No storyline is more familiar to moviegoers than the one where an underdog goes from rags to riches while trying to reunite with a lost love. Throw in an Indian locale that’s equally exotic and repulsive to Westerners plus an American game show with a prominent role in the narrative and the result is the kind of crowd-pleasing film this is. But for all the “feel good” elements of Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay, there are just as many to make you feel bad in the “rags” sequences set amidst the squalid slums of Mumbai, where two orphaned brothers (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail) struggle to survive. Their hardscrabble world is strikingly captured by Anthony Dod Mantle’s cinematography, which accurately depicts India (See sidebar below) as a nation where the shadows of high-rent skyscrapers touch those of makeshift villages in which people live under cardboard boxes. As the two siblings grow into young men, the elder (Madhur Mittal) becomes an underworld thug while the younger (Dev Patel) uses everything he’s learned growing up to try to win the top prize on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” How the latter comes to know the correct answers is told in flashbacks that are easily followed and enhanced by A.R. Rahman’s musical score. Interestingly, this was a movie that became better in my mind after I had time to think about what I’d seen. I credit that to director Danny Boyle’s (TRAINSPOTTING) frenetic pacing which is complemented by Chris Dickens’ tight editing. This isn’t an easy film to watch (One scene had viewers around me audibly disturbed), but unlike a certain movie about a guy aging backwards, it’s much easier to like.
EXCELLENT MOVIES WITH AN INDIAN SETTING (in alphabetical order): THE APU TRILOGY (1950-59), BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), BORN INTO BROTHELS (2004), DISTANT THUNDER (1973), GANDHI (1982), GUNGA DIN (1939), KIM (1950), THE LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (1935), THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975), OCTOPUSSY (1983), THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1946), THE RIVER (1951), TWO DAUGHTERS (1961)