Directed by Danny Boyle (Fox Searchlight, 2008)
Just in time for our now officially recognized global recession, British film maker Danny Boyle has created a rollicking, riotous, and not infrequently gut-wrenching Dickensian fantasy in which a poor orphan from the slums of Mumbai skyrockets to fame and fortune as a contestant on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
In this "Cinderfella" tale Boyle cleverly tracks Jamal's (played at various ages by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda, and Dev Patel) journey from rags to riches. In the process of cheering on this pauper contestant as he scales the obstacles standing between him and 20 million rupees, we learn the unbelievably sad, courageous, and occasionally side-splitting story of Jamal, his older brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala, Madhur Mittal), and their beloved and beautiful sister Latika (Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar, Freida Pinto).
Nicknamed the "Three Musketeers," this trio of 7- and 8-year-old ragamuffins find themselves orphaned and nearly killed by a raging mob that plows down Jamal's mother like so much chaff, forcing the children to form a new family. From that point on they must find their own way in a world filled with poverty, hunger, violence, and more than a few villains. And they must find a way to hang onto each other, in spite of the threats and temptations pulling them apart.
Boyle's film is classic escapist fantasy, with a romantic ending as predictable and enjoyable as any MGM musical. Jamal, Salim, and Latika are the sort of smart, spunky, and heart-wrenchingly sweet tykes Dickens used to write about and Shirley Temple used to play.
But Slumdog Millionaire is also a tale unafraid to rub our faces in the mountain of degradation, terror, and violence these children must summit to get to safety. This makes Jamal's escape from his dung heap all the sweeter, but it also evokes a sadness for all those left behind.