Mixing wit and romance, “Slumdog Millionaire” proves to be a well-rounded story of survival, of overcoming obstacles in unfortunate circumstances to find a love that was once lost. Director Danny Boyle (“28 Days Later” and “Trainspotting”) and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy (“The Full Monty”) come together and manage to create a film depicting the brutal experiences in the life of an orphaned child growing up in the slums of Mumbai while managing to keep the film lighthearted with its witty dialogue and humorous tone.
Based on the novel by Vikas Swarup, this drama is based on Jamal Malik, played by Dev Patel (also in the 2007 British series “Skins”), a young boy from Mumbai. Jamal grew up in the slums, but he somehow manages to end up on India’s very own version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—answering question after question correctly at that.
The film opens up with Jamal sitting in the “hot seat” with the show’s host making small talk, asking him where he is from and where he works. Upon discovering that Jamal is merely a chai wallah who serves tea at a call center, he pokes fun at the idea that this young man could possibly win the full lot of money—20 million rupee. Questions come and go, and the terrified Jamal has only used one “lifeline.” Suspicions of cheating are raised and, during the TV show’s overnight break, Jamal is tortured in interrogation to discover how he might know all the answers to the questions being given to him. The detective interrogating him cannot understand how Jamal could answer a question in reference to an American one hundred dollar bill but that he cannot correctly answer a question in reference to their own country without consulting the audience. Most of all, no one can understand what this “slumdog” wants with 20 million rupee, since it seems his motivation is not the money after all. The detective discovers this as well as he listens to Jamal’s story throughout the interrogation.
Flashbacks into his childhood—the death of his mother, growing up in the slums with his brother Salim, and other memories—show how Jamal knew the answers to these questions. One of the first flashbacks introduced recalls a funny experience that Jamal encounters in obtaining the autograph of a well-known celebrity in India. After this event, the film takes a more dramatic turn when the audience discovers how exactly the boys’ mother dies. At this time, the boys meet a little girl, Latika—model and first time actress, Freida Pinto—who is also orphaned during the occurence. Their loss forces them to venture out on their own until other challenges present themselves. Along the way, when attempting to escape from a bad situation, Latika is left behind but not without a fight from Jamal. He swears to find her again one day. Meanwhile, Salim and Jamal must make due with their street smarts—conning tourists, stealing and selling items on the street. And so the story continues, Jamal searches for Latika, finds her, loses her again—his brother, Salim, becoming each day more and more terrifying as a young man.
Jamal’s wit is evident in many parts of the film, mainly in parts where he is able to survive or overcome something through intellect—one of many witty parts in the film is when Jamal, while working at the call center, serves tea at a meeting being conducted and meanwhile learns that the Irish word for lake is loch, which he later uses to speak to an Irish caller when sitting in for one of the call center employees. The romance is obvious in Jamal’s dedication to Latika. His drive in his quest for her forms the strong base of the romance. Their bond is created as children and later transforms into a strong desire for love as Jamal desperately searches for her. He places himself in dangerous situations in an attempt to rescue her on more than one occasion—facing up against his own brother at some point. Unconcerned with money or fame, Jamal’s drive throughout most of the movie is solely based on Latika.
This film is a work of art encompassed in its direction, its writing, and its acting. Though it has a serious tone in many parts that depict the hardships Jamal and the others endure, “Slumdog Millionaire” is not a depressing story. You should not expect to leave the movie theater with your heart dropped into your stomach. You can very well expect to laugh, cry and feel inspired in watching a moving story of a young man who fights for the real important things in his life and who does not allow circumstances to challenge his morale.