26 September 2010

20 Scripts in 30 Days: Number 17, Slumdog Millionaire, by Simon Beaufoy

Police Inspector: Money and women. The reasons for make most mistakes in life. Looks like you've mixed up both.

    I wanted to read something recent, something respected, and something that made some serious coin at the theaters, so I picked up Slumdog Millionaire at the library and dug in.

    Quite a feast, and, like a lot of fancy dinners, in ended with a too sweet finish for my taste. Briefly, it's about a kid from the slums of Mumbai/Bombay who's on a quiz show. He's about to win tens of millions of rupees, when he gets worked over at the local police station. No one believes that an ignorant slumdog could know the answers, so they torture him to find out if he's cheating. In a series of flashbacks, we learn how he knows the answers -- and we get a fast moving and dramatic portrait of the underbelly of Mumbai.

    The action starts immediately. We see Jamal undergoing torture at the station, wham! cut to the tv show, wham! more gnarly torture, wham! For a long time, the film script stays way ahead of the audience, and as soon as we think we're caught up, it throws in some more heavy duty action, or a grand emotional scene. Chase scenes, cliff hangers, gun battles, gangsters, young love, this really has it all.

    At first, I thought it was a totally ingenious way into a slice of Indian life that was both dramatic and informative, moving. Sort of like an Oliver Twist for the twenty-first century. On steroids

    But the Hollywood clichés start sneaking in about the same time as the love story takes off. No matter how well machined the script is and how well it toys with expectations, you know exactly how it's going to end midway through the script.

    Anyway, it was a fun read, very fast. Some things to keep in mind:

    • The principle of contrast: high/low, rich/poor, fortunate/tragic. Just like Dickens.
    • The work of forward propulsion
    • The importance of keeping the audience off balance: one scene was ingenious, where a character is about to off the bad guy, but the safety catch is on. It stops the normal progression of bang bang, he's dead. A small example, but a smart move.

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