SAPNA SAMANT, from an Indian perspective, considers this year’s Best Picture Oscar favourite.

WHEN I read Vikas Swarup’s Q & A some years ago I knew straight away it would be made into a film. Why? The book had every element a mainstream Hindi film could have. As they say in the industry there: the story has emotion and action. There is drama, comedy, tragedy, revenge, love, death and space for song and dance. Q & A actually read like a Bollywood film. From the name of the protagonist to the various melodramatic moments to the walks in the rain... it was an easy read about post-globalised India. So I was not surprised when I heard that a movie was being made. I thought it would be another Bollyood tale because it fit everything Bollywood does so well. Of course, I was a tad skeptical because Bollywood does not do adaptations well. Copying yes, adaptations no. (One can argue about the various adaptations of Devdas and stories from Premchand or Gulshan Nanda another time.) Even Chetan Bhagat’s One Night a Call Centre had been made a hash of – not the the book was anything to write about. I would not even compare Vikas Swarup’s prose to Chetan’s.

Slumdog Millionaire was quietly released in 2008. There was no hoo-haa when it was being filmed in Mumbai, which turned out to be a good thing for the film because it did not have people running it down. As we Indians tend to do. Exoticising India, we usually say. Why the slumdogs, why not Shining India, we say. Because it is written.

Jamal Malik, born in the slums, a Muslim and resident of Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia, is a cheerful child living an innocent existence. Then his mother is killed in Hindu-Muslim riots. That is the beginning of a journey, along with his brother Salim and Latika, another orphan, until Jamal reaches the final question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. A chaiwalla, a tea-boy at a call centre, set to win a million rupees. How does he get there? How does Jamal know the answers to all the questions on the show? Because it is written.

I won’t reveal anything else. If Q & A was melodramatic and constantly referred to popular Indian culture in content and form, then Slumdog Millionaire changes the form to tell the same story in a new way. Full marks to Simon Beaufuoy for the screenplay adaptation and to director Danny Boyle for an exhilerating take on the same old-same old formula of Hindi films. The story grips you from the beginning, moving back and forth between the television show and Jamal’s life. There is action, emotion, drama, comedy, tragedy and a beautiful love story – and aren’t we all suckers for that? The cinematography adds another dimension to the story, capturing the madness and gritty beauty of Bombay/Mumbai without the despair. A.R. Rahman’s music too brings enhances the visuals. Not without reason is he called the “Mozart Of Madras”. Rahman’s collaboration with M.I.A (‘O Saya’) shows how world class, global music can be very accessible. The ensemble cast is perfect. My first grouse though is that no one is giving any credit to the child actors who bring the characters to life. These are kids from Dharavi and they have gone back to languishing in the shit. If it wasn’t for them no one would care for the grown up Jamal, Latika or Salim even though Dev Patel, Freida Pinto and Madhur Mittal are very good. My second grouse is that the Jai Ho song is badly choreographed. There is just no jaan in it. For such a catchy tune and the triumph it evokes the dancing is pretty lacklustre. That’s all.

Now if only the Indians stopped quibbling.

Slumdog Millionaire has more subtext than Q & A; Slumdog Millionaire does not exoticise our poverty; Slumdog Millionaire is a feel-good film. If Indian arthouse directors showed their angst against poverty and it did not reach the Western ‘awards’ level, it might have to do with the distribution or that they made their films before economic liberalisation. If the current crop of fringe directors are not reaching the ‘awards’ level then it is only a matter of time. Even Danny Boyle has a few lemons to his credit!

So enjoy the storytelling experience. Jai Ho!