Must see movies worth braving the cold for

By Steve Sedlak

At first glance the storyline of “Slumdog Millionaire” seems rife with clichés. Jamal, a boy from the slums of Mumbai makes it onto a nationally televised game show. Should he win said game show he will finally get to be with Latika, his childhood sweetheart. But things are way more complex than that. “Slumdog” is far more than a dramatic exposé on life in the lower depths of a society or a clichéd melodrama. It is a brilliant story of friendship, love and human trust set in a modernity where things like idealism and humanism are as stable as the constantly shifting cityscape of Mumbai.

One of the most attractive elements of the film is its clever construction. The frame story of the police investigation into whether or not Jamal cheated on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” is extraordinarily well-developed and puts the sloppily thrown together framing device of “Benjamin Button” to shame. Cutting back and forth between the earliest memories of Jamal’s childhood in Mumbai’s slums, his adolescence spent wandering across India as an orphan, and the present day, the frame story provides evidence to clear Jamal of the charges of having cheated on the game show.

Jamal grows up in the slums of Mumbai – then Bombay – with his brother Salim until Hindu-Muslim riots turn them both into orphans. After escaping the slums with a young girl by the name of Latika, the three end up in a less-than-seemly orphanage run by a gang. Escaping the orphanage, they wander India in search of sustenance, but the onset of adolescence and the flash of capital tear the three apart.

All in all the film reads like a terrific 21st century rendition of Dickens. The hopelessness illustrated in the children’s being buffeted from place to place by forces they can hardly fight against paints the film an almost unappealing tint of nihilism. But out of the absurdity of Jamal’s making it onto the game show a quiet and beautiful humanist optimism is born.

For this reason “Slumdog” might even be viewed as a companion piece to the 2002 “City of God.” What makes “Slumdog” a better picture in my opinion is its conscious decision to turn to a cautious, semi-absurd optimism after showing the audience how pessimistic its story could be. Nothing better encapsulates this tendency of the film than its opening and ending. Not many movies can start in a violent police interrogation and end up in a joyous Bollywood-esque dance sequence on a train platform.