Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

  • Review: *** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Dev Patel, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Hemant Chheda, Freida Pinto, Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Madhur Mittal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Saurabh Shakula, Raj Zutshi
  • Director: Danny Boyle
  • Screenplay: Simon Beaufoy (Novel "Q&A" by Vikas Swarup)
  • Length: 120 min.
  • MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

The fates have collided for one slum-born Indian boy whose life is told in alternating flashbacks as he tries to explain how karma led him to win the top prize on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Director Danny Boyle's style, epitomized in his cult hit Trainspotting, wouldn't normally be associated with a crowd-pleasing romantic drama like this, but when you sit down to watch the film, it seems that kismet has also delivered him a success. Slumdog Millionaire is a collection of flashbacks telling the story of how a young man with no education and few friends was able to make it all the way to the last round of a game show when even the smartest and most successful contestants couldn't manage.

The game show itself isn't even the central framework of the story. It's merely a flashback. Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is being questioned by the police, at first by torture and later by more traditional police interrogation, over how he has been cheating on the show to progress so far. It is fate, he proclaims and proceeds to reveal to the police chief (Irfan Khan) exactly how he has known the answer...and each question has a direct, and linear, correlation to his life.

Aside from the interrogation and the Millionaire game show, the remaining flashbacks are broken into three periods in young Jamal's life. The first part details how he (played by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar), a fellow "slumdog" Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), and the object of his later romantic interests, Latika (Rubiana Ali), came to know one another. Circumstances then lead them through life where Jamal is always trying to find Latika while Salim bounces back and forth between antagonist and friend.

During the middle part of the story, Salim is played by Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Latika is portrayed by Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar and Tanay Hemant Chheda takes on the part of Jamal. And joining Patel in the adult portion are Freida Pinto as grown Latika and Madhur Mittal as the adult Salim. There are other characters that weave through the story, but these are the primary ones. And virtually none of them are near as impressive as Patel who delivers a solidly strong performance for such a young actor. If there is a fault in his performance, it is almost entirely a fault of Simon Beaufoy's script.

Said script relies heavily on genre conventions to tell the story, using jogging timelines to make it seem more interesting and more riveting than it would be otherwise. It's a solid screenplay, but with a lack of romantic character development surrounding the Latika/Jamal relationship, there are significant flaws that are only saved by Patel and Boyle.

Boyle carefully blends each of the storylines together and does so in a way that distracts the audience from the plot inconsistencies and impossibilities and the reliance on fate as a driving force helps nullify those problems. This is a departure for Boyle who normally chooses more unusual subjects to lens. Here, he has focused on the more traditional filmmaking style of the romantic drama that has categorized such dramatic successes as The English Patient and Atonement. The main difference here is that there's a joy of life present in the lives of the characters and there's such a hopeful air to the story that the mournful refrains of Patient and Atonement are replaced by the more time-honored concepts of a happy ending.

The film should play quite well to its intended audience, hopeless romantics who want to believe that karma, kismet, fate, or whatever you want to call it, can bring two people together even against the most staggering odds. Although it possesses one of the most unfortunate and irritating titles in recent memory, Slumdog Millionaire delivers exactly what it intends, a hope-filled story of how destiny can find its way even through the most difficult situations and can work for even the most unfortunate and disadvantaged.