For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
No wonder this film has been such a hit with audiences with its Cinderella-like theme of a boy from the fetid slums of Mumbai who strikes it rich on a Hindi version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Millions of Indians watch with mounting suspense for Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, playing the older boy) to answer the question worth 20 million rupees. He answers correctly, and we see audiences all around the country cheer wildly. But as Jamal is leaving the studio, the police seize him and drag him to the station where they torture him. The host of the show Prem (Anil Kapoor), convinced that the unlikely contestant is cheating has summoned the police. The Inspector (Irrfan Khan) in charge of Jamal’s interrogation also is certain he is cheating, because how could a slumdog know the answers to the various questions, such as whose picture is on a US $100 bill?
As the Inspector confronts the beaten young man with a videotape of the show and each of the quiz questions, there are flashbacks to his past, beginning with the death of his mother during anti-Muslim riots. We learn that Jamal has an older brother Salim and that the two of them survive on the dangerous streets by pluck and luck, and wit, also picking up an orphan girl named Latika (Rubina Ali). They become members of a gang whose adult leaders send them out to beg, blinding the boys who can sing well because people will give more to a blind singing better. Salim barely is able to save his brother from this fate. Jamal is thrown off a train and discovers the Taj Mahal, where he quickly becomes a guide, even though he knows little of the shrine: telling tourists to take off their shoes, he steals and runs off with them. He comes to love Latika ( older played by Freida Pinto), but she is taken by a gangster who wants her a s a plaything. Salim (Madhur Mittal, older) takes the get rich quick path of crime, whereas Jamal finds a job at call center, running errands and at times dealing with a cantankerous caller for a co-worker. He absorbs everything that he can, eventually winning his chance to compete on the popular TV quiz show.
In this Oliver Twist-like tale director Danny Boyle, who gave us the delightful film about two boys discovering a bag of stolen money (Millions), takes us to an exotic India divided by wealth and yet united by dreams of a better day. More fairy tale than Mira Nair’s twenty year-old Salaam Bombay, the film nonetheless shows the incredible poverty almost as unflinchingly as the tale of Brazilian street gangs in Children of God. Audiences all over the world have cheered, and been cheered by, this movie, with the recent Golden Globes heaping it with honors. Danny Bole again shows us how good the film experience can be!
For reflection and Discussion May contain spoilers.
1. Compare the two brothers. Who is more opportunistic? Who seems able to live best by his wits? And yet, when the chips are down, who sticks out his neck for the other?
2. Why do you think such a TV quiz show would be so popular with all segments of society? What do you think it means to those living in such abject poverty? Do you think that Jamal has become a symbol of hope?
3. What do you make of Prem’s supplying “answers” to Jamal? What does Jamal’s response reveal about the young man?
4. What did you think of the dance sequence at the end of the film? Too much, or an expressive way to celebrate the triumph of good over adversity?
5. How do you think this film stands up against such hard-edged films as City of God or Tsotsi? Slumdog is shot in brilliant color: do you think this glamorizes the horrible conditions from which most of the people shown will never escape?