After two years of film school, and many more of being a cinefile, I have finally been convinced that Citizen Kane is the best film of all time. Notice how I said film and not movie. Film is a piece of light sensitive celluloid on which images are imprinted so they can later be projected onto a screen. Movies… well movies are magic and much more than several thousand feet of celluloid; a movie is a relationship between the craftsman and his subject and between the subject and the audience. It would take ages and an awful amount of arguing to convince you that Citizen Kane is indeed the best film ever made, so instead I am going to recommend for you to go watch Slumdog Millionaire and experience some true magic.
The magic begins at the beginning, where the audience is asked how could it be that Jamal Malik is about to win twenty million rupees or about half a million dollars. Is it because: A: he cheated, B: he knows, C: he is lucky, or D: it is written. If you do not recognize the format of the question then you’ve probably never watched Who Wants to be a Millionaire a very popular game show that has spawned several versions of itself across the globe. Using the game show as its basic story structure the movie explores the life of Jamal Malik, from his childhood in the slums to his teenage year … in another slum. Jamal Malik’s life is used as the basic story structure to explore India inside out from the tourist hoarding Taj Majal to the organized crime that could scare all the tourists away. India is used as a setting for the same story that captures us over and over again, the one in which great love conquers all possible obstacles.
How do you manage so many layers and still have a coherent film? Well for starters an amazing direction; good editing helps in great measures as well. In Slumdog each of its layers is magnificently weaved into the next creating a movie that is hard to categorize into a single genre; Slumdog millionaire could be a gangster movie, or a romantic comedy, or a docudrama, or a rags to riches story, or a story about brotherhood and family. Being able to manage so many subjects in a single movie is a sign of a great script. In an age where the script importance is heavily underrated Slumdog Millionaire can openly boast of having one. Slumdog won eight Academy Awards, and although it is a well-established fact that the awards are riddled with politics and I would usually advocate against using them as a reliable source of movie greatness this time it is surprisingly fitting.
Another feature in which Sulmdog Millionaire excels is in its choice of music. The soundtrack is exceptionally memorable. Each song and piece of score delightfully complements its corresponding sequence. M.I.A.’s Paper Planes is brilliantly placed in what might be the movie’s most creative sequence. You’d be amazed what can be done with a piece of rope and a train. I smiled when I saw that what could be used in an action movie’s most exaggerated stunt was used, realistically, to show how to street kids feed themselves! I did find it a bit of a mystery that the movie did not take the opportunity to introduce Bolywood style musical numbers to Western audiences. Surely with such an iconic and diverse soundtraks something must have been written. Chandi Chok to China was released earlier this year as an attempt to bring Bollywood films into the American mainstream. You might have seen the trailer in iTunes, but if you haven’t even heard of the film well that is only a representation of its achievements, which were null. Slumdog Millionaire could have been a great vehicle for the introduction of Bollywood conventions to Hollywood audiences. My guess is that the studio thought the movie might not be taken seriously if it did, which is a shame. Having the cast dance to Jai Ho during the credits is a bit of a compensation but unfortunately most theaters turn on the lights at this point and the dance is not enjoyed to its fullest.
I have to say that like all relationships and art defining what makes a movie a great movie is a much more subjective manner than what makes a great film a great film. Slumdog Millionaire earned its place in my heart of great movies. I suggest you give it a chance, go see it and hopefully you will find it as enchanting as I did.