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United Kingdom 2008
Directed by
Danny Boyle
120 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Slumdog Millionaire

Synopsis: Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) just won 10 million rupees on the Indian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” television gameshow. He’s a poorly educated boy from the slums, he must be cheating. Locked up and subjected to a harsh police interrogation, the story of his sad and painful life unfolds as he explains how he could possibly know the answers to so many difficult questions…

A friend of mine recently told me about a debate he was having with his wife. They’re trying to decide what the normal state of a human being is. That is, do people normally see the world as good, or bad? Are we naturally optimistic or pessimistic? They haven’t reached a decision yet, but this film is a great illustration of the nature of the different viewpoints.

Jamal and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) grew up in a slum but it is apparent.from our first sighting of Jamal that he will not let circumstance defeat him. When Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan visits the slum, Salim locks him inside a toilet as a prank. Jamal takes a deep breath, jumps into the sewage, escapes out from under the toilet and runs to Amitabh covered in excrement and asking for an autograph. Then his mercenary brother steals and sells the autographed photo and he’s left with nothing. It’s a pattern repeated again and again, as Salim steals from him anything that has value. But life goes on, and Jamal keeps trying for what he wants, even when he knows that Salim will probably find a way to steal it.

Jamal is the eternal optimist, despite a life filled with misery. Salim, is a pessimist, always looking for the best way to guard against more misery, even if it means meting it out on others. The only person (somewhat) protected from this callousness is Jamal. Salim loves him but that’s his limit, so when they are orphaned he is against letting Latika (Frieda Pinto), another young orphan, join them. Jamal ignores his brother, his love for Latika and Salim's multiple revenges against that love establish a dynamic that carries through their lives.

The brothers go on to live a fairly adventurous life, begging for, then escaping from, Maman (Ankur Vikal), a gangster who blinds children because blind beggars make more money. There Salim leaves Latika and he and Jamal progress to riding trains selling food, being dodgy tour guides at the Taj Mahal and so on. But always, Jamal loves Latika, and Salim is jealous of it. They eventually go back to rescue her from Maman, and so begins another series of events that lead to more death, and Jamal losing Latika to another gangster. But despite many setbacks, Jamal always tries, always hopes, always risks, always remains open to the world. And in so doing, learns a lot about the world, and life in general, and finds himself in the interesting position of knowing how to get on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and even better, knowing the answers. They cost him a lot, but his unwillingness to treat his life as a burden is something to be admired. And by going on the show, ever the optimist,.he hopes to get the attention of Latika again, that she will see him and he can find her.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but the craftsmanship in the filmmaking is excellent. Like an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, there are plenty of moments of tension, frustrating breaks before big moments, and so on, that keep you on the edge of your seat and you forgive the obvious manipulation because it’s such an engaging ride. A cute use of M.I.A’s “Paper Planes” is a highlight too.

Slumdog Millionaire is a fairy tale told against the economic rise of India, as slums become suburbs and beggars graduate to call-centres but it remains a simple and engaging story of a boy who loves a girl and won’t let anything get between them, even if he has to go on a gameshow to prove it.




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