The Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack is perhaps the most appropriate way for M.I.A. to wrap up her triumphant 2008. Both the film, which tells the tale of a mostly illiterate 18-year-old from the slums of Bombay who wins the jackpot on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and M.I.A., rode critical hype to unlikely mainstream success. Thanks to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” popping up in the trailer for a decidedly different movie (Pineapple Express), the song and her album spent lengthy portions of 2008 on the charts, a prospect that seemed incredibly unlikely in 2007. And Danny Boyle’s Slumdog, despite having to go up against awards fare from the likes of Clint Eastwood, Brad Pitt and Ron Howard, has wracked up a bunch of Golden Globe nominations (including for best score), despite the unlikely story and the lack of a major star.
Considering M.I.A.’s new Interscope imprint, N.E.E.T., is distributing the soundtrack for Slumdog, it should come as no surprise that she’s featured on a few of the tracks. “Paper Planes” appears in the film in its entirety (it was never actually in Pineapples Express), as does a portion of the incredible DFA remix of the song, which was in the film briefly. The DFA remix fits better with the tone of the film — it’s more lighthearted and sounds like it could have been a Bollywood hit before it’s cash register and gun-sampling predecessor existed. M.I.A. also lends a solid verse to the opening song of the film, the anthemic and galloping “O…Saya.”
But the overwhelming star of the Slumdog soundtrack is famed Bollywood composer/wunderkind A. R. Rahman, whose score augments the emotionality and tension of the film. M.I.A. might be the draw, but it’s Rahman’s “Mausam & Escape” that is the soundtrack’s highlight. It rides its sitar heroics into a bombastic, pressure-relieving conclusion, providing the film with music as climactic as its images.
Rahman’s score highlights the collision of tradition and the past, and the future rush of current Indian music, much like the film captures the evolution of Bombay into Mumbai, an economic powerhouse of Southern Asia. “Ringa Ringa” is fueled by traditional percussion, but sounds modern. “Gangsta Blues” is Indian hip-hop, driven by an ostentatious Bollywood beat, and “Jai Ho” mixes in multiple motifs from the traditional pieces on the soundtrack and mixes them with the big drums and blasting horns of the present.
Like all score-dominated soundtracks, Slumdog Millionaire, at times, sounds like a mishmash of random pieces that don’t have much to do with each other. But that’s due to the fact that these pieces were created with specific visuals in mind — so only listening to the album, you’re only getting half of the story. But this half is still pretty incredible.