Slumdog Millionaire brought Danny Boyle his long overdue Best Director Oscar as part of a haul that included seven other trophies including the big one for Best Picture. An Oscar-winning screenplay by Simon Beaufoy was based on the book Q&A by Vikus Swarup, but with Boyle’s trademark kinetic visual flair, the film feels like anything but a story original told in print.
The vivid color images, the infectious music, the non-linear construction that reaches backward and forwards in time to bring its many narrative threads together into a coherent whole has all the excitement of a music video, but one that containing depths of thematic meaning never even dreamed of in that short form cinematic medium. While a love story is what winds bringing the end together, the events of the past are the intellectual center of the film. At that center seemingly manifest but ultimately revolutionary revelation that knowledge and experience share the same DNA.
The inventive conceit of situating the knowledge gained from a lifetime experience within the immediacy of a quiz show where such knowledge can be displayed by characters in a seamlessly integrated way led many critics to underestimate the profundity of the film’s message. That message is seems as simple as recalling a rote fact laying buried in your memory, but in fact it is quite complex. The genetic strains of experience and the knowledge that is gained from that experience is not merely symbiotic, it is almost parthenogenetic: without benefit of any process of fertilization, experience and knowledge work together produce your very identity.
In addition to taking home the motherlode at the Academy Awards ceremony, Slumdog Millionaire also swept the British Oscars and the Golden Globes. While critically acclaimed and a box office hit in the English-speaking world, those living in the country in which it is actually set—India—were not nearly as unanimous in heaping praise. The more vocal critics complained that of is Anglo-centric approach to telling a story about Indian citizens and culture. Others pointed out that Slumdog Millionaire was somewhat ironically the most successful “Bollywood movie” outside of India that was not actually a product of Bollywood.
The latter criticism tends to ring somewhat hollow in light of the fact that, in addition to many others, Bollywood has remade such iconic Hollywood films as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Silence of the Lambs and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Not to mention that the real life hit Indian TV game show at the center of the film originated in Britain.