“Slumdog Millionaire” depicts a realistic and modern rags-to-riches tale

Lynne Carty


Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) reunite at a train station.
Jamal (Dev Patel) and Latika (Freida Pinto) reunite at a train station.


By Lynne Carty

Class of 2010

Set in Mumbai, India, Slumdog Millionaire follows the life story of an illiterate, impoverished boy who rises from the slums, lands a spot as a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and makes a run up to the million-dollar question. Who would have thought that a film with such a corny premise would have the makings to rack up 10 nominations for this year’s Oscars? Surprising as it may be, Slumdog Millionaire delves into and unmercifully exposes the brutality present in India’s slums, proving that it’s anything but shallow. Though jam-packed with horror and disturbing realities, the fast-paced and energetic feel of Slumdog Millionaire will keep you hopeful and in high spirits as it flippantly bounces from one terror to the next.

  The movie opens to Jamal Malik (the game show contestant and protagonist played by Dev Patel) in the midst of being tortured by the police in their hopes of getting him to confess how he could have cheated his way up to the 20 million-rupee question. Since Jamal continues to insist that he simply knew the answers, the interrogators make him explain how, without being formally educated, he came across the answers before being on the show. As a result, Jamal is forced to relive all of the devastating yet opportunistic events of his childhood through various flashbacks. Each tragic story of Jamal’s life involves some random fact that he learned from the experience and was later asked on the game show. Though somewhat clichéd, Jamal’s limited source of answers aids director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy in proving that the most useful intelligence usually comes more from life experience than it does from textbooks.

  Jamal spends the majority of the movie attempting to reconnect with two people from his childhood: his corrupted older brother and former partner in crime Salim (played by Madhur Mittal) and his childhood sweetheart turned child prostitute turned gangster girlfriend Latika (played by Freida Pinto). As he retells his adventures with and searching for the two, Jamal also reveals the series of events by which he was able to acquire all sorts of facts. For example, he can answer a question about Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan because as a child he jumped into a puddle of fecal waste in order to get the performer’s autograph. He knew that Ben Franklin’s face lends itself to the U.S. hundred-dollar bill because a blind street singer made him ascertain the actual amount of money Jamal gave by reading who’s name on the bill so he wouldn’t be cheated out of money. In one of the darker anecdotes, Jamal explains that he knew the inventor of a gun because he heard it mentioned as his brother Salim shot a gun for the first time and killed a man.

  Not only does the film offer a moving storyline and compelling characters, but it’s a visual treat for the eyes as well. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle brings the streets of Mumbai alive by utilizing India’s rich palette of colors and working off of Mumbai’s explosive energy. The soundtrack also enriches the film and includes several songs by M.I.A. including the well-known hit, “Paper Planes.” To capture the quick and stealthy feel of Slumdog Millionaire’s action sequences, Mantle used compact digital cameras. The cameras were a wise choice because they allowed both Mantle and Boyle to add realism to the film while still playing up Mumbai’s bright and vivid colors. 

  The film’s setting may provide a gorgeous backdrop, but Boyle used the setting and culture of Mumbai in another way as well – as a means for commenting on the real life horrors of India’s suffering. Using India’s culture, Boyle relentlessly exposes the poverty of India’s slums and corruption by local gang leaders’ overwhelming power.

  Slumdog Millionaire is both brutally honest and caustic about the problems going on in Mumbai today, but what makes it so uplifting and moving for audiences is that the passion within India is abundantly clear through all of Jamal’s hopes and hurdles. Boyle’s newest film is captivating, visually brilliant, and soul stirring. Although Slumdog Millionaire is only playing in selected theatres, the trip to Bellingham or Randolph is absolutely worth it because this is a film that everyone should experience on the big screen.