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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Slumdog Millionaire

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Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Tortured after his first stint and phenomenal win, only one question away from 20 million rupees ($419,199) on India’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) must explain how he, a poor “slumdog” knew all of the correct answers to the increasingly difficult questions put to him by the show’s derisive host (Anil Kapoor).  After a few bouts of beating, near drowning and electric shock, Jamal stoically maintains his innocence.  A police lieutenant (Irrfan Khan) plays a tape of the show for Jamal so each question can be dissected and discussed.  Thus begins a series of flashbacks, many tragic, some humorous, that explain why the answers are tattooed most indelibly on the young man’s brain.
 
Prepare yourself for a film of opposites, where the disturbing and the harrowing exist side by side with the joyous and the uplifting.  Humor has a place right next to terror, and murder hangs in the air next to fresh beginnings and triumphant conclusions.

 

All topped off with an exuberant Bollywood dance sequence on a train platform.

 

Slumdog Millionaire treks all over the viewer’s emotional landscape with its living color depiction of life in Mumbai for the orphaned and abandoned children who grow into self-sufficient teens and young adults by any means necessary.

 

When their mother is killed in a Hindu/Muslim riot, Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as a child) and his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail as a child, Madhur Mittal as an adult) experience life on the extremely mean streets of Mumbai (formerly Bombay).  Together with another orphan, Latika, (Rubina Ali, Freida Pinto) the trio patrols trash dumps until they are picked up by seemingly benevolent orphanage manager, Maman (Ankur Vikal).  Salim soon discovers Maman’s sinister intentions – he’s running an organization of manufactured child beggars, purposely disabled to make more money - and alerts Jamal before he can be harmed.  The pair escape, but Latika is not so lucky.  There are other plans for her.

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The film follows the brothers as they find enterprising and sometimes illegal ways to survive.  The boys cleverly find ways to make money by selling treats, working in restaurants, becoming unofficial tour guides at the Taj Mahal, until the inevitable breakup, each brother going his own way.  Salim is accompanied by a Colt 45, and Jamal ends up working in a cell phone call center where he serves tea to the workers when not donning a headset himself.

 

Jamal has a lifelong quest to try to find Latika, with whom he has always been in love.  When he finds her, she is literally the property of a local mobster kingpin (Mahesh Manjrekar).  Although he’s only a humble chai wallah, (tea server) Jamal declares aloud that the pair can live on love.  Latika knows that it’s not realistic to leave her situation without money, prompting Jamal’s journey onto the Millionaire show.

 

The rest of the film deals with Jamal’s second appearance on the show and his relationship with Salim and Latika.  Transformations take place, circumstances change, and there’s a side trip that features a bathtub full of money and a lot of gunfire.

The gangster element and love interest get a bit overbearing and melodramatic, but thankfully not for long.

 

Child actors Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail and Rubina Ali flit like tragic but blissful fairies for a good part of the film’s early story.  They are phenomenal in their ability to naturally glide through joy and terror, retaining charm and whatever innocence they can salvage.

 

Their adult counterparts, Dev Patel, Madhur Mittal and Freida Pinto bring a maturity, sadness, and fatalism to the trio.  Dev Patel, our hero and steadfast romantic plays Jamal with an intensity that would be more easily understood on a university scholar, but he makes the anomaly work.  Freida is exotic eye candy without much depth, but she is a worthy objective for Jamal’s quest.  Madhur Mittal slips Salim’s evolution so easily into the story that it has a shock value all its own.

 

Slick game show host Anil Kapoor shows his eely side to perfection.  Irrfan Khan must not get to take off his uniform very much, playing intuitive cops and soldiers regularly but quite well.

 

Co-directors Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and Loveleen Tandeen (assistant director, Monsoon Wedding) work together to bring the teeming, colorful, cutthroat and fascinating city of Mumbai to life.  There’s no room for pity; life must go on.

 

Writer Simon Beaufoy adapted the screenplay from the novel by Vikas Swarup.

 

Slumdog Millionaire gets its riches more from the slums than the prize money Jamal is after.  The journey might be harrowing and exhausting but the arrival is joyous and sincere, making the audience the real winner here.