Slumdog Millionaire – How the Critics See it

Slumdog Millionaire is one of the finest Made-in-India movies (non-Bollywood, of course) we’ve watched in recent years. 

The movie has mostly gotten the critics oohing and aahing over it. 

Here’s a look at excerpts from some of the prominent reviews for Slumdog Millionaire:

Joe Morgenstern in the Wall Street Journal:

“Slumdog Millionaire” is the film world’s first globalized masterpiece. This perfervid romantic fable is set in contemporary Mumbai, the former Bombay, but it draws freely, often rapturously, from Charles Dickens, Dumas père, Hollywood, Bollywood, the giddiness of Americanized TV, the cross-cultural craziness of outsourced call centers and the zoominess of Google Earth. It’s mostly in English, partly in Hindi and was directed by a Brit, Danny Boyle, with the help of an Indian co-director, Loveleen Tandan. The young hero, Jamal Malik, is a dirt-poor orphan from the Mumbai slums. “Is this heaven?” Jamal asks after tumbling from a train and looking up to see the Taj Mahal. I had the same feeling after watching the first few astonishing scenes: Was this movie heaven? The answer turned out to be yes.

….I’ve never seen anything like “Slumdog Millionaire,” and I welcomed the spectacle with open eyes. In these worsening times for feature films, timidity and mediocrity often vie for bottom honors at the multiplex. “Slumdog” breaks through to the top.

Kenneth Turan in Los Angeles Times:

Who would believe that the best old-fashioned audience picture of the year, a Hollywood-style romantic melodrama that delivers major studio satisfactions in an ultra-modern way, was made on the streets of India with largely unknown stars by a British director who never makes the same movie twice? Go figure.  That would be the hard-to-resist “Slumdog Millionaire,” with director Danny Boyle adding independent film touches to a story of star-crossed romance that the original Warner brothers would have embraced, shamelessly pulling out stops that you wouldn’t think anyone would have the nerve to attempt anymore.

Manohla Dargis in New York Times:

A gaudy, gorgeous rush of color, sound and motion, “Slumdog Millionaire,” the latest from the British shape-shifter Danny Boyle, doesn’t travel through the lower depths, it giddily bounces from one horror to the next.

….In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more like a filmmaker’s calculation than an honest cry from the heart about the human spirit (or, better yet, a moral tale). In the past Mr. Boyle has managed to wring giggles out of murder (“Shallow Grave”) and addiction (“Trainspotting”), and invest even the apocalypse with a certain joie de vivre (the excellent zombie flick “28 Days Later”). He’s a blithely glib entertainer who can dazzle you with technique and, on occasion, blindside you with emotion, as he does in his underrated children’s movie, “Millions.” He plucked my heartstrings in “Slumdog Millionaire” with well-practiced dexterity, coaxing laughter and sobs out of each sweet, sour and false note. 

Slumdog Millionaire is not merely a magnificent movie but it’s also the most absorbing portrait of India we’ve seen on the big screen.

And that’s what raises Slumdog Millionaire to the level of a classic – its amazing portrayal of the wonder and chaos and injustice that’s India.

The filthy slums, the abject poverty, the Hindu-Muslim violence, the Bollywood craze, cricket mania, Mumbai underworld, horrific exploitation of young children, the ‘new’ India rising over the demolished slums of Mumbai, police brutality, the call centers, inexplicable goodness in some souls, the packed commuter trains et al – nay, the very essence of India is distilled and captured with unusual verve and dexterity in the moving story of Slumdog Millionaire.

 Anthony Lane in the New Yorker

Boyle and his team, headed by the director of photography, Anthony Dod Mantle, clearly believe that a city like Mumbai, with its shifting skyline and a population of more than fifteen million, is as ripe for storytelling as Dickens’s London, and they may be right; hence the need to get their lenses dirty on its clogged streets. At the same time, the story they chose is sheer fantasy, not in its glancing details but in its emotional momentum. How else could Boyle get away with assembling his cast for a Bollywood dance number, at a railroad station, over the closing credits? You can either chide the film, at this point, for relinquishing any claim to realism or you can go with the flow—surely the wiser choice. After all, to make an old-fashioned crowd-pleaser is no mean task, requiring both folly and verve; and right now, I suspect, the crowd is ready to be pleased.

10 Responses to "Slumdog Millionaire – How the Critics See it"

  1. satya   December 29, 2008 at 11:00 am

    You should also watch salaam bombay. Same genre as slumdog. It is avialable in netflix. Responds:

    Matrubhoomi (Hindi) & Bhoothakkannadi (Malayalam) are coming next. We’ll watch Salaam Bombay after that.

  2. Skjoldbjærg   December 29, 2008 at 11:45 am

    Haven’t watched slumdog yet.. wary that I may end up feeling like Lad.. even before I read his comments.

    Loved Salaam Bombay.. SI, what were you doing in the 80s and the 90s!! Too many M&Bs and Rajkumar movies, I guess 😉

    Bhoothakannadi only has 2.5 stars rating on Netflix.. sounds ominous..

    Will it possible for you to pin the highly recommended movies in the front page.. For now, can you please give me the link — I guess I can bookmark it, but it will be a hassle if you do a restructuring. Responds:

    1. You write: Will it possible for you to pin the highly recommended movies in the front page..

    We’ll see what we can do later today.

    In the meantime, here it is.

    2. You write: SI, what were you doing in the 80s and the 90s!! Too many M&Bs and Rajkumar movies, I guess

    No, we were actually drooling over thottu paru Ambika, Sridevi and Madhavi (Tik Tik Tik, Raja Parvai) those days.

    We haven’t watched too many Rajkumar films.

  3. the gora   December 29, 2008 at 9:24 pm

    Saw Slumdog over the weekend.

    It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, but didn’t think it was one of the best I’ve seen. I just think that speaks to the overall lack of creativity in and out of Hollywood these days.

    I thought all five best picture nominees last year were fairly average. No Country For Old Men won, and I’m still trying to figure out what was so great about that movie. Everyone also went gaga for Juno last year and I didn’t laugh more than two or three times in the whole movie. It seemed like a lot of overacting.

    The best movie last year hands down was Eastern Promises, but unfortunately it didn’t get too much respect at awards time. I thought Eastern Promises was much much better than Slumdog Millionaire.

    But Slumdog was also way better than the five that were up for best picture last year: No Country For Old Men, Juno, There Will Be Blood, Atonement and Michael Clayton. I thought the last two were way overhyped. From those five I would have given it to There Will Be Blood. Anyway…

    The greatest success of the Slumdog Millionaire was that it was very raw.

    The “Amitabh Bachchan” scene had the theater throwing up and rolling around on the floor laughing at the same time. The child actors also blew away the adults. The actor who played 5 year old Salim, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, stole the show hands down. My favorite line from the movie though was when Irrfan Khan’s character has Jamal in the station about midway through the movie and after Jamal is giving his reasoning for some actions Khan says, “Money and women: The reason for most mistakes in life.” Priceless.

    Wanted to see Gran Torino over the weekend too but didn’t get a chance. I saw the trailer for that during Quantum of Solace and was very interested at the time and also after reading the review posted on here. Responds:

    1. You write above: It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, but didn’t think it was one of the best I’ve seen.

    Nicely put.

    2. We loved Eastern Promises too. Superb.

    An excerpt from our review last year:

    Compared to Eastern Promises, even successful Indian Mafia movies like Sarkar and Nayagan come across as juvenilia.

    Indian movie directors making gangster flicks must be compulsorily asked to watch Eastern Promises, Godfather and Scarface before being allowed to go behind the camera.

    In keeping with its story, Eastern Promises has heavy doses of violence and sex. So, be prepared for a fair bit of blood, gore and nudity in this fine movie. All tastefully handled, though.

    3. Yes, the Amitabh Bachchan scene was simply priceless.

    4. You write: The actor who played 5 year old Salim, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, stole the show hands down

    Are you mistaking Salim for Jamal? We thought Jamal stole the show.

    5. You write: Wanted to see Gran Torino over the weekend too but didn’t get a chance.

    The old coot (Clint Eastwood) is better than the young slumdog.

  4. the gora   December 29, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    No, definitely Salim. The way he carried around an impish grin and the mannerisms he had, whether it was selling the photo, initially rebelling against the orphan leaders, bossing the kids around at the orphanage, the scenes surrounding the escape, and the entire time they are traveling around on the train, he was superb in every way. I also thought the actor for 12 year old Salim was better than 12 year old Jamal too. Especially when he fully goes over the edge towards the end of the scenes at that age. Dev Patel though was better than the person who played the grown up Salim. Responds:

    You write: Dev Patel though was better than the person who played the grown up Salim


    One of the other commenters (StrYngLad74) wrote the other day:

    The adult Salim looked like a perched owl, hooting every now and then and the adult Latika looked like she was modeling for a brand of fertilizer on “Krishi Darshan (an agricultural show on Doordarshan).”

  5. the gora   December 29, 2008 at 11:03 pm

    Just went back and read StrYngLad74’s full comments, along with the others I hadn’t seen on that page. I thought the scene that really was a harbinger of things to come for the grown up Jamal and Salim was the “fight” in the building under construction. Pathetic demonstration of rage had me chuckling at the time. As I said, the five year old kids stole the show, but it was interesting to see that as the kids progressed in age within the movie, the acting regressed by the performers who were playing them. The kids were incredible, the teens were very good, but the adults were about average.

    If there was anything I was really disappointed with coming out of the movie though it was Irrfan Khan’s role, not his performance but his role. He was not really given much to work with. He has so much more to offer, but was limited to standing, sitting and pacing around a desk while talking to Jamal.

    Salaam Bombay was very special in its own way. It’s hard to say which movie of these two was better, but I’d have to say possibly Salaam Bombay. The reason is that it doesn’t have a happy ending, which made it seem more realistic. While the ending to Slumdog is unique in terms of a romantic love story, the fact remains that it is still a happy ending to a romantic love story. Mira Nair is just an incredible moviemaker. I was never a fan of Trainspotting. I have heard a lot about Matrubhoomi and am curious to find a copy of it somewhere.

    I did like the concept in Slumdog Millionaire, which could prove to be revolutionary, of slotting the subtitles close to the characters themselves, rather than burying them at the bottom of the screen, which crucially diverts attention away from vital facial expressions and the acting on screen in general when watching a movie in a foreign language. I have made a conscious effort to try and learn Hindi over the past year or so and when I have gone back and watched Hindi movies a second time around, I still glance at the subtitles, but find the movies much more enjoyable and easier to judge their quality because of the simple fact that I am paying better attention to the characters in the middle of the screen rather than the words at the bottom.

  6. StrYngLad74   December 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm

    @ The gora

    Seems we have some things in common. I didn’t care too much for “No country..” and I think “Salaam Bombay” is vastly better than “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the primary reason is that the former never once lets the principal characters grow old and turn into a bumbling Jamal, Salim, and Latika trio as in the latter. The kids ruled in both films, and that’s where the rawness came from. SB could stretch it till the very end, whereas SD just lost its grip after the kids grew up. SB was also better because it was predominantly in Hindi rather than forcing its characters to speak in English, like in SD. That REALLY seemed awkward to me.

    It’s a good thing you’re learning Hindi to get a better understanding of Indian films. Like I’ve recommended SI, I’d ask you to shun Bollywood temporarily and start looking for gems from India’s parallel cinema. They are way too many good movies to be ignored. You can see the list of films I’ve posted. You’ll also find that the better stories come from the small cities and rural areas of India, not Mumbai. Bihar, Western U.P., and Gujarat are the primary choice of regions when it comes to Hindi parallel cinema. Naseeruddin Shah, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, Smita Patil (RIP), M.K. Raina, K.K. Raina, Deepti Naval, are all bona fide greats from that stream.

    @Search India

    I have another good Indian movie for you to see, in case you haven’t seen it. “PINJAR” (Cage), based on a novel by Amrita Pritam (well-known Punjabi novelist), set during the pre- and post-partition era. Urmila Matondkar (yes!!!) delivers what would be her BEST performance ever and Manoj Bajpai is simply brilliant (probably his last best performance I’ve seen). Highly recommended.

    Talking of partition-era themes, if you can get a hold of Govind Nihalani’s TAMAS (based on a book by Bhisham Sahni, who also stars in the movie), you’ll REALLY know what RAW STORY TELLING is. Slumdog Millionaire, raw? Phthooey!! (at least, when compared to Tamas :P). The movie was shown as a five or six-part tele-serial on Doordarshan in 1987. The show sparked off small-scale riots in Delhi and Doordarshan’s building was stoned. Such was the impact of the serial/movie.

    Also recommended from Nihalani’s catalog: Aakrosh, Vijeyta, Ardh Satya, Party, Aaghat, Drohkaal (remade as Kurudhi Punal, by ‘Thiruttu’ Kamalahassan), and Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa.

    P.S. Just noticed the Tamas tele-serial is available in it entirety on Google videos. Responds:

    1. Will definitely watch Pinjar & Ardh Satya.

    2. We may have watched Tamas back in India. Was big in India in the old days.

  7. Skjoldbjærg   December 31, 2008 at 1:13 pm

    If I remember correctly Ardh Satya was remade as “Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu” in Tamil.. probably Satyaraj’s best performance ever.. not sure if he matched up to Om Puri because I never watched AS.. produced by Kamalji and it was songless.. probably the second tamil movie (after Antha Naal) without any songs.. not surprisingly Kamal produced the next two songless tamil movies.. Pesum Padam (Pushpak in Hindi, I think) and Kuruthi Punal.. Responds:

    There were quite a few movies in the 80s of that upright officer, corrupt politicians genre in Hindi, Tamil & Kannada

  8. StrYngLad74   December 31, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    “If I remember correctly Ardh Satya was remade as “Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu” in Tamil.. probably Satyaraj’s best performance ever”

    Nope. The two movies are different. In fact “Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupaadu” was remade in Hindi as “Satyameva Jayate” starring Vinod Khanna, Meenakshi Seshadri, Madhavi, and Shakti Kapoor.

  9. StrYngLad74   December 31, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Update: “Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupadu” is a remake of a Malayalam film. The source below doesn’t say which one though Responds:

    You write above: “Kadamai Kanniyam Kattupadu” is a remake of a Malayalam film. The source below doesn’t say which one though

    The Malayalam movie is Mammooty’s Aavanazhi directed by I.V.Sasi of Avalude Ravukal (Her Nights) fame.

  10. Skjoldbjærg   December 31, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    “Avalude Ravukal”?? is it a mallucore (softer than softcore & with some ugly ass females) porn movie? Beni/Navaraj/Mallukuttan/someone?? Responds:

    Seema a.k.a. Unni Mary (heroine of Avalude Ravukal) was quite sexy once. She must be a grandma now.

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