, a slum kid from the streets of Mumbai, not only makes it onto the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? But he also manages to win.Now winning a fortune on a game show would seem a dream come true for an impoverished youth. But Jamal doesn't actually care about the money says filmmaker Danny Boyle.
DANNY BOYLE: He has an agenda, a hidden agenda and it's not to do with the money. The reason that he is there is that he's loved and lost this girl in the chaos of Mumbai. And there's no way of getting back in touch with her. All he knows is that she watches this show along with the rest of India. And he figures if he goes on it and sits in that chair for long enough that she will see him and they'll be able to reunite and that's his dream.
Like Jamal, Boyle's new film Slumdog Millionaire is about misdirection. You think that it'll be about how Jamal got on the show and managed to win. And Boyle even begins his film with Jamal being brutally tortured by corrupt cops working for the show because no one believes a street kid could succeed. But what both Boyle and Jamal prove to be more interested in is how love can succeed in the face of dire obstacles. For Boyle's film, this means moving from harsh realism to lyrical romance.
DANNY BOYLE: Basically I'm a realist I make all my decisions, judgments based on realism basically. Like I go did I believe that? Do I believe you? Do I believe the story? Does it feel real? Having done that, having established that, you then try and push it as much as you can. You try to push the realism into a kind of I don't know if you'd call it hyperrealism or surrealism, but you push it as much as you can. So it lifts occasionally out of the realism.
And Slumdog Millionaire soars about the grim reality of Jamal's roots to deliver a story about a love that's simply fated to be. The film moves through flashbacks to paint a portrait of Jamal's life in which everything leads up to him being on the game show and knowing the answers. It is as if it has all been written in advance by the hands of fate. Boyle makes us accept this sense of destiny by making us accept the contradictory nature of India itself.
DANNY BOYLE: You land in Mumbai and it's a city in fast forward; it's all about people, it's constantly evolving and changing and they live life there at a very vivid intense sense that there's such extremes side by side everyday in front of you such contradictions. So life is everything and it's also nothing. At exactly the same time, so you do get the dispensibility of life, but at the same time that sense of life fades and glows with life and it's really interesting you have to represent both to get any true sense of the city. There are some tough scenes in the film but it's a tough city for a lot of people but there's also a spirit in it that includes everyone, which is inspirational.
Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight)
Capturing the feel of Mumbai helps to create a backdrop for the film that is both realistic and somehow magical. Boyle says the key to capturing the explosion of color that the city offers is in its textiles and plastics.
DANNY BOYLE: Whether it's the light whether it's the pollution in the air the atmosphere I don't know what it is but there's something about the color of things that's just so much more intense, the dyes that they use in plastics and textiles are just so intense and it's very dangerous actually. One of the instincts is to go wow! Look at that. And it's just mesmerizing but I didn't want to make a film like that I wanted to make a more subjective film about someone who doesn't really take much notice of his city.
Jamal doesn't take note of his city until he gets on the game show and starts getting asked questions. Then his life flashes before him providing all the answers, as if the city itself had been helping him his whole life. Like Jamal, Slumdog Millionaire (rated R for for some violence, disturbing images and language) succeeds against all odds and in ways that you think are impossible. In our cynical, contemporary times, it delivers a romantic fable that's as rich, complex, and beautiful as the city it comes from.
Companion viewing: Millions, Ram Gopal Varma's Company, Salaam Bombay