Slumdog Millionaire has a gimmick to sell itself to its audience and uses it to tell the world the horrible stories that middle and lower class citizens have to endure in the slums and ghettos of Mumbai, India. That gimmick is the television show Kavin Banega Crorepati, the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. The main character in Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal Malik (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda, Dev Patel), is a contestant on that show. Not everyone believes that Jamal knows the answers to the questions on Who wants to be a Millionaire!, resulting in the earlier framework for Slumdog Millionaire and its initial drama and tension.
The reason for Jamal’s appearance on Who wants to be a Millionaire? is the reason for most of the drama found in Slumdog Millionaire. The other is life itself in the slums of Mumbai, India. Conditions for the indigent in Mumbai are third world. The poor, disenfranchised and homeless of the United States can actually be seen as fortunate in comparison to their brothers and sisters in India. There is violence perpetrated because of religious differences between Christians and Muslims, children are pimped out for prostitution or worse and public servants like the Police Inspector (Irrfan Khan) and Constable Srinivas (Saurable Shukla) are allowed to get away with aggressive acts and torture against the very people they are supposed to protect. This is the world Jamal and his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Madhur Mittal) live in. After their mother (Sanchita Choudhary) is killed by Anti-Muslims, the brothers are left all alone in the world. There is no Child Services in India like there is in the United States and if there is, they must be overwhelmed. The brothers now have to hustle to eat and support themselves. They both show ingenuity and quick thinking but it is always Salim that looks out for the two of them and in most cases, is the one in charge. Being alone they become closer and form more of a unit. Salim is the brother old beyond his years. He is far more mature than you would see in a normal child of his numerical age. When Latika (Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Freida Pinto) is introduced or rather, shows up one day, Jamal quickly becomes friends with her and soon becomes smitten. Salim is threatened by this, the supplanting of the brother unit and when the opportunity comes to discard Latika, he takes it. This act sets in motion Jamal’s obsession with finding Latika, reuniting with her and making her his own. This is the motivating variable behind the majority of the decisions Jamal makes for the remainder of Slumdog Millionaire, including becoming a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?.
I am tempted to give away the one narrative, unifying element in Slumdog Millionaire but that would lower the experience of watching this film for the first time. It surprisingly has not been ruined in the film’s trailers and it will not be here either. Rest assured though, its ingenious and thought-provoking. It is a very riveting way to tell two stories lines at the same time, fitting them together in a way that they both benefit from the structure.
Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire is an intensely relevant, narratively innovative film that takes an unflinching look at some of the dreggy aspects of a part of the world many people in the west overlook or are completely unaware of. Though part of its frame revolves around a popular game show, Slumdog Millionaire’s center is about human rights issues and a love story that anyone can empathize with.