Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Film Feature: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire
Directed by Danny Boyle
Released November 12, 2008

"Slumdog Millionaire" is unlike any other film you’ll see this year. It is a grand meeting between an American ideal and a Bollywood style, given life by a British director. Danny Boyle headed to India to create this heartwarming story of a boy who goes on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" only to be accused of cheating and be forced to defend himself by retelling his life story.

Boyle is a notable director best known for films like "Trainspotting," "28 Days Later", "Millions," and "Sunshine." He embraced the opportunity to work on "Slumdog Millionaire" if only for the unparalleled experience it provided him to work in India. He emphasized the positive but daunting community dynamic. “You have no control,” he insisted. “If you seek control, you will find madness. Directors usually like control, but it doesn’t work like that there. The people you work with respect and trust you because you respect and trust them.” He also loved the bravery of his Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan, whom he credits for much of the film’s success. “The problem with being a director, especially if you’ve made a few films people know, is that people just say yes, that’s right,” he explained. He appreciated Tandan’s willingness to stand up to him. “You’re not making a documentary, you’re making a narrative,” Boyle said. “Sometime it’s essential to know that you’re doing something that’s deliberately incorrect, culturally or whatever.”

Boyle seemed awed with the prospect of being able to actually film in the slums, which he describes as “an incredibly complex place; a city in itself.” He noted that the crew used digital cameras in order to move about more freely, since, he said, “if you use the big cameras, people are obsessed with movies there and people are all like, let’s gaze into it.” The contradictory culture is due in part to the massiveness of the slums. “They’re not wealthy people, but they’re incredibly resourceful.” "Slumdog Millionaire" attempts to capture that grandstanding notion. “You’d never be bored there. It’s like going on fast-forward the whole time. We want this to be an exciting film.”

Boyle was especially surprised with the response to the film thus far in the United States. “I thought it might work in the UK because of the connection with India, but I had no idea about America. I had never really thought about how the underdog idea was. It’s so part of the psyche in America that if someone has a dream and they stick it to it, even if everything is against them, you have a country built on that idea. People are very cynical about that outside of America.” Distributor Fox Searchlight seems hopeful about the prospects of the film, and they’ve begun an extensive marketing campaign with a clever take on the film’s game show setting.

"Slumdog Millionaire" is Danny Boyle’s longest film to date, clocking in at two hours. He’s happy with the final version, but there was a major roadblock along the way. The film was initially contracted for a PG-13 rating. Instead, it ended up with an R rating due to the “intensity of the experience,” according to Boyle. He claimed that the rating was fruitlessly appealed; however, he didn’t want to distort the film more by attempting to edit it down. He believes that movies like The Dark Knight, which made off with a PG-13 stamp, was pretty intense, and “one of the reasons it’s so good is it feels real.” He did note that “I like extremes, that you feel the film. I’m glad it feels like an intense experience.”

The experience Boyle describes doesn’t come with any recognizable faces, at least for American audiences. The film’s lead character, Who Wants to be a Millionaire contestant Jamal, is portrayed by Patel, whose only previous acting experience was the British television drama Skins. Bollywood sensation Anil Kapoor plays the host of the show, but this is his first English role. The only face that might be slightly familiar to American moviegoers is Irrfan Khan, who has recently appeared in supporting roles in The Namesake and A Mighty Heart. The movie does contain revelatory performances from debut actors, most of them very young, but it’s going to have to depend on its sympathetic and unexpected story to appeal to audiences. Boyle’s name is not yet a household brand, and zombie devotees who loved 28 Days Later may not be drawn to this unconventional premise. Luckily enough for the movie, it has the added boost of being the surprise favorite for an Oscar nomination for Best Picture by bloggers and critics alike. Boyle noted that, “none of us were thinking about it while we were making it. If it ever gets a nomination for anything, they’ll be so delighted. They really do look to American movie culture, and it would mean an awful lot to them.” This movie wasn’t made with awards in mind, but with the right buzz, maybe it can achieve the same unlikely success as its hero. "Slumdog Millionaire" is a movie about the underdog, and this sure feels like an underdog movie that will go far.

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