My final answer
In one of my favourite books about India, Rohinton Mistry’s epic ‘A Fine Balance‘, one character says “there is no such thing as an uninteresting life”. Set in part in the vast slums of Mumbai – formerly Bombay – at a critical juncture in the city’s history (the emergency powers introduced by then Prime Minister Indira Ghandi), the book deals with the enduring human spirit in India, the everyday madness that is anything but ordinary and yet lived by millions. It is a quote that could easily have been used as a tagline for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, a typically frenetic work by probably Britain’s most commercially successful director, Danny Boyle (‘Shallow Grave’, ‘Trainspotting’, ’28 Days Later’). Part-funded by Celador, the producers of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, ‘Slumdog’ is the tale of a young orphan from the slums who navigates the path to winning the ultimate jackpot on the world-famous game show. Having been accused of cheating, the film is then constructed of flashbacks from the boy’s childhood and adolescence that explain how he came to know the answers to the winning questions. A rollercoaster ride through the vast Mumbai underworld where ordinary life is extraordinary, it is a fantastic premise for a movie even if the film is finally unsatisfactory.
The problem with Slumdog Millionaire is that Danny Boyle never knows when to ease off the accelerator. The film erupts quickly into chase sequences soundtracked by urgent urban music by the likes of MIA, and sustains the tension in between with the Who wants to be a Millionaire? theme tune. There is rarely a take longer than five seconds, and the relentless bombardment of image and sound – a complaint I also levelled at Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine‘ – has an excessive, bullying quality to it: be very excited … all the time. The heightened intensity, applied to scenes impressionistic or prosaic, becomes frankly exhausting, particularly at the mid-point of the film, when a character pulls out a gun, and the prosaic really starts to subsume the impressionistic. The explanatory flashbacks become increasingly pulp: the gangsters and their molls finally reaching an Eastenders-quality nadir: a waste of a great premise. It’s a shame, some subtler, less sensationalist storytelling in the final third would have put Slumdog above the level of a bog-standard feelgood film. While it captures India’s chaos and vivacity, it’s everyday extraordinariness, the film becomes incrementally ordinary up to its tediously predictable finale.