The unexpected presence of jalebis (an Indian street food/sweet treat) at a friend’s party in Australia transports Saroo (Dev Patel) back to India and memories of being a hungry child desiring that delicacy, which was always out of reach but his older brother promised him he would have one day. Saroo was adopted at age five from a Calcutta orphanage by a loving Australian couple living in Tasmania. Lion would have you believe this jalebi moment is the first time he has thought about his birth mother and family (a dramatic interpretation from this true-life tale) since then, but we the viewers have that story and its compelling images and emotions seared into our brains by this point. Thus we willingly go along with adult Saroo’s journey back to those moments on his quest to find his original home and family.
The film wisely plays out the drama in chronological order. We first meet Saroo and his family when he is five, where they live a harsh but happy rural life…one that disappears when Saroo falls asleep on a train that takes him 1600 km from home to Calcutta where he becomes a street urchin running from danger at every corner. Even in light of the clever cinematography (aerial shots early on meld into dream-like memories and scanning of Google Earth for home in his adulthood), the star of the film is without a doubt young Sunny Pawar, who leaves an indelible mark that follows the proud tradition of orphans and lost and wandering children in such classics like Pather Panchali and Salaam Bombay! The episodic nature of the film’s first half is effortlessly compelling and casts a Dickensian spell over the viewer as Saroo encounters increasingly shady characters before finally connecting with those who could help him. Continue reading →
The increasing commercial success and critical accolades for Slumdog Millionaire continue to perplex and baffle me. When I originally saw the film in early December, I gave it a mixed review to be kind. In truth I loathed the film and found it morally repugnant, but with all the awards being showered on it, it made me question whether or not I missed something or totally misinterpreted the message.
For me the film was a simplistic love story wrapped around a contrived “rags-to-riches” plot device with character development done with a hacksaw, headache inducing visuals and editing, and an exploitative view of an exotic third-world locale. Yes, it had some interesting moments, and I certainly can see how on a surface level the colorful slums of Mumbai might appeal to Westerners thinking they were receiving some sort of lesson in Indian culture. The film’s cockeyed (and misguided) optimism certainly has struck a cord in these troubling times. But I can’t fathom all the undying love people have been proclaiming for Danny Boyle’s silly opus. Continue reading →
A young call center worker from Mumbai with a rough-and-tumble past named Jamal (a likable Dev Patel) becomes a contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” in the hopes that his true love (the beautiful Freida Pinto) will see him on TV and come back to him for good. Much of Slumdog Millionaire is done in flashbacks as the audience learns the personal story behind each of the questions. For some strange reason the filmmakers want us to think a person like Jamal wouldn’t normally know the answers to these random trivia questions, but he does because of his unique life story, see? Well, it’s a mildly interesting central conceit that quickly falls apart. At one point, a policeman questioning Jamal remarks that his story is “bizarrely plausible.” I wish I could say I felt the same. Continue reading →