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If he were a rich man

Slumdog Millionaire


"You don't want a hug? Is that your final answer?"
  • "You don't want a hug? Is that your final answer?"

*Slumdog Millionaire (R)

Kimball's Twin Peak

Well, talk about the mysteries of fate. Now we know why the world has been overrun by idiotic game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Without them, we wouldn't have Danny Boyle's enchanting new movie about love, destiny, honor, perseverance and how even a shitload of money cannot hope to measure up to them.

It's all sort of a smack in the face to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Cole Porter, in his 1956 song of the same name, answered, "I don't." Porter preferred love instead, and that's what this astonishingly unclassifiable movie prefers, too, in its tale of a poor Mumbai teen poised to win 20 million rupees on the Indian version of the quiz show.

Is Slumdog Millionaire a fantasy? A coming-of-age drama? A romance? A horror story? It's all these things, and none of them. Everything that can be said about it sounds, outside the context of its rare unexpectedness, insane or trite or both. Yet, it's neither.

Jamal Malik (wonderful newcomer Dev Patel) is in the hot seat, about to advance to the final round, when the live show breaks for the evening. Audiences have been watching this uneducated kid from the slums, and some are getting suspicious: How could he know all these answers? He must be cheating. (This is where it starts to sound insane.)

So the police arrest and torture him to get him to confess. But Jamal won't. He can't. He knows these answers, as he hopes to explain to the police inspector (the indispensable Irfan Khan).

I won't tell you how: The greatest pleasures of Slumdog Millionaire, which is based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, come in discovering how Jamal's life seems to have been leading him to this very moment, when one answer to one question could gain him 20 million rupees ... along with Latika (Freida Pinto), the girl he loves. (This is where it starts sounding trite.)

So we know what she loves then, don't we? But we don't, and what's going on is nothing you'd expect, and getting there is not much like anything the movies have shown us before.

As Jamal watches a recording of his performance with the inspector, and we learn how he might know this obscure trivia, there builds an ineluctable sense that his experiences are wealth and his life is rich even if he doesn't win. And that sounds trite, too. But it's real for Jamal: He's lucky to be alive and sane after the horrors he's seen. Torture at the hands of the police is almost the least of it.

Slumdog offers us a child's-eye view on the nightmares of slum sanitation, religious violence, abuse and neglect, abandonment and the torments of seeing the pleasures of wealth sitting side-by-side with shocking poverty.

And it's put together in a way that's surprising and fresh and moving and uplifting and brave and tough. It's a celebration of street smarts and a repudiation of the dubious values of greed and disgrace that have made galleries of humiliation like Millionaire popular in the first place. It's about how 20 million rupees don't amount to much in this world, not really, but the troubles of a boy and girl and a city most certainly do.

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