2008; directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan; adapted by Simon Beaufoy; 120 mins
I remember when it first was revealed that Danny Boyle was doing a movie based on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and thinking; “What the fuck? Who is gonna watch that?” But of course, Danny Boyle is better than you and me and as it turns out… it did alright. Did pretty well. Well done.
Based on the novel ‘Q & A‘ by Vikas Swarup, the story tells of Jamal Malik (played in ascending order by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda and Dev Patel) who, when we first meet him, is being interrogated by police who are under the assumption that he is cheating at the aforementioned game show. How could a lowly “chai wallah” know all the answers to the questions and get so far in the game? In flashback, the film shows how Jamal and his brother, Salim, grew up in the slums and how Jamal’s life experience gave him a wide-ranging education that more than equipped him to tackle a few quiz questions. Brought up by their mother until she is murdered by religious extremists and thence on the street, exploiting and exploited, Jamal and Salim navigate the hard scrabble life of modern India. All, the while, Jamal’s love for fellow orphan, Latika burns brightly and he does whatever he can to be reunited with her.
Watching an early scene where we see the child Jamal’s terrible contribution to a cricket game being interrupted by police, you see what a truly electric filmmaker Danny Boyle is. Very few directors know how to do dutch angles* like he does. He uses it in the traditional way of The Third Man – giving the world (as depicted by the film) a sense of unbalance and uncertainty but counter-acting any possible feeling of generating drama through ignorance of a foreign land by filling the frames with vibrant colours and lively, sympathetic characters.
Central to this are the nine young actors who play the central trio and this is where the role of co-director, Loveleen Tandan, comes in. Apparently, with many years behind her as a casting director, she was instrumental in wrangling young actors for the majority of the parts and knew the areas in which they were filming so was able to get the naturalistic performances required. She does a great job and her work is a vital cog in the machine because all of a sudden, like with Embrace of the Serpent, these kids we often just see as victims or cyphers, are humanised and three-dimensional.
People have complained about the magical-realist structure but, in the end, as with the complaints around the diversity of 2016’s Magnificent Seven remake, it’s a movie! It exists in Movieland… but it’s not a movie that shies away from the brutality of the children’s lives: mutilation, sexual abuse, trafficking and criminality are all in there and not glossed over. It should not be shot down for the fact that it’s marketing kept pushing it as a ‘feel good film’.
*This is a shot where the horizon is off-centre, so the shot appears to be diagonal to the action.