Bombay, Away!

Slumdog Millionaire
Running time 120 minutes
Written by Simon Beaufoy
Directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
Starring Dev Patel, Irfan Kahn, Freida Pinto

Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan’s Slumdog Millionaire, from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy, has received some very mixed reviews for its bizarre mixture of genres and an English-language soundtrack that makes it seem as if Mr. Boyle is introducing both Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and its hideous slums to Western audiences. I disagree with critics who denounce the happy Bollywood-like romantic ending that comes after literally plunging us and its child protagonist into the cesspool of slumdog existence. Some of the sickening childhood horrors inflicted by brutal adults would have made a morbidly “realistic” ending unendurable for most viewers.

As it happens, the 52-year-old Mr. Boyle has displayed a flair for noirishly horrific narratives ever since his striking film debut in 1995 with Shallow Grave, a marvelously well-acted saga of treachery and betrayal among three Scottish housemates of both genders who come into the sudden possession of a hoard of cash. He continued on this darkly lucrative path in 1996 with one of his biggest hits, Trainspotting, with its profusion of illicit drugs adding to the hallucinatory horror. Then came a minor setback in 1997 with a kidnap-melodrama A Life Less Ordinary and a major setback in 2000 with a badly misfiring post-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle, The Beach, shot in Thailand. Since this low point in his career, Mr. Boyle has been on the upswing, most notably with the post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later (2002).

I suspect that Slumdog Millionaire will turn out to be one of Mr. Boyle’s most successful films precisely because the varied parts don’t cohere as smoothly as they are supposed to in the ideal well-made film. The movie gradually gets to you, as there is something almost mystical about the hero, Dev Patel’s Jamal Malik, as he comes up with the right answers on a multimillion-dollar-prize TV quiz show. He achieves this by overcoming his ignorance with the inspired knowledge that his imperiled beloved, Freida Pinto’s Latika, will come to him when she sees him compete on the universally popular quiz show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, emceed by Anil Kapoor’s Prem Kumar, in a reportedly sly parody of real-life television host, Amitabh Bachchan.

Strangely, much of the film is so overwhelming as sheer mass spectacle that it serves as a sobering view of an overpopulated part of the world that defies any judgmental analysis. In this respect, Bollywood is merely Hollywood on fantasy steroids. Still, I liked and even admired the total effect. What more can I say?

asarris@observer.com

Bombay, Away!