If cinema is supposed to entertain rather than preach, Slumdog Millionaire (2008) has to stand alongside Forrest Gump (1994) and the like in the top echelon of movies shown in the past 20 years, or perhaps any period before?
Taking the backdrop of a guest on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – being hosted by a former slum occupant himself, Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) – and telling the young man’s life story through the questions asked, is an effective method of seeing flashbacks in the life of an Indian ‘slumdog’.
To do so in the context of Mumbai slum dwellers and the miniscule few that get out without their resorting to crime, and combining this with a love story of epic devotion, is another achievement.
However, to do it in such an entertaining manner is so refreshing that I defy even the most cynical person to leave the cinema having seen Slumdog Millionaire without feeling even a tad better about the world, their place in it and humankind in general.
Jamal (various but Dev Patel as an adult) and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal and various) are orphaned as school boys and their survival in a pitiless society is confronting. Jamal adds the orphaned Latika (Freida Pinto as an adult) to their struggle and seems to know from the age of about six that she is the woman for him.
Separated from her cruelly by his brother, whose actions in the story vacillate from protector to demon and back, Jamal thinks of little else but finding his true love.
While answering questions on Millionaire, he is suspected of cheating and tortured by police until one of his torturers listens to his story as they watch video of the previous night’s program. Jamal explains evenly that while he doesn’t know much, he did know the answers to each question because the answer had been burned into his memory by the tragic events of his growing up.
Implausible co-incidence is stretched – but not as far as the Bond films for example – as Jamal traverses his formative years and survives questioning and doubt to be allowed to reappear for his chance to win 20 million rupees.
Hollywood would have ended it differently, Bollywood did end it (with a behind-the-titles scene at a railway station at film’s end) but director Danny Boyle and screenplay writer Simon Beaufoy, The Full Monty (1997) end it better.
The film is a joy. It will change people’s lives for the better and I unabashedly gave it five stars.