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Life as a game show

  • 18 December 2008
Slumdog Millionaire: 120 minutes. Rated: MA. Director: Danny Boyle. Co-director: Loveleen Tandan

Games that ask the player to answer a series of general knowledge questions are not tests of mental prowess per se. The most knowledgeable person in the world can falter, if asked a question to which they happen not to know the answer.

By the same token, someone with no formal education and very little general knowledge may find themselves victorious, if the right questions are asked.

Of course, the odds would be stacked against such a person, and for the right questions to line up would require something out of the ordinary. A miracle, perhaps.

Such is the premise for Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. At the outset, young Indian man Jamal has made it through to the final question on the Indian version of TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. An orphan from a Mumbai slum, Jamal is an unlikely victor. To gradually unpick the mystery behind his success, the film flashes back to pertinent moments from his childhood and adolescence.

Jamal (played at various ages by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda and Dev Patel) crawls through faeces to get an autograph from his favourite film star. Later, he and his brother Salim (Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala and Madhur Mittal) witness their mother's murder during a race riot. Orphaned, they are taken in and exploited by a Fagan-like benefactor. They flee, and soon take to grifting tourists at the Taj Mahal.

Throughout, Jamal draws hope from his love for childhood friend and fellow orphan, Latika (Rubiana Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar and Freida Pinto). The two would-be lovers are frequently estranged; while destiny repeatedly pushes them together, life, and the increasingly selfish actions of Salim, pries them apart.

A sense of the divine pervades the film — call it God, fate or a combination of both — as Jamal's memories of these experiences (shown through a succession of flashbacks), and bits of knowledge gleaned from them, fall in line with the questions he is asked during his game show appearance.

While Jamal's life seems driven towards ultimate good fortune, Salim's diverges to corruption. He is the closest thing Jamal has to a guardian, but he is not a selfless overseer. At times he alleviates his brother's misery, yet at other times he imparts it. His character follows the arc of tragedy, but his