Director Danny Boyle’s tale of a boy from the Mumbai slums who reaches the jackpot question on gameshow Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? has swept all before it in the awards race.
It won four Golden Globes and is favourite to win best picture at the Academy Awards – an astonishing feat for a $15 million film with one-third of its dialogue in Hindi and a cast of relative unknowns.
Boyle summed up the audience’s reaction to the film when he spoke at the Globes of the “mad, pulsating affection” in which it is held.
The star of the film is Dev Patel, an 18-year-old from Harrow who had never appeared in a feature film before and whose only acting experience was in the E4 teen drama Skins. His leading lady is Freida Pinto, an Indian model who now has Hollywood at her feet. They appear alongside established Bollywood actors Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan.
Patel plays Jamal Malik, a quiz show contestant who is arrested and interrogated by police unable to believe that a slum dweller could know the answers to the Millionaire questions.
The film has 10 Oscar nominations and it has been feted by the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America, the British Independent Film Awards and every critics’ association in the US.
Inevitably, the film has faced a backlash. Amitabh Bachchan, the Bollywood legend, posted comments on his blog accusing the film of projecting India as a Third World country with a “dirty underbelly”, adding that such a portrayal “causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots”.
The film’s writer, Simon Beaufoy, refuted the charge. “None of it is made up, it’s all there on the streets for people to see,” he said. “It’s a brutal city and an extreme city and a very warm and generous city. I wanted to show the dignity and humanity of the people.”
There were also darker accusations that the film-makers had underpaid the two young Indian children who star in the film, something which Boyle has vehemently denied.
Some Hollywood insiders believe the claims were part of a smear campaign by rival Hollywood studios dismayed that their Oscar chances have fallen by the wayside.