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Slumdog Millionaire

Movie title: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Grade: A- (4 stars)
Rated: R
Summation: The story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik became a contestant on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire?"
Spoilers ahead: No

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Imagine yourself as a young boy in the slums of overpopulated Mumbai India. Your brother is with you as you sleep on filthy streets and in garbage dumps with many other orphaned children who have seen their parents die violently in zealot-driven raids. You live like rats for a while, and then some men come along and feed you and offer you shelter and some ancillary kindness. But then they proceed to blind some of the children that were taken with you for the purpose of making them better beggars. They were kind at first only to imprison you and make you slaves to bring them wealth.

You run away with your brother and do what you must to survive, but not before falling in love with a girl and then losing site of her in your escape. You spend the rest of your life seeking her to the extent of becoming an 18-year-old contestant on India's version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? in hopes that she will see the show and come for you.

That's the plot in Slumdog Millionaire. As good as it was, this one put a bad taste in my mouth. Seeing children blinded with acid so that they can more effectively beg and draw sympathy from passerbys was not a little disturbing. The conditions of poverty and abject squalor as shown are bad enough by themselves. A gripping story with loads of suspense and great acting on everyone's part – including the children – doesn't take from that.

There are rumors that the movie is based on a true story. It is, albeit in an almost unrecognizable form. Q & A by Vikas Swarup, an Indian Deputy High Commissioner, was the novel from which the movie came. Swarup went from being a bus boy to a winner of 20 million rupees (the equivalent to nearly U.S. $452,000) on India’s version of the American game show. Beyond that, not much resembles the novel. But if it’s crime, corruption, and abuse that interests you, then you've got your hands full. And if you were into the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? craze of the early 2000s, this will have yet another appeal for you.

Aside from being too obsessed with symbolism and reflections back to earlier fleeting scenes, you have a solidly built film and a robust plot from director Danny Boyle who knew what he was doing. You may remember 28 Days Later, another good one put together by the same guy. Co-director Loveleen Tandan was responsible for arranging the movie’s Indian setting.

New and unknown actors and actresses standing on the same plane as any of the well-known established Hollywood names worked for me. Frieda Pinto as Latika and Dev Patel as Jamal Malik, with Madhur Mittal as older brother Salim were the stars of the show, and they came through with strong performances. Against all odds, the foreign-ish film has done better on the American market than it was expected to do.

The drama of Slumdog Millionaire will push the envelope for so many. Terribly bad things can happen in life, as can wonderfully good things. Much more bad than good abounds, but while that may be true, it is equally true that those who experience sheer hell on earth will sometimes be fortunate enough to experience great joy at some point before their deaths.

Jamal and Latika’s journey is amazing. What seems to be a pointless series of recollections from the outset morphs into a bedazzling story of two fateful lives. The brutal honesty of it and the grotesque reality behind it will make it unpleasant viewing for some, but reality's drama is often unpleasant, and with reality, it's a take-it-or-leave-it deal. Yes, this stuff really happens. We take our Blackjack II cell phones and trips to McDonalds for granted. Deal with it or put it out of your mind.

(JH)

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Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Dev Patel “Jamal Malik,” Anil Kapoor “Prem Kumar,” Saurabh Shukla “Sergeant Srinivas,” Rajendranath Zutshi “Director (as Raj Zutshi),” Jeneva Talwar “Vision Mixer,” Freida Pinto “Latika,” Irrfan Khan “Police Inspector,” Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail “Youngest Salim,” Ayush Mahesh Khedekar “Youngest Jamal,” Madhur Mittal “older Salim”
Genre: Drama

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