A well-told story is always engaging. This is true whatever the culture or the subject, but when you add the mystique of India to a rags-to-riches romance, then you have a riveting literary and cinematic experience. Written as a novel by Vikas Swarup and translated to film by co-directors Danny Boyle (Trainspotting and Millions) and Loveleen Tandan (Monsoon Wedding), ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a story told well.
The novel was titled “Q & A” to denote the underlying theme of an Indian version of the game show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Adjusted for currency values, the central character is Jamal Malak (Dev Patel) who is the winner of 20,000,000 Rupees. But this fact is not really the purpose of the story nor is the story told in a linear progression. It is told as a fascinating mixture of game-show questions and experiences from Jamal’s life.
Told over the course of three decades, Jamal is portrayed by three actors in the three stages of his life. As a boy living in the slums of Mumbai with his older brother and destitute mother, Jamal is portrayed by Auysh Mahesh Khedekar. When he and his brother fall into the hands of an evil Fagin-type figure, they flee from him but leave behind the vulnerable and beautiful Latika (Rubiana Ali as a child, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar as a teen and Frieda Pinto as an adult). Mesmerized by her beauty and quiet charm, Jamal becomes obsessed with going back to find her.
In addition to Jamal and Latika, the movement of the tale is based on the fierce loyalty and indifferent immorality of Jamal’s older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as a child, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala as a teen and Madhur Mittal as an adult). When their mother (Sanchita Couhdary) is senselessly killed by a Hindu mob who attacks them for being Muslims, Salim takes on the responsibility of caring for his younger brother. He does so with the wisdom of a child whose life revolves around surviving.
The story explores the deepest themes of life, from loyalty and love to betrayal and despair. The redemptive nature of the film is seen in the title itself as Jamal travels an unexpected road, which prepares him for the questions he will be asked on the television show. That love is possible in even a “slumdog”? Life is a message of hope that speaks to a world where the majority of humanity lives in poverty.
1. The violence that is a part of Jamal’s life doesn’t seem to affect him in the same way it does his brother Salim. Why do you think that each boy is affected by the same circumstances in such different ways?
2. The cruel intention toward Jamal is averted by the courage of Salim. What do you think you would have done in Salim’s place? Why do you think he let go of Latika’s hand?
3. The ultimate fate of Salim was predictable for the path he was traveling. What different conclusion could there have been to his life? Do you believe that his sacrifice so that Jamal and Latika could be free was a wise decision? Why or why not?
4. The film begins with the question of why Jamal wins the money as well as love due to luck, cheating, or destiny. Do you believe our destinies are ‘written’? If not, to what do you attribute Jamal’s successes?
Cinema In Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of the Free Methodist Church. For more reviews: http://www.cinemainfocus.com.