Slumdog Millionaire

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I'll grant you, I was predisposed to like Slumdog Millionaire on the basis of its subject matter-- an uneducated man from the slums of Mumbai goes for the top prize on India's edition of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. I doubt the rest of the theater was filled with former game show contestants, however, and the spontaneous applause at the film's conclusion proved that the film was well received all around.

The film wastes no time getting directly to the story. Jamal has already gotten 14 questions correct, with only the final question standing between him and the top prize. But how could an ignorant, uneducated "slumdog" like him get all the answers correct, when so many more educated people repeatedly fail? He's accused of cheating, and the police torture him to try to extract a confession. Instead, as the investigating officer replays Jamal's appearance on the show, at each question Jamal explains how his life experience taught him the answers-- often at great personal cost.

Despite its obvious gimmickry, it's a marvelous framing device. The story unfolds in vignettes from Jamal's past, told against the exotic, colorful, and heartbreaking backdrop of India. The child actors are brilliant-- better, in fact, than the older actors playing their adult counterparts. You can't help but root for their indomitable spirit as they desperately seek a way to survive amidst devastating poverty, racial attacks, and human predators. But through it all, like The Princess Bride, this is a story of True Love, of one person's unwavering certainty that he and the woman he loves are destined to be together.

I was utterly engrossed by this film. Some creative license was likely taken with the game show sequences-- even in India, I doubt very much that the host of the show would ever share a bathroom with a contestant-- but it has great authenticity thanks to being shot on the Millionaire set. The scenes in the hot seat are every bit as effective as those on the Ganges. This is a terrific movie.

3 Comments

I've only seen half of the movie so far, but you're right -- it's very gimmicky. Not only does every question (so far) match up with an episode from his personal life, but they come up in biographical order. There's a rule I learned in my screenwriting classes: one outrageous coincidence per story.

You don't merely have to suspend disbelief here -- you have to hold a pillow over its head as it fights, kicking and punching for air.

(...and really? You're not allowed to actually *win* game shows in India?)

If I remember right, we don't actually see every question he answers, so there are some that aren't matched up with vignettes. And in fact, the part of the film where Jamal's LACK of knowledge is discussed-- when he Asked the Audience about a question "everyone in India" would know-- was particularly well-done. Agreed that the chronological order of the questions is awfully convenient, but I'm willing to let that go for the sake of narrative. Had the questions been in a different order, the story wouldn't have been as compelling.

It's not that you're not allowed to win. [SPOILER WARNING] The host obviously had issues about a lower-caste man other than himself rising from poverty to celebrity. It was the host that sicced the police on Jamal. Had Jamal been of a higher class, there would likely have been no police.

As I whispered to the W during the movie, Meredith was much nicer.

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