THE PLOT THUS FAR
Danny Boyle (Sunshine) directed this wildly energetic, Dickensian drama about the desultory life and times of an Indian boy whose bleak, formative experiences lead to an appearance on his country’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Jamal (played as a young man by Dev Patel) and his brother are orphaned as children, raising themselves in various slums and crime-ridden neighorhoods and falling in, for a while, with a monstrous gang exploiting children as beggars and prostitutes. Driven by his love for Latika (Freida Pinto), Jamal, while a teen, later goes on a journey to rescue her from the gang’s clutches, only to lose her again to another oppressive fate as the lover of a notorious gangster. Running parallel with this dark yet irresistible adventure, told in flashback vignettes, is the almost inexplicable sight of Jamal winning every challenge on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” a strong showing that leads to a vicious police interrogation. As Jamal explains how he knows the answer to every question on the show as the result of harsh events in his knockabout life, the chaos of his existence gains shape, perspective and soulfulness. The film’s violence is offset by a mesmerizing exotica shot and edited with a great whoosh of vitality. Boyle successfully sells the story’s most unlikely elements with nods to literary and cinematic conventions that touch an audience’s heart more than its head.
WHAT WE THOUGHT
We learn that as children growing up in the squalid, nightmarish poverty of Mumbai’s slums, Jamal and his older brother, Salim, were orphaned at a young age when their mother was killed in an attack from an angry Hindu mob on their shantytown. Together with their female companion, Latika (whom Jamal loves even as a child), the three band together as a scrappy, self-styled version of ‘The Three Musketeers’, their favorite literary work from school. They stick together and endure a wretched existence on the muddy streets that is at times despondent and depressing. But this is where the movie’s message of hopefulness comes in as the three are a plucky group who display courageous fortitude and spirited resourcefulness despite their trying circumstances. Jamal and Salim become separated from Latika after escaping from a nefarious child exploiter where the two subsequently take to riding the many railroad trains crisscrossing India. The trains become a source of livelihood for the two brothers as they manage to eek out a scant subsistence on the trains by peddling to, hustling and in some cases outright stealing from the trains’ passengers. There’s even a rather funny passage in this part of the movie where Jamal and Salim end up at the Taj Mahal where they hustle tourists as faux tour guides and even steal their shoes to sell on the streets! The two brothers continue this for several years until they eventually end up in the booming metroplois of Bombay. Here, after becoming employed as a tea server at a mega communications call center, Jamal then gets the opportunity at appearing on the gameshow, something every teenager and young adult in his society longs for. It’s at this moment the story segues back into the point we originally see in the movie’s beginning. After being grilled and harshly interrogated by the police, Jamal is set free and allowed to continue on his final night of the gameshow after he becomes a national celebrity and hero to the public who demand to see him get his chance to win the grand prize. But having not seen his long-lost love Latika (Freida Pinto) in years, his shot at winning the jackpot is more about reuniting with her than it is about wealth.