- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

It is the kind of movie Hollywood used to make — a film that transmits eternal verities and has universal appeal. The Hollywood foreign press crowned “Slumdog Millionaire” with four Golden Globe awards last Sunday, including best movie and best director. The mostly foreign cast and crew deserve accolades; America needs more movies like this.

”Slumdog Millionaire” recounts the tale of a Muslim youth who emerges from the slums of Mumbai to become a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” The hero, Jamal Malik, retains his integrity amidst the greed and corruption of his elders. His straightforward pursuit of the great love of his life, Latika (an embattled girl entangled in the brutal underworld), is as simple as it is refreshing. Love from childhood, love that will not die, love that heals and restores - this is “Slumdog Millionaire,” a romance for our times. The film is a stinging indictment of a Hollywood culture that is bereft of decent values.

The movie instructs as much as it entertains. It was adapted from the Indian novel by Vikas Swarup titled “Q&A;” and exposes many Indian social problems in a stark and moving manner. The backdrop is a teeming city beset with poverty, religious tension and the exploitation of children. It will have enduring value for providing a vivid snapshot of a nation undergoing tumultuous modernization.

“Slumdog Millionaire” stands in sharp contrast to the typical Hollywood fare that encourages promiscuity, greed, individualism and cynicism. Contrast this movie to others nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture, Drama: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Reader,” “Revolutionary Road,” and “Frost/Nixon.” Each has artistic merit, but the films are about dreary subjects and have protagonists who have dubious morals at best. In “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Benjamin visits brothels and has many affairs as he evolves in reverse from an older to younger man. In “The Reader” an emotionally stunted and illiterate woman seduces a 15-year old boy - and becomes an SS guard in Holocaust Germany: The affair torments him for the rest of his life. “Revolutionary Road” is a portrait of marital discord and adultery to boot - in 1950s Connecticut. And “Frost/Nixon” turns former President Richard Nixon into a caricature.

Big-budget Hollywood films are put to shame. Much of “Slumdog Millionaire” was filmed with a hand-held camera in the streets of Mumbai; it has limited distribution and is succeeding mostly by word of mouth. With a small budget and a largely unknown Indian cast, the film has nonetheless become a sensation and is now a front-runner for an Oscar. When will Hollywood learn that there is a vast audience for movies that celebrate traditional morality? “Slumdog Millionaire” demonstrates that if American filmmakers are unwilling to highlight our core values, others will rise to fill that void.

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