A near-penniless Muslim teenager, whose job is to deliver tea to workers in a sprawling Mumbai call center, manages to be one question away from winning 20 million rupees on Indian TV’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The smug show host Prem Kumar (Bollywood star Anil Kapoor) can’t believe such an uneducated “slumdog” like Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, British TV’s Skin) can know the answers to so many questions. The local police grab Jamal the night before the final show and torture him to find out how he cheated.
Throughout the long night, Jamal reveals to his interrogators, and we see in flashback, the incidents in his life that gave him the right answers. Among them are the murder of his mother by religious extremists, riding the rails as a young hobo, being kidnapped by a monstrous child abuser, and a happy interlude ripping off tourists at the Taj Mahal. His journey’s companion is his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), whose violent streak eventually takes him on a different path to Mumbai’s powerful criminal underground.
Inspiring Jamal is the orphan girl he and Salim befriended–Latika, (Freida Pinto), whom Jamal loves with undying devotion and the conviction they are destined to be together. When Jamal re-discovers Latika after years of separation, he learns she’s an ardent fan of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?” Like the other 60 million Indians who watch it addictively, the show is Latika’s escape from reality. Jamal competes on the show to show his love for her. To him, the explanation of how he knows all the answers is simple–“It is written.”
Slumdog is a rambunctious fairy tale, told in a kaleidoscope of swirling colors, sounds and music. It borrows unapologetically from Oliver Twist, The Three Musketeers, and Bollywood. Despite the happy, crowd-cheering ending, Jamal’s adventures are often disturbing, so be prepared to see some things in the movie that the Indian Tourist Board would prefer you didn’t.
The roles of Jamal, Salim and Latika are played by three sets of actors, starting with first-time child actors from India who are just as marvelous as their grownup counterparts, all deftly guided by British director Danny Boyle. One of my favorite movies of all time is Boyle’s 2004 film Millions, the story of a boy who finds bags of stolen cash. Slumdog and Millions share similar themes–motherless children, criminals, supernatural intervention, trains, unexpected riches and especially the dogged determination of a good-natured boy.
Slumdog has received almost universal audience accolades, creating super-buzz for an Oscar nod. The movie is so glorious and so fast-moving you owe it to yourself to see it on the big screen. It will be at the Fine Arts Theatre in