Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal
Released in theaters: December 25, 2008
Released in theaters: December 25, 2008
Viewed in theaters: January 20, 2009
Best Picture (won)
Best Director - Danny Boyle (won)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Simon Beaufoy (won)
Best Cinematography (won)
Best Sound (won)
Best Editing (won)
Best Sound Editing (lost to The Dark Knight)
Best Original Song - Jai Ho by A.R. Rahman (won)
Best Original Score - A.R. Rahman (won)
What movie won the Oscar for the Best Picture of 2008?
a. The Dark Knight b. Wall-e
c. Frost/Nixon d. Slumdog Millionaire
If you chose d, you are correct. And hopefully you didn't need to phone a friend to find out the answer! (Even though I literally just wrote it did win the Oscar right above the question!) Slumdog Millionaire takes a popular game show (Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?) and sets it in India where a young man gets on the show and does very well as the questions seem to correlate with his own (very harrowing) life. Not only that, but the questions are also asked in chronological order of the events that happened in his life.
When the movie starts, we get three different timelines. The first is the introduction of Jamal Malik (Del Patel), the eighteen-year Indian Muslim boy on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? with the charismatic host (Anil Kapoor) who pronounces the show's title with an enthusiastic, "Who wants to be a milla-naire!" The second timeline is after the show where he's being smacked around and accused of cheating because he knew all the answers. Being a poor, uneducated kid from the slums, nobody is buying that he could have gotten all the answers right. And the third timeline is any flashback to Jamal when he was younger and how he knew the answers.
The show begins innocently enough. The questions always start out easy, increasing with difficulty with each one. The first question asked is who is the star of a 1973 hit film? Jamal should know this answer regardless because the actor, Amitabh Bachchan, is super famous, but we get a flashback of when he was a young kid (around five) and how his favorite actor was filming nearby where he lived. Unfortunately for Jamal, his older brother, Salim, has locked him in a makeshift port-a-potty (which is just a wooden stall sitting atop stilts with a hole in the middle where you do your business) after Jamal cost his a customer (they charged people to use the toilet). In one of the more disgusting scenes of the film, the young Jamal holds his nose (like that's going to work!) and jumps into the lake of crap and swims his way out. He is just covered head to toe in crap and I can only imagine how awful the stench must be. To his credit, Amitabh signs the photo of himself Jamal gives to him without being grossed out by the sight or smell. It is now Jamal's most prized possession and we will later find out that Salim soon after sold it for money, establishing the rocky relationship between the two bothers.
So here's a fun fact: Amitabh Bachchan is the actual host of the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millioniare? (at least for the majority of its run), so I guess that question about him was a shoutout.
The second question is also very easy and should be one that every Indian should know since it's a question asking what it reads on their national emblem. However, Jamal doesn't know it and needs to ask the audience. The two police questioning him find it odd that he needed help with such an easy question while he knew the answers to more difficult questions. The police officer played by Irrfan Khan tells him that his five-year-old daughter could answer that question. Jamal replies by asking them if they know how much a plate of pani puri cost or who stole someone's bike last Thursday. The officers don't know even though Jamal knows both those answers. I guess this is to show us that some questions that are obvious to some, may not be the case for others. However, I think Jamal wasted his "ask the audience" card and should have saved it for another questions (like the last one!) Even if you didn't know the answer, you could probably guess it correctly just by using common sense. The options given were "Truth alone triumphs"; "Fashion alone triumphs", "Lies alone triumph"; and "Money alone triumphs." C'mon, you don't have to be a genius to figure out that one (which is exactly what Jamal tells them in reference to the first question). Total waste of a lifeline, Jamal! You're lucky you did so well.
The show continues and as the questions become more difficult, Jamal's life is about to as well. His mother is killed by a mob of Hindus who are rioting against Muslims. Jamal and his brother run for their lives through the chaos and call for a girl in their age range to join them. The girl's name is Latika and the three of them call themselves the Three Musketeers, after the book they've been reading in school. The three youngsters think they've ben rescued when a well dressed man finds them in a junkyard and gives them each a bottle of ice cold Coke. We next see them in a bus being driven somewhere with other young children. At first the "Three Musketeers" are happy as they are eating plenty of food and have lots of equipment to play with (like tire swings) so it looks like an amusement park to these kids from the slums. The looks on their faces when they see their new home is that of pure joy. They conclude that Maman, the man who rescued them from poverty and malnourishment, is "a saint". However, that's not the case and Maman is actually training homeless kids to be beggars in order to make money. Not only that, but in the most harrowing scene, he pours acid in some of the childrens' eyes after they've been drugged and sedated to blind them. He does this to the kids with the more beautiful singing voices because blind kids make more money because of the sympathy factor. Jamal finds this out and he and Salim and Latika escape. The two brothers make it onto a train, but Latika is not quick enough and her captors catch up to her which devastates Jamal, but Salim assures him that she'll be fine because she always is.
The movie takes a little break from all its bleakness and horrific moments and gives us a reprieve with some more lighthearted scenes including a montage of the brothers stealing food while traveling on trains through India set to M.I.A.'s Paper Planes. (Remember that song? It only seems like yesterday it was everywhere on the radio). During the montage, as you do, the brothers age so Salim is now a teenager and Jamal is probably eleven or twelve. They end up in Agra by way of Mumbai and pretend to be private tour guides for people visiting the Taj Mahal. Now I have no doubt the Taj Mahal is a sight to behold, but that attraction has to be infested with tourists all the time. They don't get the idea until Jamal is just standing around and a British couple comes up to him and asks him if they can give him a private tour and they'll pay him extra. (I guess they didn't notice he wasn't wearing a name tag like the other tour guides). Seeing the money, Jamal is glad to oblige, although I question his knowledge of the Taj Mahal because he claims it was supposed to be a five-star hotel but the emperor who built it for his wife died before any of the rooms were built and he calls the reflection pool the swimming pool. He tells the couple that the emperor's wife died in a road accident and when they question him and say they thought she died in childbirth, he tells them that she was on the way to the hospital when it happened. The boys also make money by taking photos of tourists in front of the Taj Mahal and also stealing and selling nice shoes that are required to be taken off before entering the premises.
After that nice little interlude, the movie goes back to being grim. They have returned to Mumbai and Jamal finds the boy with the beautiful singing voice who was blinded and finds out that Latika is in training to be a prostitute (at least she got to keep her eyesight!) and is known as "Cherry" on Pilar Street. It's a little disturbing because she can't be more than thirteen years old. By this time Salim has already perfected his thieving skills, but he can now add murder to his criminal record because he kills Maman when they retrieve Latika. He didn't even kill him in defense; it was just cold-blood murder.
The brothers have a falling out, and, to be honest, I didn't quite understand why Salim wanted to kick out his brother, I guess he just wanted Latika for himself. There's another time jump and Jamal is now being played by Dev Patel in the flashblacks, so I'm not sure what happened to Jamal in between those years. He's now working as a chaiwala (someone who serves and sells tea) at a call center (which we learn earlier in the movie when he tells the game show host what he does for a living) and when he covers for someone who needs to use the bathroom, he tries to find Latika and Salim by using the database. Unfortunately, he doesn't know Latika's last name, so he gets thousands of entries when he just types in her first name. Even typing in his brother's full name, he gets fifteen results and calls all the numbers until he reaches Salim. We find out that Salim now works for a crime boss named Javed (who was an enemy of Maman, so he admired Salim for killing him) and Latika is living with Javed in his posh house as his in-house whore, so to speak. She and Jamal have a sweet reunion before Javed returns and Latkia puts an apron on Jamal and tells Javed that Jamal is the new cook so as not to raise any suspicions. Jamal notices that she is watching Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? before Javed comes in and makes her switch the channel to the cricket match. He is such a jerk because he doesn't even watch the television in the kitchen; he goes to the living room to watch the game, so he wasn't even watching it on the TV in the kitchen! In a very low voice, Jamal tells Latika that he will wait everyday at the local train station at five o'clock until she comes, but she says it is too late for that. However, she does attempt to meet him there not that long after only to be found out and captured by Salim and is taken away.
There is an interesting part during the game where they are taking a break after a question about a cricket player has been asked and when Jamal comes out of the bathroom, he sees that the host has written "B" with the condensation on the mirror in an attempt to fool him. When they return from a commercial break, Jamal chooses the 50/50 lifeline for the question and only B and D remain as choices (the Indian Regis Philbin must know which choices get knocked off if the 50/50 is chosen). I have to give the host credit for remaining calm and acting excited for Jamal when he (after a very dramatic pause) chooses D, which is, indeed the correct answer when you know he was furious on the inside. I'm not sure why he wanted to sabotage Jamal and make him choose the wrong answer; is it because he doesn't want to pay him all that money? Do most game shows not want their contestants to win so they don't have to shell out the money? But wouldn't they want that because it's more dramatic when they do win? Hmm, we need an investigative report on this, stat! I know he thinks he's cheating, but I feel like you could find out if someone was being fed answers from an outside source.
That was the penultimate question and they have ran out of time and have to wait until the next evening to continue. I remember when Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? premiered and it was on every weeknight and you would have to wait until the next night if they ran out of time with one contestant. I suppose that makes sense because you don't know how far a contestant will get...they could get all the answers like Jamal or they could flame out by the third question (God, that would be embarrassing). I remember I had the PC game version of it. I probably won it, like once!
Remember how Latkia was watching Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? So now we know why Jamal went on the game show (which he was able to obtain a spot through his job at the call center) since he knows she watches it often. He tells the police officer that he went on the show because he thought she'd be watching. The officer tells him he is free to go. By this time, we are in current time with the timeline and all of India has been watching this young "slumdog" making a killing on the show and are cheering him on. A TV reporter claims that "an estimated 90 million people" will tune in tonight to see if he will win the grand prize of twenty million rupees. Ninety million people; that is insane! I don't think even that many people tuned in to watch the finale of M*A*S*H which is supposed to be one of the most watched shows in American history. Granted, India does have a population of a billion people, but still! Ok, so I just looked at a chart and the finale of M*A*S*H is the most watched episode of American TV and it actually had 125 million people, so okay, I was wrong! That's crazy. But this was back in the day (1983) when there were only, like, five channels, so what else were people supposed to watch? I also looked up the conversion rate for twenty million rupees and it is roughly equal to $308,000. What? That's nowhere near a million dollars! I feel like Jamal is getting gypped here.
Salim knows that Jamal will never give up, so he lets Latika escape by giving her his car keys and cell phone and tells her he'll take care of Javed if he finds out. She is trying to get to the WWTBAM? studios, but the streets are jammed with traffic and people. She ends up getting out of the car and watching the show in a display store window with a crowd.
Salim's number is dialed and the audience (both in the movie and in actual theaters when the movie was released, I'm sure!) are on pins and needles as the phone rings and rings. When Jamal tells the host that it's his brother's number he's dialing, Latika hightails it back to the car where she's left the phone and answers right before they're about to hang up. Jamal is glad to hear from her and know that she's okay. He asks her the question and she admits she doesn't know the answer either. Jamal ends up taking an educated guess...and of course he's right. (The answer is Aramis, by the way). The audience just explodes into cheers as well as everyone else in the country who is watching. This is juxtaposed with a scene of Salim killing Javed and his men killing him in return. We all know that Salim wasn't long for this world with the life he chose for himself.
The movie ends happily, though, for Jamal and Latika who are reunited at the train station. And with the twenty million rupees he's just won, he is no longer a slumdog...just a slumdog millionaire! (Wouldn't that be an oxymoron?)
The end credits are one of my favorite end credits along with Return of the King and Kill Bill: Vol 2. The main actors and a bunch of dancers behind them are doing a flashmob dance at the train station to a song composed by A.R. Rahman called Jai Ho, with some very heavy Indian influences. I also love how they show the three actors who played the characters of Jamal, Latika, and Salim. I refer to them as Young (the characters at their oldest!), Younger (the characters as young teens or almost teens) and Youngest (the characters as kids). It is just very cool how the credits are unraveled.
And I'll cap this review with another fun fact: exactly nine years ago today, Slumdog Millionaire won its Oscar for Best Picture (not to mention the seven other Oscars it won) when the Academy Awards aired on February 22, 2009.