Slumdog Millionaire was a worldwide movie sensation as it engages with a wide range of social issues and universal desires. An important and interesting character in the film is Salim Malik, brother to the main character, Jamal. Salim is heavily contrasted to his brother and becomes a main antagonist in the narrative. Director Danny Boyle uses multiple visual and verbal techniques to reveal Salim’s violent and greedy tendencies and to reveal to the audience that money and power do not buy happiness.
Boyle, develops Salim’s violent nature early in the film. One of the first examples is Salim’s violent lashing out at Latika when she laughs at his singing. The characters actions appear over the top and unnecessary and reveal his reactive personality. Boyle also uses music to emphasize Salim’s dark nature. The track Gangsta Blues is played after Salim’s murder of Maman.
The track is in the style of an American gangster rap with dark tones and deep repetitive deeps creating a tense and unnerving mood for the audience. Salim never appears to show remorse for his violent actions. He firstly murders Maman then rapes Latika and as the plot develops becomes a paid killer for Javed. The dialogue “I killed Maman and I will kill you too” shows his lack of remorse and his willingness to repeat his violent actions. It is this lack of remorse and Salim’s embracing of violence that makes him so interesting to watch in this film as we see the childhood offences develop into adult cruelty.
Salim is also shown to be greedy as well as violent. In both the exposition and the dénouement there is a point of view shot of Salim filling a bathtub full of money. Boyle makes it clear to the audience through this camera work and the character’s actions that money and power are both incredibly important to Salim. As a child Salim is seen both selling his brother’s prized possession for a few coins and is also seen stealing shoes from a holy site and selling them on to others in the street.
These actions show us that money is more important to Salim then either his brother’s feelings or those feelings of the people he stole from. It shows his disconnection with his community and disregard for the laws of the land. It also shows us that even from a young age Salim was not afraid of breaking the law to get what he wants.
Salim made his life about generating wealth and power the easy way, through violence. His dialogue “and I am at the center of the center” emphasized his pride at having reached a powerful position in the expanding Mumbai crime scene, even though the audience and Salim’s brother Jamal, know that he made it at the expense of others. Salim’s fearless pursuit of money and power make him interesting as his actions help us to understand why people choose illegal and violent lifestyles and the toll their actions can have on others.
Salim’s character is also used to contrast Jamal’s life choices. The two bothers choose very different life paths that result in very different outcomes. Salim and Jamal shared a violent and transient childhood.
They relied on each other for survival as outsiders. As they grow, Salim’s reaction to their childhood and their isolation from the community is to behave in a violent and disrespectful way. He shows no concern for others and even abandons his brother when his brother tries to stop the rape of Latika by Salim. Jamal responds differently to his childhood. He attempts to educate himself, learning English from tourists in Agra and getting a job in an international call centre. Jamal pursues love, not wealth and power and it is Jamal’s quest that forms the main narrative.
Danny Boyle uses difference in costume and lighting to emphasize the boy’s differences in personality. Salim is often filmed in low lighting with shadows cast across his face to emphaise his dark nature. In contrast to Jamal who is generally shown in high key natural lighting, representing positive emotions like hope and love.
A clear example of this is when Salim and Jamal are both at the train station searching for Latika. Jamal is filmed standing on a platform with natural sunshine across his face whereas Salim is in the shadows of the building. As an adult Salim is shown to be wearing expensive clothing, such as reflective sunglasses and gold jewellery. Boyle chooses to dress Salim in this symbolic way to emphasize that it is important to Salim that people know he has money and therefore power. Whereas Jamal is always dressed simply but is still well presented.
He wears a plain well-worn business shirt and a watch. It shows the audience that he takes pride in his presentation but is not attempting to be something he is not and that his priority is not in looking good or pretending at been powerful. In the end Salim is killed whereas Jamal completes his destiny in finding and loving Latika. The bothers differences are used to highlight Boyle message that it is not money and power but love that will bring happiness.
Slumdog Millionaire is an emotive and captivating film that reveals the fictional lives of three Indian slum children. Boyle cleverly conveyed ideas through his layered use of visual and verbal filmic techniques to create an interesting and important character of Salim. Salim’s character teaches us about the prejudices of the powerful and the violence of crime. Through these techniques Boyle conveys to the audience that we all have choices in life to make but those decisions should be based on love, loyalty and family rather than money and power to find true happiness.
Tools of Characterization
Characterization in Slumdog Millionaire
Because issues of poverty, wealth, and class are central to the narrative of Slumdog Millionaire, the characters in the film are closely tied to their social status.
Jamal, as the titular "slumdog," is first is dismissed both by the host and audience on Who Wants to be a Millionaire as just a nobody from the lowest dregs of society. The Police Inspector assumes him to be unintelligent, and a cheater, because of his background. (The Police Inspector is a bit of a snob.)
However, as we see throughout the film, Jamal is just the opposite; he is incredibly clever, resourceful, and has noble intentions. Through Jamal's rags-to-riches tale, the narrative explores and subverts this stereotype of the dishonest slum dweller. Who made that stereotype up, anyway? We're guessing it was someone who had never gone into a slum and, you know, actually talked to anyone.
Meanwhile, Jamal's brother Salim, having grown up in similarly challenging circumstances, sees a life of crime as his way out of poverty. Sure enough he goes on to achieve wealth and glory through his morally questionable actions as a gangster. However, Salim's death at the end of the film reminds us that this lifestyle comes with a price… and a heavy conscience.
Finally, we can't overlook characters like game show host Prem Kumar and slumlord Javed Khan, who have scratched and clawed their way to the top of the totem pole, and will not relinquish their status for anything. They cling desperately to their money and power, and are threatened by characters like Jamal, Latika, and eventually Salim, who perhaps are more in touch with their humble origins—and have an ounce of morality.
Speech & Dialogue
Like most movies made in the years following the Silent Era, (no offense to those great silent films of the 1910's and 20's, of course), Slumdog Millionaire relies heavily on speech and dialogue to explore and develop its characters.
Through dialogue, we get a sense of Jamal's quick-thinking ability, whether he's hustling tourists at the Taj Mahal, or giving greedy game show hosts a run for their money.
Meanwhile, from game show host Prem's megalomaniacal monologues, ("Do the right thing in approximately three minutes, and you will be as famous as me. And as rich as me. Almost.") to Salim's moment of redemption ("God is great"), the movie provides no shortage of memorable lines.
Oh yeah— it's also probably worth mentioning that about a third of the movie's dialogue is in Hindi. Thanks to the talents of co-director Loveleen Tandan, Slumdog Millionaire is able to stay true to the linguistic tradition of the region, mixing Hindi—the most common language in India, as well as the go-to tongue for most Bollywood films—with English, which is generally taught in schools as a legacy of Great Britain's colonial involvement in the subcontinent.