Danny Boyle’s Oscar laden drama, adapted from the novel ‘Q and A’ by Vikas Swarup, is both disturbing and endearing as it tells the story of a young Chaiwalla (an Indian tea boy) from a call centre in Mumbai as he appears on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.
Jamil Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees on the show when he is arrested and accused of cheating, as he is tortured and questioned by the police he is forced to reveal how he knew the answers to the questions and in doing so he tells his life story. Orphaned at a young age when his mother was killed in the Bombay Riots Jamil, his older brother Salim, and a young girl called Latika band together as they grow up on the streets of Mumbai. The trio are taken in by Maman, a gangster who fronts an orphanage which he uses to send the children out on to the streets as beggars. Salim discovers that Maman is blinding healthy sighted children in order to make them more profitable and saves Jamil from having this fate; the pair flee from the orphanage, Latika tries to run with them but is left behind when Salim doesn’t help her onto the train that they use to escape. Travelling around India by train the boys hustle tourists as fake tour guides at the Taj Mahal, steal and sell shoes, and strip cars to earn enough money to survive before returning to Mumbai where Jamil seeks out Latika who he is in love with. Jamil uncovers her whereabouts and both he and Salim go to rescue her and Salim ends up killing Maman. Latika becomes a bone of contention between the brothers driving a wedge between them, Salim stakes a claim on her forcing Jamil to leave at gunpoint.
Jamil ends up on his own and some years later gets a job working at a call centre in Mumbai where he uses the computer system to find his lost brothers telephone number. Meeting up on a building site he discovers that Salim has made a life for himself as a henchman for Javed, a local gangster, and is told that Latika is no longer with him. Not believing what he’s been told Jamil follows Salim and discovers that Latika is living with Javed and is unable to leave, Jamil tells her to meet him at the train station and when she turns up she is abducted by Salim before the pair can be reunited. Returning to the Javed’s house Jamil discovers it empty and thus decides to go on Who Wants to be a Millionaire as it is Latika’s favourite show.
Jamil’s appearance on Who Wants to be a Millionaire is not driven by the greed, as demonstrated by his indifference as to whether he wins or not, but instead by love. Having spent most of his life trying to re-unite with Latika, the girl he loves, he’s at a dead end, he’s lost her once again and this is the only way he can think of to reach out to her. The film is not just a rags-to-riches story but a romantic drama that deals with the themes of truth, love, and honesty whilst showing the harsh realities of growing up on the streets of Mumbai. Slumdog demonstrates the two diverse paths that the Mumbai street urchins can take, having conned tourists to survive as a young child Jamil has managed to stay on the straight and narrow and has even got himself a legitimate job, regardless of how menial, whilst his brother has taken the alternative path and become a career criminal. Part documentary, part fairy story, part crime drama, Slumdog Millionaire offers something for everyone and is ultimately deserving of the 8 Oscars it received.