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Slumdog Millionaire (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 26, 2023


Starring Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Mahur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irfan Khan, Tanay Hemant Chheda, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail.

Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy.

Directed by Danny Boyle.

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. 121 minutes. Rated R.

British director Danny Boyle’s labor-of-love drama has become something of a sensation as the feel-good movie of the year – well, at least as much of a sensation as an art film about life in India with a mostly unknown cast can become.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I didn’t see the uplifting side of the movie at all. Well, I guess I saw it, but I didn’t buy into it. Personally, I found Slumdog Millionaire to be a horribly depressing film. It was sad, dirty, and tragic in a myriad of ways that no rote happy ending can erase, nor can a completely inappropriate Bollywood dance number over the closing credits.

I know that Slumdog Millionaire is supposed to be about the power of love and the strength of the human spirit to overcome terrible hardships. However, to me it seemed to come down to a wish-fulfillment over-simplification suggesting that if a boy survives on the lawless and cruel streets of Mumbai slums, he can grow up to win 20 million rupees on a TV quiz show.

Frankly, following the horrific hardships and death that our hero has witnessed to get to that point, 20 million rupees seems like a pretty small compensation. It’s like the Extreme Home Makeover school of charity – shallowly trying to make up for a life of hardship and loss with a McMansion and some cash and prizes.

However, in this case it is even worse. People died, were crippled, and suffered great hardships for this man’s happy ending. What happened to their happy endings?

Slumdog Millionaire opens with alternating scenes. A young Indian man named Jamal Malik is being asked questions on the local version of the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Then we see him being asked the very same questions in a filthy cell and being brutally tortured for the answers.

It turns out that Jamal has run the tables on the show, and they are convinced he is cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street urchin turned gopher know all these answers when lawyers, doctors and scientists did not?

Honestly, the questions seemed awfully easy. Granted, perhaps they would be more challenging in India than they would be in the US or England, but I could see any marginally educated person making their way through even the highest-paying questions.

However, the police would not buy that simple explanation, so they force Jamal to explain how he knows the answers to all these questions. This leads to a series of flashbacks over the length of his young life exhibiting how he gleaned the little factoids.

These past scenes were horrifying and heartbreaking. At about eight, Jamal and his older brother watched their mother being bludgeoned to death by an angry mob. They live on the streets for a while, together with a little girl named Latika whose parents were also killed in the fracas.

They slowly but surely are drawn into petty crime, vagrancy, begging, prostitution, local mobs and eventually murder. Jamal falls in love with Latika – even though they only spend a few weeks together as small children before getting separated. He vows that he will get her back, but life intrudes. She is forced into child prostitution and eventually becomes the love slave of the local mob boss.

The older brother moves from a life of petty crime to much more hardcore offenses. He eventually becomes the right hand man to the crime boss. Meanwhile, Jamal gets a job handing out tea to a bunch of pretentious journalists. Despite the fact that he knew Latika for a short time when he was seven and has seen her twice for a matter of hours in the past decade, he is still sure that Latika is the only one for him. Even more amazingly, the gorgeous adult Latika seems to agree, but feels trapped by her circumstances.

Jamal has no way to reach her, but knows she likes the game show, so he becomes a contestant because he is sure she will see him and know how to reach out.

In the end, even if he does get the money and get the girl, I’m not sure Jamal’s life is one that anyone would want to emulate. The cost was way too steep.

I know the whole world has fallen in love with this movie. It has become the movie critic darling du jour and is an early favorite for lots of bling in the upcoming awards season. I know I’m in a serious minority, but I have to be honest – to me, Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t inspirational; it was all a huge downer.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: January 11, 2009.


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