Who would have ever imagined such a great film coming off the basis of a cheesy game show like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The story is about a modern day underdog about to go for the final question. Since he’s an uneducated young man from the slums of Mumbai, it’s assumed he cheated. But the film gives the audience a chance to decide on their own, and opens the film asking them How did he do it? Our choices are a) He Cheated b) He was Lucky c) He’s a Genius and d) It is written. We won’t know the answer until the end.
The men running the game show have already locked in their answer: a) He Cheated. They brutally interrogate Jamal (Dev Patel), demanding to know how he got the answers. As they look back at the tape, we see a chapter of Jamal’s life as it relates to how he knew the answer to each question.
We are taken back to Jamal’s childhood in the slums with his older brother Salim (Madhur Mittal). These images of children running through the slums, flashes of color and light, drums beating faster than their bare feet and the camera moving as uninhibited as these children are amazing. It’s a piece of film making that feels revolutionary and uplifting, even as these children are faced with some of the harshest conditions.
The film lets us easily understand Jamal’s life, something I wasn’t expecting given the global and social differences. We see his crowded classroom, where there is not much learning. We see the violence that leaves him and Salim orphaned. We see him meet Latika (Freida Pinto), forge a bond with her at an early age and then have to leave her for survival. The story is not told or explained to us, which is perfect because Jamal is a quiet young man, not the type to narrate much. What is shown is to put the pieces together and it make perfect sense.
As the story grows closer to the present, we see that Jamal’s reason to go on the show is not for the money, but to reach out to Latika, who has fallen under circumstances that can’t allow them to be together. I’d rather not spoil anymore of the wonderful plot.
One of the greatest things about this film, is that it leaves you energized, happy and wanting to dance along to the ending credits. With Slumdog’s recent winning predecessors (No Country for Old Men, The Departed, Crash) feeling like gloomy downers, this is a great change of pace. Rather than sticking a finger in the the wounds of our world, it’s like a fresh band-aid after a skinned knee.
But some people don’t like this film because of the harsh situations the children are seen in. Even worse, some of the child actors were really from the slums of India and after filming went right back. It’s a very sad reality, both on and off screen. Nevertheless, I hope you see Slumdog Millionaire, for the spectacular narrative style of Danny Boyle, to believe that a story centered around a game show can be satisfying and to gain more global perspective for many children in India.
“If it wasn’t for Rama and Allah, I’d still have a mother.”