Jamal: “Come away with me.”
Latika: “And live off of what?”
Combine the childhood thievery and favela violence of City of God with the game show focus of Quiz Show, and you arrive at director Danny Boyle’s latest effort. Different than any other 2008 U.S. release, Slumdog Millionaire exists without a single recognizable superstar and floats on a wondrous cloud of love, hope, and destiny. It is concurrently brutal and beautiful, and one of the year’s best.
Slumdog Millionaire opens with a screen that reads: “Mumbai 2006: Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?” Then, four multiple choice answers appear one by one on screen (just like they do on the game show) and read…“A. He cheated, B. He’s lucky, C. He’s a genius, or D. It is written.” Cleverly, the “final answer” does not appear until the film’s closing shot.
In the interim, the audience learns that Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a contestant on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The set, music, and lifelines are identical to the American version. However, the host is not Regis Philbin or Meredith Vieira; instead, it is Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) who sits across from the “hot seat” and reads Jamal the questions and their four possible answers.
On account of the horn sounding just before Jamal gets to the 20,000,000 rupees question, Jamal must wait until the following day to film the remainder of his run. In between filming the live show, the authorities interrogate Jamal for potential fraud. During this time, Jamal begins to tell his story of growing up as a slumdog with his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) and his friend/love interest Latika (Freida Pinto).
Jamal explains how he arrived at each answer either due to a previous life event or through use of a lifeline. In watching Jamal and Salim steal food from train cars, shoes from guests of Taj Mahal, and pocketbooks off of bleachers, one comprehends Jamal’s roots. In seeing Jamal “phone a friend” and realizing whose voice answers, one understands his future.
While some might say that the sentiments of Slumdog Millionaire are false (with the unlikelihood of the questions relating to Jamal’s life events chronologically and the closing dance video that brings Bollywood to Hollywood), remember that the film is a fantasy story. It’s about going from rags to riches and attaining the seemingly unattainable. It’s about cherishing love and trusting in the powers of fate. More than anything, it is a young man’s quest – through tough terrain – to locate and enrapture his soul mate. You won’t find chance, greed, or counterfeit emotions anywhere here.
In fact, I challenge you to name one emotion that doesn’t ring true. The laughs, the cries, the smiles, the screams, even the unsettling sequences and the warming sensations all thrive on multiple levels. The film has it all and solidifies that the lowest of the low can reach the highest of the high. Slumdog Millionaire deserves to walk the high-class streets with its head held proudly.
With his ninth motion picture, director Danny Boyle bends genres and appeases all. In addition, Slumdog’s cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle and score by A. R. Rahman enlighten all crowds of the ugliness and beauty of India. Furthermore, its multi-colored and non-intrusively placed subtitles (placed in creative locations to not divert the eyes to the bottom of the screen) amiably invite those afraid of reading foreign languages. Simply put, Slumdog Millionaire is suitable for everyone (of age).
After-all, doesn’t everyone share in the same aspiration: to win one million dollars (or more) through a lottery/game-show/Publishers Clearing House/etc. and be with the one they love? If this is the case, immerse yourself in awe and live the dream vicariously with Slumdog Millionaire. Here’s your chance to "walk into another life."