It is almost unfair to review this film after having recently read Rohinton Mistry's superb novel, set in Mumbai, A Fine Balance. How can a film (itself adapted from a novel - Vikas Swarup's Q and A) possibly compare favourably with the detail and breadth achievable in a novel of 600-plus pages. It can't. But I'm not sure that I would be waxing lyrical about this film even if I hadn't been spoilt beforehand. I'm going to sound a mite curmudgeonly by raining on the parade of 'the feel-good film of the decade' (a baffling description of a film containing so much misery and violence) but I'm sure Danny Boyle is a bigger man and his film will doubtless pick up at least one Oscar, the Americans clearly having gone for this primary-coloured take on class, hope and the Indian dream.
The first problem is the structure. How did a boy from the slums, who grows up to become a chai-wallah in a call centre get to be on India's biggest game-show facing the 10,000,000 rupee question? How could he possibly know all the answers up to that point, asks the policeman interrogating him on suspicion of cheating. The highly contrived answer is that through his tough life he picked up the answers to the very questions he happened to face. The University of Life is almost beyond the realms of cliché. We also all know the format of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire so for it to be presented as a live show in order to allow the pulse racing climax just adds to the contrivance.
The pulse racing is another issue. There is barely a shot which isn't filmed with the camera tilted to one side or the other. The frenetic cutting and soundtrack is exciting for the films opening scenes of slum children racing through narrow alleyways pursued by police or a great moment when our hero graphically demonstrates his determination to meet his film-star idol. But as the film progresses I found myself wishing he'd just put the camera on a static tripod and let the actors do some acting (this makes me feel that Steve McQueen's Hunger - featuring a 20 minute long single-take may be more up my street). That said, the acting on the whole is fine, especially from some of the children. Dev Patel, the lead, actually doesn't get a huge amount to do except look worried so his nomination for a best actor BAFTA seems a bit generous.
Anyone who has read A Fine Balance will know the complexity of the relationship between Beggarmaster and his charges, something this film fails to even begin to tackle. It's all a bit black and white, goodies and baddies, with interesting relationships like that between the two brothers, or even between Jamal and the gameshow host, not given enough time to be explored and developed. As for the feel-good factor it should be a victory which shows the price paid for it but with the Bollywood dance ending it's a bit like those moments at the end of Shakespeare's comedies when everyone gets paired off and does a country reel, brushing all the untidiness under the carpet. I know I'm going to be in the minority here and perhaps I'm missing the point (this is a filmic film, which transcends reality?) but all too often in seems that a tricksy camera move or effect is preferable to some decent script. It's been made too easy and palatable in order to maximise its appeal, which is why it'll be a huge success but probably won't be remembered in a few years time.