The most bracing slap in the face BAFTA has given us tonight is a sharp reminder that we’ve been carelessly haughty all season whenever we’ve said, “Slumdog Millionaire has no stars.”
The success of Slumdog Millionaire has turned two young actors into international stars. The image here is iconic, and those are no longer a couple of unknowns standing there. Dev Patel and Freida Pinto are as much the heart and soul of Slumdog as that expression has ever represented, and the film’s brilliance is intertwined with their own. At its core, Slumdog isn’t about poverty or getting rich. It’s about romance. Jamal Malik isn’t motivated by money. He’s driven by his desire to win the heart of the girl he’s loved all his life. The energy infusing the fantastic aspects of film with human vitality is generated by the high-wattage star-power of these two very fine actors. Jamal and Latika are the reason Slumdog Millionaire unreels on the screen. Dev and Freida are the reason we feel it.
The fact that the Oscars are exceedingly unlikely to recognize this reality is silly at best, supercilious at worst. Throughout its own troubled history, the UK has been awakened to many significant realizations, and its hard-earned wisdom continues to make America look like a very slow learner. The impact of Slumdog is as inseparable from its lead performances as Jamal and Latika are from their parallel destinies. Bravo to BAFTA for seeing that and saying so. Congrats to Freida Pinto and Dev Patel, two remarkable movie stars.