It’ll always be a complicated proposition for an Englishman to make a film about India, perhaps more so if the film spends much of its time in and around the slums of Mumbai, but Danny Boyle has rarely gone for an easy film.
Like most of his films, Slumdog Millionaire is disconcertingly wonderful to look at. While I’ve never been to India, my wife tells me that the high-contrast, saturated colours and constant movement, coupled with AR Rahman’s brilliant soundtrack, provide a right sense of the place. The intense imagery complements well the fairytale story.
It’s a strange mix. (Or not. Fairytales can be pretty gruesome.) Rags-to-riches and love-across-the-years, taking in an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, humour, abuse, violence, torture, and a flash of full-on Bollywood dance. Everything about the movie is efficiently eloquent: visuals, dialogue and performance. I don’t expect to see a much better film in 2009.
The writer, Simon Beaufoy, set out to capture the resilience and joy he witnessed in the slums, and it’s all there. I’ll have to take his word for it as an accurate portrayal, but it seems honest. There’s no danger of romanticism; instead, he manages to make the characters and situation more than a two-dimensional backdrop. It’s good to be reminded that a full humanity exists on the other side of the screen, even in the slum. Those scenes could so easily have been patronising nonsense. (Of course, I’m a white man in Northern Ireland. They still may be.)
As my wife and I walked out of the cinema, the people around us were talking about some of the predictable resolution and the cheerfulness of parts of the film. We talked a little about how the tone of the film was, on balance, more upbeat that not. Often when a film deals with poverty and deprivation it becomes very worthy. Slumdog doesn’t, remembering instead that it is, after all, a fairytale for our entertainment. If the laughter, romance and joy are wrapped around a little bit of something to make us think — if they help us to entertain images of global need — then that sounds good to me.