Speaking to those one meets during the day, surprisingly few have seen Slumdog Millionaire (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. $25.99 for Blu-Ray). Even with the films incredible library of awards, including eight Academy Award Oscars.
Their reason “Isn’t it a really sad story about India’s slums and the poor children that live there? It sounds like a downer.”
Well yes, but really no.
Slumdog is the story of Jamal (Dev Patel), his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and a young girl, Latika (Freida Pinto). These children, first seen at an early age, seven to eight years of age living in the Muslim Slums of Mumbai India.
The film opens with the stories end. Jamal, as a young man. He is being tortured, charged as a criminal, a cheater, because how could something that is as nothing as a slumdog win an unwinnable prize without cheating. Jamal, who has been ridiculed by the game show host for his position in life, has reached the final question on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
It is a game that no one ever wins.
A gritty opening of a young man, barely more than a teen, being brutalized at the hands of the “law” offer a stark bit of realism offers the viewers a bold glimpse into the harshness of living in a lawless land.
Through a series of cinematic flashbacks, Jamal explains how he was able to know each answer. We learn that Jamal lives through an impossibly impoverished childhood filled with violence against children, rape, theft and murder.
We also learn jow his life – as impoverished as it was, gave him the knowledge he needed to win 20 million rupees!
What we see, more than just how Jamal acquired this knowledge, is that Jamal’s desire to live, to achieve what he holds most dear, overcomes his life’s harshest realities.
And this reminds us that everyday things happen that we would be wise to remember.
Even those too painful to recall.
His life as a boy orphaned in the slums of Mumbai, India does serve to make him stronger as he battles “Tom Jones” like questions of virtue and vice while living in a world without morals.
This gives the viewer hope that it may turn out all right.
Slumdog Millionaire is about Jamal, but it is also about the children of the Mumbai Slums and how what little they have, the love of their mothers, is shattered when a Hindu pogrom attacks their Muslim neighborhood, leaving orphans abandoned by their life’s cruel realities. (This is based on the real-life anti-Muslim riots of 2002 during which Hindu fanatics killed around 2,000 people, most of the Muslim, in the Indian state of Gujarat.)
For those who wish to keep their heads in the sand, it is hard to internalize that what we see is real. This is how people, how children live. And not only in India. Children live in abject poverty and abuse all over the world.
And if that which Jamal endured, often with the great humor, optimism and excitement of a child, did not lead to hope, the life of these children would have been too painful for this viewer to endure.
Slumdog Millionaire would not be the incredible, cinematic rollercoaster of images and sounds that it is.
It is with great brilliance that the story of Jamal begins with hope amongst so much that is hopeless. Director Danny Boyle brings us a brilliant look at the colors of the slums and its many shades of teal, red, yellow that shine brightly from the grey dull of the dust and metal roofs that umbrella the homes.
Where putting one’s privileged American self into this life is incomprehensible, Boyle has embraced the Mumbai slums and the many colors reflected in blue skies, green wetlands, even the many colors of the yards deep trash mountain that surrounds them.
With Boyle’s acceptance, we can accept the reality of this world. A world too brutal to accept, perhaps, however it is a world filled with hope – hope for change, a better life, the meager minimum needed to survive.
Out of even the Mumbai Slums grows love.
Jamal’s story is one of perseverance; that that which does not kill us only serves to make us stronger. And that perseverance’s core is Jamal’s love for another young orphan, Latika, a love that is “written” on his soul.
A love that brings the poignancy of these orphans lives and their reliance on each other for survival from very infancy, to light.