Slumdog Millionaire is a story about characters who grow up in abject poverty, spend years trying to survive, and miraculously make it out somehow. Now, I know what your reaction is. It’s nothing new. Yeah, it’s really nothing new. What is new, however, is how it’s combined with another kind of story: an episode of a TV quiz show. It’s also nothing new, and you would not expect that to be juxtaposed next to a rags-to-riches tale. But that’s the main reason Slumdog Millionaire got my attention. The more original a premise is, the more curious I am about the whole story.
Does this automatically mean the story will be very good? Not necessarily, but anything’s possible. After seeing the movie, I can now say this. It’s a good one. It’s also a predictable one. With the parallel plots of life in a slum and trying to win the top prize on a game show, I could often figure out what would happen at the next moment. Even so, it wasn’t boring, either, so I’m glad about that.
The story centers on a young man named Jamal Malik, played by Dev Patel. He is a contestant on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and is on a winning streak. He has answered so many questions correctly that he is apprehended by police on suspicions of cheating. This is because Jamal grew up in the slums of Mumbai, which presumably would mean that he would not be educated enough to know so much to get this far in the game.
But that’s where the film explores an interesting idea. Jamal does know the answers because he has learned so much from experience. The format of the movie consists of three types of scenes: the police station, the game show, and flashbacks. For a while, this setup seems to repeat itself. We see Jamal answer a question correctly, which may be accompanied by dialogue between Jamal and the police, before watching a part of Jamal’s life in which the correct answer to the question is clearly referenced. Later, to freshen the pace, flashback scenes are followed by quiz question scenes.
The fact that Jamal knows the answers is really a sign of how powerful his life experiences have been. That’s how memories can be so vivid, which is an advantage for being on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Overall, the flashback scenes are interesting enough. They follow the lives of Jamal along with his brother Salim and a girl named Latika. These three characters are played by a total of nine actors: Dev Patel as the adult Jamal, Madhur Mittal as the adult Salim, Freida Pinto as the adult Latika, and six child actors as Jamal, Salim, and Latika as children and teenagers.
The whole movie is about two hours long, and of that running time, at least half of it feels like a story with a redundant rhythm of police station, game show, and flashback in different sequences. After all of that, it does get better, though still as predictable. This is when Jamal finds that Latika has a new life and that Salim has taken the wrong path in life. Meanwhile, the game show gets intense as Jamal is much closer to the final question with the jackpot of 20 million rupees.
Besides the predictability, the other limitation of Slumdog Millionaire is the minimal character development. There is enough characterization to distringuish Jamal, Salim, and Latika from each other and to give each one a unique conflict to deal with. But that’s it. It’s not a movie with intense emotional depth, the one element that I really look for in great movies. However, it is a movie that I would call a feel-good story. Thanks to director Danny Boyle, who adapted Vikas Swarup’s novel Q & A into Slumdog Millionaire, here is a movie that can lift the spirit and remind us that dreams do come true, no matter what nightmares we had lived in the past.
Anthony’s Rating: 8/10