It seems difficult to believe, but a plot twist involving Rickie Ponting is the favourite to scoop this year’s Academy awards. Slumdog Millionaire is a hyper-energetic rags-to-riches tale from Danny Boyle which deserves to pick up every Oscar it can lay its hands on. This Britsh-Indian co-production that out-Hollywoods Hollywood (not to mention beating Bollywood) is already scooping awards. This week A R Rahman made history by becoming the first Indian to win a Golden Globe for his score and the film also took out Globes in the fields of best director (Boyle), best screenplay (Simon Beaufoy) and best drama. Drama is the operative word for Slumdog - its shamelessly romantic tale is an old-fashioned heartwarmer that Frank Capra would have been proud of.
Except not many Capra films featured concepts of torture, rape, murder, ethnic violence, gang culture or media exploitation. And Americans would never have filmed a story about the phenomenal growth of Mumbai, slum life and the contradictions and regeneration of India, among other things. The fact is that Slumdog is just too difficult to categorise. Yet it has universal appeal. In Danny Boyle’s capable hands it is a simple film in the best tradition of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl and boy, does he pull out the stops to find her again.
The premise of the story is that the hero, Jamal (played by the British actor Dev Patel who appeared in the Bristol teen drama “Skins”) goes on to the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire in order to win his girl back. Inadvertently, he gets all the answers right. The authorities are suspicious of a “slumdog” winning the millions and interrogate him to get at the “truth”. The story of how he knows all the answers is told in a series of energetic flashbacks that explain much of Jamal’s eventful life. The plot arc sent movie reviewers scurrying back to Dickens for contrast and comparison. For Roger Ebert, Jamal was Oliver Twist; for James Berardinelli he was David Copperfield.
But this is an ancient story which is dressed up in modern clothes. There is a real life Indian version of Millionaire called “Kaun Banega Crorepati” (which translates as who wants to be a “ten millionaire” according to the inflated value of the rupee). The joke here is that the show’s host is Amitabh Bachchan, the 1970s Indian film star who is the answer to the first of the questions that lead Jamal to his magic millions. The clever script is by Simon Beaufoy (who also wrote The Full Monty) and is based on "Q&A" a novel by Vikas Swarup. Swarup is a level-headed Indian diplomat who doubles as a writer of fiction. But even he has been overwhelmed by the reception of the film treatment of his book having done 30 interviews in the last two days.
The Slumdog phenomenon has even affected the normally starchy Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw who admitted he was forced to enjoy the film. “Despite being overpraised” he said, “this is still very effective entertainment.” However in typical Guardian fashion the spoilsport Bradshaw notes out the film is co-produced by Celador Films who own the rights to the original TV show “and so it functions as a feature-length product placement for the programme.” Yet as Bradshaw himself admits, it would be churlish to deny the film’s wonderful entertainment value. Like Jamal, Slumdog Millionaire is a winner: it is written.