Saturday, February 21, 2009

As it is written

You wake up in the morning with the sun shining through the open hole in your wall that is your window. You climb down the brick stairs and jostle with your brother for the bowl of milk placed by your mother for all to share. Tired of fighting with him, you push open the wooden door and wince as the sun hits you full-on. As the flare clears, you catch sight of the one billion, one hundred and forty-seven million, nine hundred and ninety-five thousand, nine hundred and four people that is India.

You are Jamal Malik, and you will soon be 20 million rupees richer.

Slumdog Millionaire, based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, opens with Jamal being questioned for his outstanding performance in the hit game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire. The 18 year-old had just answered all but one question, earning him 10 million rupees and making him the most famous man in India. Being a slumdog (think poor little shit-covered kid who probably steals for his seven brother and sisters), everyone believes he's cheated and he gets arrested for it.

Through the interrogation, we learn the truth in the tragic tale that is his childhood.

Jamal recounts how he answers the questions on the show through recollections of his life and all the crap that he's been forced to face. By running for his life from racist extremists (he's Muslim) he learns the image of an Indian deity; by escaping from child slave mongers he learns a song of the ages; by revisiting a past error he learns the creator of guns and death.

Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, The Beach, A Life Less Ordinary) presents India as it is - a shit hole where having talent probably means you'll have to lose a limb or both eyes; where entertainment equates to running away from security after being caught playing cricket on the airport runway; and where you wake up every morning wishing you were somewhere else. From the eyes of Jamal and Salib, Danny Boyle paints a picture of innocence, loss, grief, despair, love, kinship, and ultimately happiness as he takes you through the scenes of the orphan brothers and a small girl Latika and their struggle to make sense out of life.

And in the midst of that struggle we focus on the budding love between Jamal and Latika, whose constant separation and reunion brings light to his appearance on the game show, and whose love Jamal constantly searches for, perhaps to compensate for the increasing lack of affection from his brother.

The two brothers have been dealt with a sad hand of cards, having to face the murder of their mother and the big faceless world at a young age. They each deal with their situation in their own ways, reflecting the reality of life in the choices them each make. And from their individual life experience they each find a level of acceptance and apathy for the other. But as each of their stories come to an end we are shown that despite their stark differences, a calming and realistic similarity continues to bind the two.

To some a movie is a source of entertainment, and to some the two-hour production becomes art. But when viewers seek to live vicariously through the characters, wanting to immerse in the extraordinary events that they lead, the movie becomes so much more. It evolves into a culture, a commentary, a truth.

Danny Boyle does just that with Slumdog Millionaire - in the answering of ten questions we watch the lives of three orphans unravel before us in the setting of a derelict slum controlled by vice, greed and the cruel realization that ordinary is nothing and being exceptional means exploitation by the corrupt.

Amidst the massive windfall of 20 million rupees and the jubilation of a nation we learn that fortune comes not only in the form of material wealth, but more so in the minutes spent every day thinking of how to survive tomorrow. By smiling through each happy moment and feeling each tear we tell ourselves that this may be the story of every child in every Indian slum.

Take in the sights of a developing country and dive into the pool of experiences presented through the lives of two orphan brothers.Slumdog Millionaire is raw, beautiful, and a fantastic way to remind you that you're living too good a life to be complaining about the little things.

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