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Slumdog Millionaire (DVD Review)

27 Mar, 2009 By: John Latchem

Street 3/31/09
Box Office $137.2 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for some violence, disturbing images and language.
Stars Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Irrfan Khan, Anil Kapoor.

Slumdog Millionaire’s great success during Hollywood’s award season perfectly parallels the rags-to-riches story it tells. It’s a Bollywood homage that’s a tad predictable yet is still an ultimately satisfying Dickensian tale about the struggle to survive the harsh poverty that persists in India.

Plucked from its direct-to-video destiny, Slumdog Millionaire became a box office success and a critical darling, and went on to win a slew of awards, I suspect more for its cultural considerations than its merits. The disc even gets in on the act with a tribute to itself in the form of “Slumdog Cutdown,” a five-minute montage of the story set to music.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), an orphan from the slums of Mumbai appears on the Indian version of the game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and has great success because every answer seems to relate to a significant event in his life. On the verge of winning the grand prize of 20 million rupees (about $400,000), Jamal is arrested and accused of cheating, forcing him to relate his life story to his jailors, and his great desire to reunite with the lost love of his childhood, Latika (Freida Pinto, who’s young and hot enough to be the film’s big breakout star).

Early scenes are unpleasant to say the least, including a flashback to a young Jamal literally jumping into a pile of crap to meet his favorite movie star. It’s enough to make anyone question how the film won eight Oscars, including best picture. The foreign setting seems to allow for a wide variety of shifts in the tone of the story, weaving between scenes of humorous pranks to depictions of young orphans having their eyes burned out to increase their value as beggars.

Slumdog Millionaire dares you to keep watching after 15 minutes, but then starts to grow on you. Through its clever structure, the film is very good at what it does: telling a sweet love story about young lovers destined to be together.

The DVD includes two commentaries, one by Patel and director Danny Boyle, and another by writer Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty) and producer Christian Colson.

The director offers a lot of good insights in a commentary fueled by the interesting juxtaposition of the scholarly Boyle playing against the unseasoned Patel. Boyle’s is the better commentary and should serve the needs of anyone looking for behind the scenes tidbits.

In contrast, Beaufoy and Colson seem content to just watch most of the movie, and the tidbits they do offer aren’t too different from what Boyle said. Beaufoy’s great contribution to his adaptation of the novel Q&A, by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup, seems to be his invention of the word “Slumdog” to describe the impoverished masses.

A 20-minute making-of featurette covers a lot of the same ground as the commentaries. One might expect some better coordination to avoid repetition.

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