What Slumdog Millionaire Ain’t

Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire ain’t what you think. Brilliant and harsh, Boyle’s flicks tend to leave you feeling a bit damaged (see Trainspotting, 28 Days Later). And given that Slumdog focuses on India’s crushingly poor slum kids, you’d expect similar — particularly since films like Born into Brothels have calibrated expectations.

It’s anything but. There may be down moments, but the relentless pace hardly lets you linger. We meet gangsters, take kaleidoscopic trips down slum alleys, witness family trauma. But throughout it all there is a pervasive sense of hope. It’s clear that Danny fell in love with India; he captures it so well. In a recent interview, he put it this way:

You go there, and it’s buzzing. The extremes you get are incredible! You cannot believe what you’re getting on film because you don’t go anywhere that’s boring. The city’s just exploding somehow. Destroying itself and re-creating itself at the same moment—the buzz you get off it! (more)

And halfway through the flick I realized what had happened. Boyle hasn’t just fallen in love with India, he’s fallen in love with Indian cinema. When I’m on travel, I make sure to catch local cinema and India’s is special: Bollywood (the largest film industry in the world by ticket sales) is all about crowd pleasers. That means a whole lot of gangster flicks and love stories (often both together), punctuated by singing and dancing that puts western music videos to shame.

You mock it at first but it quickly becomes contagious. And I think fans of Boyle’s previous films might find Slumdog just the same. You start out hating it for what it isn’t, but end up loving it for what it is. I dare anyone not to smile at the closing credits (you’ll see what I mean). And in doing so, you aren’t just falling in love with Slumdog, you’re falling in love with Bollywood, too. More of that, please.

Find more Slumdog Millionaire at Fox Searchlight. Oh, and did I mention the Slumdog soundtrack is absolutely fantastic? Shimmering, pulsing beats match the hyperkinetic visuals blow for blow. It’s criminally absent from Amazon. That better get fixed soon.

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