Is America ready for Bollywood? With filmmakers like Danny Boyle integrating Bollywood styles with his own terrific, seasoned style in his new film “Slumdog Millionaire,” cultural cinema desegregation is not the final answer in modern filmmaking – it is the beginning of something new. Without a doubt, Boyle’s new work is a masterpiece, proving he is one of our greatest directors of this generation.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a young man under suspicion after a winning streak on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” In America that show has become somewhat irrelevant (is it even on anymore?) but for Jamal, the show means everything. Not for the money, but for his one and only love Latika (Frieda Pinto) who he feels he can win by appearing on her favorite program.
We learn that Jamal has lived a very interesting life – one might consider a sometimes dangerous life. But for Jamal this life has taught him the answers he needs to become the man he is destined to become. Coincidentally, those answers are the strangely yet inventively the answers to the questions he is asked on the television program. First-time Boyle collaborator Simon Beaufoy (the Oscar nominated writer of “The Full Monty”) intertwines beautifully the story of Jamal’s fruitful life and the questions on the program to paint the intriguingly poignant story of his main character’s growth. It’s genuinely refreshing to see film narrative portrayed in such an original way, and Beaufoy’s script is simply one of the best this year.
While Beaufoy’s script has not gone unnoticed in critics’ circles, something that may be missed is the strong performance of Dev Patel as Jamal. His portrayal is strikingly profound and at the same time ultimately inspiring. Patel has a wondrous quality in his eyes when he shares scenes with Pinto’s Latika. We can see the yearning and true love of his character – an honest performance by a young man who has the potential for bigger and better things.
This is the second coming-of-age film to impress this year (the first was “The Wackness,” although that film did have a larger amount of detractors), although its crowd pleasing nature is no surprise. With some of the better films of this century under his belt such as “28 Days Later…,” “Millions” and last year’s sci-fi opus “Sunshine,” Boyle has proved himself the forerunner for best director of the past ten years. With “Slumdog Millionaire,” Boyle chose to find yet another film style to re-invent. It’s certainly a stronger film in terms of coming-of-age than “The Wackness” (although Jonathan Levine’s debut was an excellent showing of early nineties indie grit) and affirms that Boyle has the uncanny knack for outshining his colleagues.
Boyle is also brave in his efforts to bring Bollywood style to audiences as it’s become sort of a joke in America. Hopefully this film’s popularity will allow a bit more appreciation and curiosity for a “genre” that has never found a large following over here. The end of the film features a Bollywood-esque dance sequence that is altogether fun and invigorating, especially after Boyle’s signature happy ending (anyone who has seen a Boyle film knows he’s not one for ambiguity). This dance number is assuredly more welcome than the absurd sequence at the end of “Tropic Thunder” – and it doesn’t leave you embarrassed in the theater.
This will be Boyle’s second film to be honored by Oscar nominations (his drug film “Trainspotting” was nominated in 1997), most likely in the adapted screenplay and best picture categories, and one can only hope the Academy will enjoy the film as much as audiences. It’s a grand piece for Boyle, who again demonstrates his ability to take something that he loves (film) and illustrate it in new and exciting ways. One of the strongest films of the year, “Slumdog Millionaire” should be at the top of your must-see list.