Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: Every dog has his day

By Ololade Adewuyi

Coming in the tradition of small films hitting it big on Oscar night, Slumdog Millionaire cemented for itself a place in Hollywood history by taking eight awards (including the most coveted Best Picture and Best Director) on Oscar night, Sunday February 23. Like many unheralded small budget films that went on to become big (think of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Driving Miss Daisy, etc), Slumdog is the story of love, hope and redemption in a crazy world such as the one we live in.

It is the story of the lucky underdog going to become the centre of attraction akin to the rejected stone turning to be the cornerstone of a building. It’s a typical rags to riches story from the many slums that dot the world’s major cities, Rio to Cairo and Lagos to Jo’burg. A boy rises from out of the dust and finds love even though it takes a lifetime for him to be able to hold his loved one in his arms; his hope for a better tomorrow is always dogged by misfortune and loss until he hits it big by playing the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And just when he thinks he’s got a lucky break, he gets arrested out of suspicion of being a fraud.

Jamal Malik and his elder brother Salim, two Mumbai rats that refer to themselves as the musketeers have had to fend for themselves from a tender age. They lose their mother in a carnage which erupts from the ever present sectarian crises, an ugly underbelly of the Indian nation. Their slum is attacked by a group of Hindu rioters who strike their mother dead in a public wash pool. In the ensuing melee and escape to a new life under the harsh weather elements, they meet Latika, an orphaned girl just like them who becomes their “third musketeer”. They are abducted by a group of men posing as saintly orphanage managers who then turn them into street beggars.

Life couldn’t be worse when the boys realize that the singing lessons they have been getting is meant to prepare them for life as blind minstrels because as they say in Mumbai, “(singing) blind beggars earn more than normal beggars”. They escape again and head on a cross country trip which takes them to the Taj Mahal where they become tour guides while robbing unsuspecting western tourists.

Through a series of flashbacks, the story of Slumdog unfolds. It is a gripping tale of horror, hope, love, redemption, humour, pain and suffering in the midst of plenty because Mumbai is one of the richest cities in the world; of adversary and belief in the human capacity to reach for the stars out of the deepest shithole in which one might have jumped into. It’s the tale of waiting for love when everything around us questions the sanity thereof. It’s a story of how life can be the best teacher when one has never been through much of academic learning.

Slumdog is a story of doubt and trusting in one’s instincts. It is a story for all of us in that when the chips are down, we can only look up to follow the trail of the stars to find the next meal and succuor. In this time of massive recession the world over, it is no wonder that Slumdog has become a feel good movie for many who see great hope in its storyline. Just like Forrest Gump, it makes you want to cry, laugh and hug someone close by as the final credits role. It is a great escape from a world filled with saintly monsters and the really bad guys who are waiting to take advantage of the helpless.

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