â€œâ€ is a true rags to riches fairytale, and director Danny Boyle (â€œ “) is a very fine storyteller.
Based on Vikas Swarup’s novel â€œQ&A,â€ â€œSlumdogâ€ tells the story of a desperately poor 18-year-old street kid named Jamal (Dev Patel), who winds up on the Indian version of â€œWho Wants to Be a Millionaire.â€ We know from the beginning of the film that Jamal is the big winner, but not how a lowly Slumdog could do such a thing. Is he simply brilliant or just very fortunate? Could he be cheating? What is the final answer?
When the showâ€™s producers believe that Jamal must be cheating, he is roughly interrogated by a nameless police inspector (played by Bollywood star Irfan Khan). The police have a tape of his appearance – he was nabbed before coming back for the final question – and go through it, question by question. As the interrogation proceeds, Jamal’s story begins to unwind through disturbing flashbacks that show the terrible poverty of Mumbai and also explain how the boy knew the answers to the â€œMillionaireâ€ questions.
An orphan, Jamal grew up with his brother, Salim (the younger boys are played by the wonderful Ayush Mahesh Khedekar and Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail), in the streets. The boys befriend a little girl, Latika (Rubina Ali) and take her in as a sort of third Musketeer. Together they scrounge for food and shelter until they’re picked up by a man running an orphanage, and in a Dickensian twist, they are forced to earn their keep by begging in the streets.
We also learn about the boysâ€™ characters; Salim learns to be crafty and manipulative, making â€œdealsâ€ to better the brothersâ€™ lives, while Jamal is more sensitive, and cares deeply for the young Latika.
As the boys grow, Salim (now played by Madhur Mittal) has fallen in with a bad crowd, as has Latika (now played by Freida Pinto). But there is a chance for a happy ending, thanks to the country’s fascination with a game show imported from the West (Anil Kapoor is a delight as the showâ€™s host; picture a smarmier version of Regis.)
Although â€œSlumdogâ€ is a fine tale, the secret to its success is the way Boyle works to bring out the best in his talented, young ensemble and how he weaves the tapestry of past and present stories to a satisfying conclusion. Patel, in particular, gives a startlingly mature performance that audiences are likely to remember long after the credits role on this affecting feature.
Special note, donâ€™t jump out of your seat too soon, or youâ€™ll miss the delightful signature Bollywood-style musical numbers at the very end. (Running Time: 2 hrs. MPAA Rating: R for some violence, disturbing images and language.)
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