Sunday, January 4, 2009

Shrinks on Film: Slumdog Millionaire

With a slightly cheeky nod to a few predecessors (most particularly a comedy show called "In Living Color"), I will endeavor to start what will hopefully be an ongoing series (monthly, perhaps) of reviews from a perspective or two from those on this side of the couch.

Ideally, these postings will be on recommended films; and my first posting is certainly recommendable for the independent and foreign film fans, but also for those who enjoy a strong story line. The music is created by a personal favorite, A.R. Rahman; he rarely disappoints with his scores, and this is no exception. If you are expecting a classic "Bollywood" style of film, don't.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Jamaal, an orphaned child of the Mumbai slums who has gone onto India's version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire." His life story is told in retrospective pieces which coincide with the questions that he answers on the show. Because Jamaal is a "slum dog," many are questioning his ability to answer the questions, and he is accused of cheating.

The movie is very touching, and similar to other films that have shown the underbelly of India's slums, "City of Joy," and "Salaam Bombay" come quickly to mind. How Jamaal's relationships manage to survive incessant trauma is fascinating, although there is a price to pay for almost all of them. The central conflict of love versus survival plays out repeatedly, and love itself gets redefined from extreme dependence to extreme devotion.

From a study of the characters, most show very complex layers, especially Salim, Jamaal''s older brother who is struggling with fighting to survive, self definition, and his responsibility. While one could certainly see overt personality disorders in the sociopathy of some of the villains, it is a more nuanced degree of damage shown in our protagonists: The untrusting hard mental exterior of Jamaal, the depressed hopelessness occasioned by his love interest, Latika.

Life and death are presented in constant contradiction: at times both are treasured and worthless, a gift and a curse, sacred and profane. Sex and love are given a similar juxtaposition. The misery meted out by the various social structures (read: caste system) such as the media, bureaucracy, and countless illegitamate and immoral business endeavors, leave one, in retrospect, with a sense that this is not so much a story of triumph, but of good fortune for a few souls, out of the millions.

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