Slumdog Millionaire: a rags-to-riches love story

HOLLYWOOD- An Indian love story featuring a cast of unknown actors, “Slumdog Millionaire” is the rags-to-riches fairytale that defied conventional wisdom to strike eight golds at the Oscars here Sunday.

By (AFP)

Published: Mon 23 Feb 2009, 11:12 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:52 AM

At first glance director Danny Boyle’s raucous adaptation of Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup’s novel “Q and A” is an unlikely Oscars contender.

Even Boyle admits he was dismissive of the film’s chances of landing the movie industry’s most coveted award.

“A number of people said to me “This has got Oscar written all over it’. And I just went “Hmm,’” Boyle said in a recent interview. ”I remember feeling very cynical and thinking to myself “You know nothing.’”

Yet beneath the gawdy, glorious Bollywood-influenced exterior lies a film that is built around one of Hollywood’s most tried-and-trusted plot lines: the heroic triumph of the underdog against impossible odds.

And on Sunday “Slumdog Millionaire” walked away with eight golden statuettes, including for best picture and best director.

The film follows the fortunes of Jamal (Dev Patel), an orphaned teen who has risen from the crushing poverty of Mumbai’s slums to stand one question away from winning a fortune on India’s version of ”Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”

As Jamal advances ever closer to the jackpot to the exasperation of game show host Prem Kumar (a superb Anil Kapoor), his life-story emerges in a patchwork of flashbacks linked to each quiz question.

Over the course of the contest, the audience learns how Jamal and his brother Salim are orphaned during Hindu-Muslim riots in the slum before they meet another orphan girl Latika, whom Jamal falls in love with.

The trio of children are unwittingly befriended by a gangster before they realize their mistake and attempt to escape. Latika however is caught and forced into child prostitution.

Jamal’s life thereafter is a quest to be reunited with Latika, a journey which leads him to an appearance on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” because he believes she will be watching, setting the scene for an uplifting finale.

While the film’s message is upbeat, Boyle is not afraid to use his camera to depict the harsh reality of life in Mumbai, where great wealth often sits cheek-by-jowl with crushing poverty.

That willingness to confront social realism was the subject of apparent criticism by Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan, who wrote on his personal website recently that dire poverty exists in every culture, not just in India.

The comments were interpreted by the Indian media as a slight on Western directors and their perceptions of the country, although Bachchan has denied he was being critical of Boyle’s success.

Boyle said he and screenplay writer Simon Beaufoy wanted to include “as much of the city as possible that we saw and found. And there are some tough things and there are some extraordinary things.”

Boyle said while the global popularity of the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” franchise had helped sell the film, it was the movie’s ”universality” that had hooked audiences.

“The quiz show obviously helps us in many ways it is so well known in so many different countries,” Boyle said.

“But I think it’s the universality of the story -- it’s the underdog, against all the odds, succeeding.”

Indian composer A.R. Rahman’s won two Oscars for best song and best score in his highest accolade yet in a career that has taken him from provincial Indian cinema to the Hollywood red carpet.

And the movie also scooped Oscars for best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best sound mixing and best film editing.

Accepting the award for best picture, producer Christian Colson said late Sunday the film had been a collaboration by hundreds of people.

“Together we’ve been on an extraordinary journey. When we started out, we had no stars, we had no power or muscle,” he said.

“We didn’t have enough money, really, to do what we wanted to do. But what we had was a script that inspired mad love in everyone who read it.”

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