Slumdog Millionaire (R)
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Where to begin? Um, I should say that the star, Dev Patel, was in The Last Airbender (which of course has nothing to do with this movie). That came out a couple years after this, so I'd been interested in seeing this before that. Or... well, no, actually I'd been looking forward to that for a few years before it came out, so... whatever. The point is, when I heard the guy from this movie was gonna be in that movie, I wasn't sure if I should get around to watching this, his earlier film, before seeing him in that. But I decided I'd rather go into "The Last Airbender" with no preconceptions about the actor (even though I already had preconceptions about the character he played, since that movie was based on my favorite animated series ever). Anyway, now that I have seen "Slumdog Millionaire," I thought he was alot better in this than in "Airbender," though that just makes me want to rewatch the other movie... now that I know him from this.
None of which matters in the slightest, as far as your concerned. But my reviews are to a great extent about explaining my own thought processes, so, whatever. Speaking of my thought processes, I should also mention that I generally dislike any kind of reality shows. I never had much of a problem with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" but it never greatly interested me, either. But this movie centers around the Indian version of the show, and it really is pretty exciting... partly because the stakes just seem higher for this character than for American contestants, and partly because we get to know him a great deal better than we do about contestants on game shows... (Hmmm, now that I say that, "Millionaire" really is more of a game show than a reality show, but it still feels more like part of the whole "reality" genre, in a way... and technically, I guess all game shows are reality shows, even though they've been around since long before that genre even existed, per se.)
So, anyway. It's about this guy, Jamal Malik, who at the start of the film has successfully answered all but the final question on the quiz show, which is apparently farther than any contestant has ever advanced. He's already won 10,000,000 rupees (worth, I think, something over 200,000 American dollars), and he's scheduled to be back on the show the next night for the chance to double his total winnings to 20,000,000 (or else lose everything). However, the movie is set in several different times. We see Jamal being tortured and interrogated in the present by police, I guess, as the game show's host had accused him of cheating. The police want to know how he's cheating, or if he's not, how an uneducated young man working as a chai-wallah (tea server) at a call center, who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, could possibly know the answers to so many questions. (The movie itself mimics the quiz show's format by posing its own multiple choice question, with four possible answers: A, He cheated; B, He's lucky; C, He's a genius; or D, It is written. And by the way, I personally like to think of this last possibility as having a double meaning: as the film suggests, it could refer to Jamal's destiny; but when you think about it, it is literally written, since this is a fictional movie based on a fictional book.) As they question him, they also watch a tape of his appearance on the show earlier that night, though we also get to see that first hand, so... right there, we have two different time settings for the film, though generally speaking, both the quiz show and the interrogation can be considered the present.
In contrast, we see flashbacks to different periods in Jamal's life, starting with his early childhood as a slumdog, along with his older brother, Salim. Jamal and Salim soon meet a young girl named Latika, who becomes a good friend of Jamal's (and later, the love of his life). The movie continually flashes between the present and different times in the past, when the three of them were young children, and later in their early teens, and later still as young adults, not long before Jamal went on the quiz show. The flashes of Jamal's past contain explanations of how he knew the answers to the questions that were asked on the quiz show (and to a great extent, it seems reasonable to say that the answer to the film's underlying question is that he's lucky; though ironically, the luck in the present that he just happens to be asked things to which he knows the answers, when he could so easily have gotten questions to which he didn't, is counterbalanced by the fact that the events of his life that provided those answers were decidedly unlucky). But actually, those scenes really are a lot more complex than just showing us how he knew the answers; we get to know the three central characters, particularly Jamal. All the tragedy they've endured over the years makes us understand and care about them, but also gives a greater urgency to what's happening in the present. More to the point, the quiz show and potential prize money are incidental to the fact that the real reason Jamal has even gone on the show is in the hopes that Latika (from whom he has frequently been separated by the events that have shaped their lives) will see the show (of which he knows she is a fan), and find her way to him.
Ultimately, the police believe him, and he's allowed to return for the final question. I don't really want to detail any of the events of Jamal's life, nor do I want to say whether he wins in the end, nor whether he finally reunites with Latika (nor how the film answers its own multiple choice question). I will say there are a number of ways the film could have ended happily, and a number it could have ended sadly, as well as possible mixed results. I could easily have seen it having a certain half-happy ending, but... well, as I said, I don't want to give anything away. Except that I was quite pleased with how it did end. In any event, all the actors were good (and there were of course three different actors apiece for each of the three central characters, for different stages of their lives). There were also various recurring characters that I don't really want to get into at all. But throughout the movie, there was as I've said great tragedy, but also a bit of humor, and happiness, and... everything. Plus there was great music throughout the film. I'm not sure whether I'll ever feel the need to watch it again, but it definitely was a beautiful, emotional, exciting movie, which provided a remarkable portrait of humanity...