Slumdog Millionaire

Posted on February 17, 2009. Filed under: Bollywood Movie | Tags: , , |

slumdog_millionaireSlumdog Millionaire is a 2009 British drama film directed by Danny Boyle, co-directed by Loveleen Tandan, and written by Simon Beaufoy. It is an adaptation of the Boeke Prize-winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-nominated novel Q and A (2005) by Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup.

Set and filmed in India, Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a young man from the slums of Mumbai who appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (Kaun Banega Crorepati, mentioned in the Hindi version) and exceeds people’s expectations, arousing the suspicions of the game show host and of law enforcement officials.

After screenings at the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, Slumdog Millionaire initially had a limited North American release on 12 November 2008 by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, to critical acclaim and awards success, and later had a nationwide release in the United States on 23 January 2009 and in the United Kingdom on 9 January 2009. It premiered in Mumbai on 22 January 2009.

Slumdog Millionaire won five Critics’ Choice Awards, four Golden Globes and seven BAFTA Awards, including Best Film, and has been nominated for ten Academy Awards. The film is also the subject of controversy concerning its portrayal of India and Hinduism as well as the welfare of its child actors.

The film opens with a police inspector (Irrfan Khan) in Mumbai, India, interrogating and torturing Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a former street child from the Dharavi slums. Jamal is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (Kaun Banega Crorepati) hosted by Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor). Jamal has made it to the final question, scheduled for the next day, but the police are now accusing him of cheating, because the other possibilities, that he has a vast knowledge, or that he is very lucky, both seem unlikely.

Jamal then explains that, while at least the question about Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan was very simple, he knew the answers of most questions by chance, because of things that happened in his life. This is conveyed in a series of flashbacks documenting the particulars of his childhood. This includes scenes of him obtaining the autograph of Amitabh Bachchan; the death of his mother during Hindu-Muslim riots in the slums; and how he and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) befriended the orphan girl Latika (Freida Pinto). As Jamal’s favorite book from his short period in school was The Three Musketeers, he refers to Salim and himself as Athos and Porthos, and Latika as the third Musketeer.

The children are eventually discovered by Maman (Ankur Vikal) while they live in the trash heaps. Maman is a gangster (a fact they do not actually know at the time they meet him) who “collects” street children so that he can ultimately train them to beg for money. Salim is groomed to become a part of Maman’s operation and is asked to bring Jamal to Maman in order to be blinded (which would improve his income potential as a singing beggar). Salim rebels against Maman to protect his brother, and the three children try to escape, but only Salim and Jamal are successful as Salim purposely lets go of Latika’s hand as she tries to board a train they are hopping while trying to escape. Latika is re-captured by Maman’s organization and raised as a culturally talented prostitute whose virginity will fetch a high price.

The brothers eke out a living, traveling on top of trains, selling goods, pretending to be tour guides at the Taj Mahal, and pickpocketing. Jamal eventually insists that they return to Mumbai since he wishes to locate Latika. When he finds her working as a dancer in a brothel, the brothers attempt to rescue her, but Maman intrudes, and in the resulting conflict Salim draws a gun and kills Maman. Salim then uses the fact that he killed Maman to obtain a job with Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), a rival crime lord. Salim claims Latika as his own and when Jamal protests, Salim threatens to kill him and Latika intervenes, accepting her fate with Salim and breaking Jamal’s heart.

Years later, Jamal has a position as a “chai-wallah” (a boy or young man who serves tea) at a call centre. When he is asked to cover for a co-worker for a couple of minutes, he searches the database for Salim and Latika. He gets in touch with Salim, who has become a high-ranking lieutenant in Javed’s organization and confronts a regretful Salim on tense terms. Salim invites Jamal to live with him and, after following Salim to Javed’s house, he sees Latika living there. He talks his way in as the new dishwasher and tries to convince Latika to leave. She rebuffs his advances, but he promises to be at the (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) railway station every day at 5 p.m. for her. One day Latika attempts to rendezvous with him, but is recaptured by Salim and Javed’s men. One of the men then slashes her cheek with a knife, scarring her as Salim drives off.

Jamal again loses contact with Latika when Javed moves to another home. In another attempt to find Latika, Jamal tries out for the popular game show because he knows that she will be watching. He makes it to the final question, despite the hostile attitude of the host who feeds Jamal an incorrect answer during a break. At the end of the show, Jamal has one question left to win 10 million, or one crore, rupees and is taken into police custody, where he is tortured as the police attempt to learn how Jamal, a simple “slumdog”, could know the answers to so many questions. After Jamal tells his whole story, explaining how his life experiences coincidentally enabled him to know the answer to each question, the police inspector calls his explanation “bizarrely plausible” and allows Jamal to return to the show for the final question. At Javed’s safehouse, Latika watches the news coverage of Jamal’s miraculous run on the show. Salim gives Latika the keys to his car and his phone and urges her to run away. When Jamal uses his Phone-A-Friend lifeline to call Salim, Latika answers his phone and they reconnect. She does not know the answer to the final question either, but believing that “it is written”, Jamal guesses the correct answer (Aramis) to the question of the one Musketeer whose name they never learned, and wins the grand prize. Simultaneously, Salim is discovered to have helped Latika escape and allows himself to be killed in a bathtub full of money after shooting and killing Javed. Salim’s last words are “God is great”. Later that night, Jamal and Latika meet at the train station, and finally share a kiss.

Production

Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wrote Slumdog Millionaire based on the Boeke Prize winning and Commonwealth Writers’ Prize nominated novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup. To hone the script, Beaufoy made three research trips to India and interviewed street children, finding himself impressed with their attitudes. The screenwriter said of his goal for the script: “I wanted to get (across) the sense of this huge amount of fun, laughter, chat, and sense of community that is in these slums. What you pick up on is this mass of energy.” By the summer of 2006, British production companies Celador Films and Film4 invited director Danny Boyle to read the script Slumdog Millionaire. Boyle initially hesitated since he was not interested in making a film about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Boyle soon found out that the screenwriter was Beaufoy, who had written The Full Monty (1997), one of the director’s favorite British films, and decided to revisit the script. Boyle was impressed by how Beaufoy wove the multiple storylines from Swarup’s book into one narrative, and the director decided to commit to the project. The film was projected to cost US$15 million, so Celador sought a distributor to share costs. Fox Searchlight Pictures made an initial offer that was reportedly in the $2 million range, and Warner Independent Pictures made a $5 million offer that Fox Searchlight could not top.

Gail Stevens came on board to oversee casting globally. Stevens has worked with Boyle throughout his career and is well-known for discovering new talent. Meredith Tucker was appointed to cast out of the US. The filmmakers then traveled to Mumbai in September 2007 with a partial crew and began hiring local cast and crew for production in Karjat. Originally appointed as one of the five casting directors in India, Loveleen Tandan, has stated that she “suggested to Danny and Simon Beaufoy, the writer of Slumdog, that it was important to do some of it in Hindi to bring the film alive […] They asked me to pen the Hindi dialogues which I, of course, instantly agreed to do. And as we drew closer to the shoot date, Danny asked me to step in as the co-director.” Boyle then decided to translate nearly a third of the film’s English dialogue into Hindi. The director fibbed to Warner Independent’s president that he wanted 10% of the dialogue in Hindi, and she approved of the change. Filming locations included shooting in Mumbai’s megaslum and in shantytown parts of Juhu, so filmmakers controlled the crowds by befriending onlookers. Filming began on 5 November 2007.

In addition to Swarup’s original novel Q and A, the film was also inspired by Indian cinema. Tandan has referred to Slumdog Millionaire as a homage to Hindi commercial cinema, noting that “The writer Simon Beaufoy studied Salim-Javed’s kind of cinema minutely.” Boyle has cited the influence of the following Bollywood films set in Mumbai: Deewaar (1975) by Yash Chopra and Salim-Javed, Satya (1998) and Company (2002) by Ram Gopal Verma, and Black Friday (2004) by Anurag Kashyap. Satya (its screenplay was co-written by Saurabh Shukla, who plays Constable Srinivas in Slumdog Millionaire) and Company (based on the D-Company) both offered “slick, often mesmerizing portrayals of the Mumbai underworld” and displayed a lot of “brutality and urban violence.” Boyle has stated that the chase in one of the opening scenes of Slumdog Millionaire was based on a “12-minute police chase through the crowded Dharavi slum” in Black Friday (itself adapted from S. Hussein Zaidi’s book of the same name about the 1993 Bombay bombings). Deewaar, which Boyle described as being “absolutely key to Indian cinema,” is a crime film based on the Bombay gangster Haji Mastan, portrayed by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan, whose autograph Jamal sought at the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire. Anil Kapoor noted that some scenes of the film “are like Deewaar, the story of two brothers of whom one is completely after money while the younger one is honest and not interested in money.” Some of the other Indian films cited by Boyle as reference points for the film include Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (1955), Mira Nair films such as Salaam Bombay! (1988), Aamir Khan’s Lagaan (2001) and Taare Zameen Par (2007). The rags to riches underdog theme underlying the film was also a recurring theme in classic Bollywood movies from the 1950s through to the 1980s, when “India worked to lift itself from hunger and poverty.”

Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan, the current host for Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian version of Who wants to Be a Millionaire?), was initially offered the role of the show’s host in the film, but he eventually turned it down (the role was ultimately played by another Bollywood star Anil Kapoor). Paul Smith, the executive producer of Slumdog Millionaire and the chairman of Celador Films, had previously owned the international rights to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Release and box office performance

In August 2007 Warner Independent Pictures acquired the American and Pathé the international rights to distribute Slumdog Millionaire theatrically. Though Warner Independent Pictures paid $5 million to acquire rights to the film, the studio was hesitant about its commercial prospects. In May 2008, Warner Independent Pictures shut down, initially suggesting that Slumdog Millionaire would go straight to DVD. In August 2008, the studio began searching for a buyer to relieve its overload of films at the time. Halfway through the month, Warner Independent Pictures and Fox Searchlight Pictures entered a pact to share distribution of the film with Fox Searchlight buying in a 50% stake. As of 13 February 2009, the film has grossed $129,547,783 worldwide.

North America

Slumdog Millionaire was first shown at the Telluride Film Festival on 30 August 2008, where it was positively received by audiences, generating “strong buzz”. The film also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival on 7 September 2008, where it was “the first widely acknowledged popular success” of the festival, winning the People’s Choice Award. Slumdog Millionaire debuted with a limited North American release on 12 November 2008, followed by a nationwide release in the United States on 23 January 2009.

In its first week, the film grossed an “impressive” $350,434 in 10 theatres, a “strong” average of $35,043 per theatre. In its second weekend, it expanded to 32 theatres and made $947,795, or an average of $29,619 per theatre, representing a drop of only 16%. In the 10 original theatres that it was released in, viewership went up 16%, and this is attributed to strong word-of-mouth. The film opened in wide release on 26 December 2008 at 614 theaters and grossed $4,301,870. In the weekend of 23-25 January 2009, the film reached the widest release at 1,411 theaters. As of 8 February 2009, the film has grossed $77,426,000 at the Canadian and US box office.

United Kingdom

The film released in the United Kingdom on 9 January 2009, and opened at #2 at the UK box office. The film reached #1 in its second weekend and set a UK box office record, as the film’s takings increased by 47%. This is the “biggest ever increase for a UK saturation release,” breaking “the record previously held by Billy Elliot’s 13%.” This record-breaking “ticket surge” in the second weekend came after Slumdog Millionaire won four Golden Globes and received eleven BAFTA nominations. The film grossed £6.1 million in its first eleven days of release in the UK. The takings increased by another 7% the following weekend, bringing the film’s gross up to £10.24 million for its first seventeen days in the UK. In its third week, the film’s total UK box office gross rose to £14.2 million  and is expected to exceed £20 million.

India

The Indian premiere of Slumdog Millionaire took place in Mumbai on 22 January 2009 and was attended by major personalities of the Indian film industry. More than a hundred Indian film personalities attended this event. A dubbed Hindi version, Slumdog Crorepati (स्लमडॉग करोड़पति), was also released in India in addition to the original version of the film. Originally titled, Slumdog Millionaire: Kaun Banega Crorepati, the name was shortened for copyright purposes. Loveleen Tandan, who supervised the dubbing, stated: “All the actors from the original English including Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Ankur Vikal dubbed the film. We got a boy from Chembur Pradeep Motwani to dub for the male lead Dev Patel. I didn’t want any exaggerated dubbing. I wanted a young unspoilt voice.”

Fox Searchlight released 351 prints of the film across India for its full release there on 23 January 2009. It earned Rs. 2,35,45,665 in its first week at the Indian box office, or $2.2 million according to Fox Searchlight. Though not as successful as major Bollywood releases in India during its first week, this was the highest weekend gross for any Fox film and the third highest for any Western release in the country, behind Spider-Man 3 (2007) and Casino Royale (2006). In its second week, the film’s gross rose to Rs. 3,04,70,752 at the Indian box office.

A few analysts have offered their opinions for the film’s performance at the Indian box office. Trade analyst Komal Nahta commented that, “there was a problem with the title itself. Slumdog is not a familiar word for majority Indians.” In addition, trade analyst, Amod Mehr has stated that with the exception of Anil Kapoor, the film lacks recognizable stars and that “the film … is not ideally suited for Indian sentiment.” A cinema owner commented that “to hear slum boys speaking perfect English doesn’t seem right but when they are speaking in Hindi, the film seems much more believable.” The dubbed Hindi version, Slumdog Crorepati has done better at the box office and more copies of that version will be released.

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