Not many feel-good movies open with a torture scene.
There’s the contestant, the Slumdog Millionaire himself, having his head dunked in a bucket and then electrically shocked until he confesses. He’s been accused of cheating on the Indian version of the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? – how, the police ask, could a boy from the slums, a lowly chai-wallah, have gotten to the penultimate question and already won ten million rupees?
The Plot of Slumdog Millionaire seems, on the surface, a little banal. Quirky, yes, cute but essentially formulaic. What follows is anything but. The movie is in the words of director Danny Boyle, ‘a love letter’ to Mumbai, the city he came to love for its relentless energy.
Boyle made the wise decision not to bring much of a crew with him and instead work with the Indian professionals of Bollywood. They naturally assumed he’d bring in plenty of cows and snakes to perpetuate the usual occidental take on India, or else make a big deal of the poverty in which the protagonists of Slumdog Millionaire grow up.
Instead what we have is a film bristling with pace, following the orphans through their wild, harrowing lives and just allowing the collected images of Mumbai to add up in the mind of the viewer. We see the gangs who collect street kids and then maim them to produce more profitable beggars or else funnel them into prostitution. We see the cops whose standard means of interrogation mean drawing blood and inflicting great pain.
And yet we also see the marvellous charm and inventiveness of India that holds the daily lives of a billion people together. The children make their way up in the world hawking snacks on the trains, stealing shoes from outside the Taj Mahal and then conducting tourists around the site on improvised tours.
“It was then the Emperor decided to build this 5 star hotel for his beloved’ one of the boys declares, ‘Look, there are the swimming pools’, indicating the ponds leading up to the monument itself.
We won’t tell you any more of the plot, this is a film you need to go and see. Danny Boyle has made one of the finest Western movies ever made about India, bringing all the gritty reality that made Trainspotting such a classic and the humour, vision and understanding to bring Mumbai to life.