January 13, 2009 by Zack
This film may be this year’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”, or “Life is Beautiful”. A movie from overseas, directed by–oddly–Danny Boyle (“Sunshine”, “28 Days Later”, “Trainspotting”), that transcends where it’s from. Forget the subtitles, forget the fact that it takes place in Mumbai. This is a story about people that we’ve seen in our own backyards–even if they are tucked away in the bad neighborhoods. We’ve seen the rags-to-riches stories.
And like so many cases, we blur the lines between our heroes and our villains in stories about rising up. But the villains in this story are multiple, and at times, subtle heroes as well. The story centers around two brothers, Jamal and Salim–basically you’re classic Cain and Abel, Salim being the Cain character. He’s more violent, soulless, and has no problem taking the money while Jamal takes the path that’s more heartfelt and honest. But both want the same thing as they grow up together, through the slums of India, manipulating lazy tourists and taking advantage of their own bad luck–they want happiness. Jamal never forgets a girl that they allowed into their “posse”, though Salim wants her out of it since it seems to cloud the golden road that he’s trying to pave.
It turns out, though, Jamal is the one who winds up in the basket of riches, when he’s on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. But because of jealousy and envy, the host (who had won the most before our beloved protagonist), thinks the kid is cheating, and has him arrested.
That’s basically where the narrative’s heart and core is. The movie weaves in and out of the past and present, of Jamal and Salim’s modest beginnings, to their adolescent lives where things get a little stickier, and illustrates a side of life in India that maybe we Americans don’t always see (India’s got their own version of South Central, for example). But by the time of the climax of the film, we get a good idea of what this film is about:
It’s simply about destiny, and there are two kinds of destiny that is illustrated through the characters of Salim and Jamal. There’s the destiny that fate gives us, and there’s the destiny that we make ourselves. Obviously the former sometimes helps the latter. But, in the case of Salim, there is the case of being the victim of the latter–while in the case of Jamal, there’s the hero buried deep in the former. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.
Either way, this film hits on all cylinders when it comes to character development, and by the time we get to the final question for our guy, Jamal, on the “Millionaire” show, we can’t help but root for the guy–and we want destiny to work out for him.
This is simply one of the best executed films of the year, and it deserves the accolades it is getting. It should get some awards, and it will–but it shouldn’t be forgotten. This isn’t merely a flavor of the month. This is a film to cherish, even if some of the logic seems a bit forced. Remember, this is just a movie.