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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire's 'beggar porn' is captivating as long as it continues but once the boys grow up - the good Jamal and the bad Salim - we're frightened by an excess of poignancy. It's difficult to portray children. Humour is required.

But once the realms of adulthood are entered, romance is mandatory and, in this case (being Mumbai) greed. A tendency to favour cliche and forced dramatics is hard to resist.

Danny Boyle, the director, did not resist. He is most famous for the extraordinary Trainspotting, a harmless romp through the West's slacker dropout cult. The new film didn't entertain. We have some memorable scenes but they all occur in the first half. Such as an anti-Muslim mob bashing the boys' mother to death in the washing pond, or the beggar king having a kid's eye put out with hot acid so that he can beg more effectively.

Once Salim, perched on a floor of an apartment block under construction, says that he is "At the centre of the centre", you know it's all downhill. And while there's tremendous satisfaction to be enjoyed in Salim's shooting of the beggar king, his abduction of Latika - Jamal's lost love - in a train station where Jamal has promised to be every day at 5pm, is just standard crim pap.

I left the theatre. I also wasn't convinced by the police questioning of Jamal - the "slumdog" of the title. It's enough, I thought, that he managed to get on the show. Why persecute him mindlessly, to gratify the preconceptions of an ignorant Western audience, and to set up a satisfying denouement, when Jamal finally triumphs over the forces of evil that keep him apart from his childhood sweetheart?

Anyway, I was very thirsty. Unfortunately, Powerade wasn't on sale in the convenience store's refrigerated cabinet. I was forced to slake my thirst with a Nutrient Water. A small sacrifice, since they both cost the same and, most importantly, neither contains much sugar.

It's sad that thoughts like these become dominant in the aftermath of a failed screening, but that's the truth in my case. The accolades presented following the film's release are unwarranted.

So I award the film three stars for the first half, and only one for the ending. Of course, maybe I got it all wrong and Jamal never gets the girl. Maybe she runs away from the corrupt property developer who punches her in the face and sets herself up selling cosmetics door to door. Maybe she becomes a millionaire anyway.

In essence, Latika is the most 'interesting' character in the film. What happens to her should concern us. What the police dish out to poor, brainy Jamal, the call centre tea-wallah, is just too silly to comprehend.

Naturally, the story is based (who knows?) on a true account. In which case I'll have to wear a garlic chapati on my head for a week.

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