Though I love to be contrary, I’m not going to differ from all the other reviewers on this one: see it. I left thinking that I’d love to read the book it was based on, but I’m a the-movie-OR-the-book kind of gal, and the movie got there first.
“Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal, a young orphaned boy who grew up in the slums of Mumbai (nee Bombay), and ends up on the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” My yoga teacher would say that the destitute children in the slum must have done something bad in a past life. I don’t go to her class anymore. Freida Pinto plays the woman (Latika). Like most movies that are not considered chick flicks, there’s only one real female character, though to be fair, she’s played by two girls as well, as younger Latikas. And though her name sounds Mexican, she is in fact from Mumbai.
But the lead character, Jamal Malik, is played (excellently) by the British actor Dev Patel. It seems that the directors couldn’t find a skinny actor in India, because all the male Bollywood stars are buffed out gym rats. I guess if you look like you could be from the slums, you can’t be a star. And that is what happens to Jamal. His origins are so modest that his success on the game show makes him suspect. The host of the game show cannot believe that Jamal could know the answers so he must be cheating, and turns him over to the authorities, who attempt to find the truth – Gitmo-style. His explanations for how he knows all the answers provides the bulk of the film and takes us on an intense journey through the lives of Jamal, his brother, and an orphaned girl who is their third Musketeer. There’s torture, love, humor, child abuse, organized crime, chases, guns, prostitution, religious warring, heroism, celebrity, shit, and brightly colored fabrics.
This intense film doesn’t skimp on the horrors of life, but Jamal is so likable that you ride with him, believing that somehow he will triumph. It also has some of the Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) signature where you see the construction of the film and realism steps aside for fairytale qualities. Normally I dislike elements that pull me out of the story (e.g. aging a character 50 years and bookending the movie with them remembering – not referring to Slumdog here), but here I appreciated its effect of mild dissociation. Otherwise I might’ve felt too horrible eating my tub of popcorn while watching children dig through garbage.
At the final round of the game show, Jamal stands to win 20 million rupees (or lose the 10 million he’s already won), and the whole nation tunes in to see what will happen. 20 million rupees is worth about $414,000 US, which still goes a long way in Mumbai. (and might get you a 2 bedroom condo in LA.) With a Bollywood Style ending, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a colorful exploration of how we come to know what we know, and who doesn’t love ontology? It also made me a lot more respectful of contestants on game shows (whom I used to assume were destined to be cockroaches in their next lives – or would have if I believed that shit).