Slumdog Millionaire is top dog at the Oscars

Rachel BullerIt was earmarked for a straight to DVD release in America and it has courted controversy - in particular in India - but on Sunday night it scooped an astonishing eight Oscars. Rachel Buller looks at the apparently unstoppable success of British film Slumdog Millionaire.Rachel Buller

Danny Boyle must be waking up this morning looking at his Oscar(s) wondering how on earth this all happened.

The British director of Slumdog Millionaire bounced on to stage at the ceremony in homage to a promise he made to his children many years ago that, if he were to ever win an Oscar, that would be how he collected his award - like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh.

He must be as surprised as anyone to find himself living up to that promise, especially when his film looked like being given that dreaded label of 'straight to DVD' in the States and while critically acclaimed in the UK, was by no means a blockbuster.

But what it lacked for in the big commercial and marketing stakes, it has since more than made up for in terms of critical success and booming audience figures.


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In the run up to the big awards season, Slumdog didn't really seem to be that hotly tipped. Then the nominations started coming in, then the awards... and suddenly this low budget movie was tipped to sweep the board at the Oscars and is the talk of Hollywood.

Scooping eight awards from the 10 nominations it received - including the coveted Best Picture and Best Director, its success has come from virtually nowhere. So what has made it so popular?

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It has no big stars, no big budget and it is most certainly not one of those films which appear to have been made with Oscar nominations purely in mind - Benjamin Button take note.

The film, promoted as 'The feel good film of the decade', a very misleading tagline as anyone who has seen it would testify, tells the story of Jamal Malik, an orphan from the Mumbai slums who goes on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

He is arrested for cheating as no one can believe he could do so well, and the film tells his story in flashbacks to justify how he would have known the right answers and how his performance on the show ties in with his search for the love of his life.

The film was shot on location, with Boyle using a largely Bollywood crew and child actors from the slums. It also starred largely unknown British Asian actor Dev Patel and Mumbai model Freida Pinto in the two main roles.

But Slumdog Millionaire has scarcely been out of the headlines in India and the reaction to both the film, and its success at the Oscars, has been very mixed.

On one hand, the nation has been fascinated by the rapid ascent of Pinto to the pages of Vogue and the success of those involved in the film, on the other there is the controversy over whether child actors from the slums had been paid enough and even criticism of the Hindi spoken by Dev Patel.

Some have described Slumdog Millionaire as 'poverty porn', perpetuating stereotypes to the West with film makers cashing in on the desperation of the poor. Even the very term 'slumdog', made up by the film, has been criticised by some as being hugely derogatory and damaging to those children struggling to survive on the streets.

The film makers have also been accused of underpaying the local child stars although Boyle and Christian Colson, the producer, insist they cast real slum children to try to give them an escape route out of poverty, setting up trust funds and paying the families a monthly figure to ensure they could be nurtured rather than turned into overnight stars.

However, there were raised eyebrows around the world when two of the child stars - Azharuddin Mohammed, 10, and Rubina Ali, nine, who played the young versions of the lead characters - were flown to America to experience the red-carpet glamour of the Oscars and put up in a five star hotel.

Mirroring the rags-to-riches storyline of the film, it seemed a little ostentatious and disingenuous when considering an economy class return flight from Mumbai to LA costs about 50,000 rupees - a small fortune for three quarters of Indian people.

But there were also those in India who believe the film will bring attention, and therefore help, to the street children and there were also plenty of reasons to celebrate for the locals who worked so hard on the project.

During Sunday's ceremony, camera shots showed celebrations erupting in the family home of AR Rahman, known as the Mozart of Madras, who won two Oscars for best original score and best song. There were also cheers for Resul Pookutty, who was part of the winning sound mixing team.

Ultimately, though, whatever you think of the arguments surrounding both the premise of the film and the subsequent fallout, the reason it has struck such a chord with people is that quite simply it is a good old fashioned rags-to-riches tale.

Yes it is violent and disturbing and paints a no holds-barred image of the brutal poverty endured by millions of children in India, but it is also a film about hope and love against the odds.

For Danny Boyle and his team, it has clearly been a very personal and very involved journey. It is clearly more than just another film.

Accepting the award for best director, he thanked the Academy but there was no overwrought Hollywood emotion from the 52-year-old.

Instead he thanked the cast and crew and his family.

As the evidence of a night of partying and celebrating at this year's Oscars was swept up and packed away, it was unlikely the story of Slumdog Millionaire would simply fade away.

Yesterday, charities were already urging people not to forget the children living in poverty in India as the excitement and hype surrounding the film died down.

More than 120 million children live in poverty in India - equivalent to double the UK population.

Shireen Vakil Miller, Save the Children India's director of policy, said yesterday: 'We hope Slumdog Millionaire will make people across the world sit up and take action for the millions of children who are denied their childhoods.

'We urge people not to forget them after the Oscar excitement dies down because they will need our help long after the red carpet is rolled away. We are calling on governments to urgently invest in tackling abuse and violence against children, in placing orphans in safe family and community environments, and in finding ways to identify and protect children who are in danger. Otherwise, unlike Jamal's fairytale win, the real slumdogs will continue to suffer not just grinding poverty, but the nightmare of abuse, too.'

OSCAR WINNERS 2009

t Motion Picture: Slumdog Millionaire.

t Actor: Sean Penn, Milk.

t Actress: Kate Winslet, The Reader.

t Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight.

t Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

t Director: Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire.

t Foreign Film: Departures, Japan.

t Adapted Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire.

t Original Screenplay: Dustin Lance Black, Milk.

t Animated Feature Film: Wall-E.

t Art Direction: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

t Cinematography: Slumdog Millionaire.

t Sound Mixing: Slumdog Millionaire.

t Sound Editing: The Dark Knight.

t Original Score: Slumdog Millionaire, AR Rahman.

t Original Song: Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire, AR Rahman and Gulzar.

t Costume: The Duchess.

t Documentary Feature: Man on Wire.

t Documentary (short subject): Smile Pinki.

t Film Editing: Slumdog Millionaire.

t Make-up: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

t Animated Short Film: La Maison En Petits Cubes.

t Live Action Short Film: Spielzeugland (Toyland).

t Visual Effects: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button.

Academy Award winners previously announced this season:

Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award: Jerry Lewis.

Gordon E Sawyer Award: Pixar Animation co-founder Ed Catmull.

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