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Slumdog Millionaire: American Cinematographer

Slumdog-Millionaire-essay

Have you ever thought what an important role plays cinema in modern society? What would our lives look like if it were not for such pioneers in this field as Louis Le Prince and Lumière brothers, Auguste and Louis? This form of art is constantly being developed apace bringing joy to billions of people all over the world. While viewers admire the art of acting, complicated plot twists, and great dialogues, they sometimes forget about the unsung heroes behind the camera i.e. cinematographers.

A viewer sees a motion picture through the eyes of the cinematographer. The cinematographer is in charge of the way the action will look on screens. Thanks to image composition, color score, right lighting, and many others maneuvers, a director of photography helps to bring to life a vision of a director and a script of a writer. Nowadays, the film industry is filled with a galaxy of talents, and one of them is a British cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantl.

Antony Dod Mantl was born in Cambridge, the UK; however, he has been the citizen of Denmark for more than twenty years now. The future cinematographer discovered his passion for art in India where he took a camera for the first time; that was the beginning of his journey: “I started taking photographs. It was kind of documentary stuff…. What it gave me was that experience, that gift, of taking a photo that is really about yourself, then you put it somewhere and someone gets an experience from it too”. ("Anthony Dod Mantle – Slum Dogme" n.p.).A year after Dod Mantl came back from India, he decided to take a BA Honors course at the London College of Printing. During his studies, he was exposed to cinematography: “I started messing around with movie formats, mostly video — I very quickly discovered the difference between being on your own, having the control of a stills photographer, and the group mechanics of making films. You had less control… but you were communicating and telling stories visually, and that was natural and I felt that cinematography was the way to go.” ("Anthony Dod Mantle – Slum Dogme" n.p.).Upon the completion of the London College of Prining, Dod Mantl continued to study cinematography at the National Film School of Denmark.

Antony Dod Mantl had an opportunity to get acquainted with the renowned European directors such as Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg with whom he has frequently collaborated. Their first joint effort was the 2003 Dogville, which was the manifest of Dogma 95, the film movement that preferred “traditional values of story, acting, and theme, and excludes the use of elaborate special effects or technology”("A Brief Explanation of the Controversial Film Movement Dogme 95 by Co-Creator Lars Von Trier" n.p.). Soon afterwards, Dod Mantl received a phone call from another famous director Danny Boyle, who praised his versatile style and offered to collaborate. Later, Dod Mantl and Boyle won Academy Awards for “Slumdog Millionaire” for the best cinematography and best director respectively.

Synopsis of the Film

“Slumdog Millionaire” tells the story of a poor eighteen-year-old orphan named Jamal Malik, who participates in the famous TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”. As Jamal answers the questions, he takes a trip down a memory lane since every question is somehow related to the events from his life. As the story unfolds, Jamal's troubled past is revealed. His mother was murdered during the Bombay Riot when he was a kid. His brother Salim and he managed to escape the riot; that is when the boys met another child who lived in slums. It was a little girl named Latika, who joined them though Salim was against it. Later in the movie, he lets go of her hand intentionally, when the kids tried to get on a passing train. In such a manner, Salim takes away her only chance to escape the sinister fate of becoming a beggar and later a prostitute. Despite the fact that Jamal and Latika are separated, Jamal cherishes the memory about his beloved and tries to rescue her when he comes back to Mumbai some years later. However, the plot takes an interesting turn when Salim kills the man that has captured Latika; however, instead of letting her go, he orders her to stay with him and threatens to kill Jamal if he does not leave. Then viewers see Jamal as a young man, who works in a call center as a tea server. He looks for Latika and his brother using the database, and soon his efforts are crowned with success – he finds his brother and Latika. Soon, Jamal learns that his brother works for Javed. He is a former gangster who turned into a businessman and has a relationship with Latika. Eventually, Jamal and Latika reunite, Jamal wins the capital prize that amounts to 20 million rupees in spite of the police interrogations and intrigues of a hypocritical host of the show. Unfortunately, Jamal's brother Salim cannot see his victory as he is killed by Javed's people, because he is the one who helped Latika to escape from her boyfriend, therefore, betrayed his boss. The picture ends with the dance sequence while Jamal and Latika share a passionate kiss.

My Impressions from the Film

Although the picture won eight Academy Awards, some people criticized it for plot holes, predictability, and some excessive theatricality. Nonetheless, personally, I have enjoyed this picture very much. In my opinion, it is a beautiful love story; perhaps, it is a bit cliché. However, what makes this movie stand out is its innocence, purity, and simplicity. The actors gave great heart-crushing performances. One cannot help but sympathize with the young lovers, feel their pain, fear, happiness, and joy. Actors who play supporting roles also deserve a special attention. Whether it is a double-hearted show host, a doubtful police officer, or a vengeful boyfriend, the characters are not two-dimensional, they are real.

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The Use of Visuals

It is also should be pointed out that visuals enhance the story. For instance, thanks to Dod Mantl's creative genius, India becomes a key character in the picture. Thanks to the visual effects, the viewers have an opportunity to see different sides of the state. India is a country of contrasts. On the one hand, it is a beautiful, historical, and culture-steeped state; yet, one the other hand, it is very poor and sometimes violent. Antony Dod Mantl took upon himself a daunting task and did a brilliant job. His work is enchanting and fascinating right to the end. The picture is vivid and dramatic. 

I would also like to discuss the shot that I found particularly interesting. It is the scene when the riot breaks out. It was a seemingly peaceful day, Jamal and Salim were playing in water and their mom as doing laundry when suddenly the angry mob appeared and started bashing everybody around. Jamal's mother was killed, and kids had to run across the slums in order to escape the ordeal. The cinematographer decided to use the digital camera in “Slumdog Millionaire”, and the decision really paid off. This picture is a full immersive experience as Dod Mantl said, “Viewers feel really involved in the city. They are thrown right into the chaos as much as possible”. The cinematographer also added dramatic effect by using ergonomic camera set up that allowed him “to throw myself around the slums chasing the children whilst, at the same time, withhold as much detail in the shadows and highlights… I needed a digital camera with enough latitude to hold highlights and something very small so we could enter the children's world at their level”, said the DPO (ANTHONY DOD MANTLE DFF/BSC/ASC n.p.). In my opinion, this approach makes watching this picture more intimate, direct, and honest. It forces viewers to experience the emotions that the characters went through and see the real India through their eyes.

In conclusion, I would like to quote American cinematographer Conrad Hall who once said, “Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities… much more so than music or language”. ("Famous Cinematographers Quotes & Quotations" n.p.).

Works Cited

Anthology Dod Mantle DFF/BSC/ASC. Cinematographers. N.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

Anthony Dod Mantle – Slum Dogme. Anthony Dod Mantle. N.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

A Brief Explanation of the Controversial Film Movement Dogme 95 by Co-Creator Lars Von Trier. No Film School. N.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

Menu. Student Filmmakers Learn Digital Video Production. N.d.  Web. 9 Sept. 2014.
Anthony Dod Mantle on What Hooks Him as a Cinematographer. News, Features, Reviews, Forums and Resources for the Professional Content Creator. N.d.Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

Famous Cinematographers Quotes & Quotations. Famous Cinematographers Quotes & Quotations. N.d. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.