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My Review of Slumdog Millionaire

  • March 4, 2009

As some of you know, I had reservations about seeing the movie Slumdog Millionaire because I wasn’t sure I could handle the violence and disturbing images. I was practically stopping strangers on the street, begging for spoilers so I could prepare myself for anything that might have a profoundly negative effect on me. Kristi talked me down from the wall a little bit by telling me, via Facebook, that there were some disturbing images but nothing that would keep me from sleeping at night.

Since Dave shot down my last minute lobby for Confessions of a Shopoholic, I had no choice but to pull up my big girl pants and deal. Our babysitter arrived and we found out she had seen the movie. When I grilled her about “bad scenes“ or scenes where something bad happens to children she kinda didn’t look me in the eye. However, she did say it was a great movie and that it would make me appreciate how fortunate we are.

This would be a good time for me to mention that if you haven’t seen the movie, but plan to, probably you should stop reading this post RIGHT NOW. Because I am going to basically go through the whole movie and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. So, don’t read any more if you haven’t seen the movie yet, OK?

The movie is about two brothers named Salim and Jamal Malik who live in the slums of Mumbai, India. Though I’ve heard people say it is a true story, it’s not. It’s based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup.

The movie begins by showing an adult Jamal being interrogated, and then subsequently tortured by a police inspector and his guard. The beating grows increasingly more violent but Jamal will not tell the men the words they want to hear. They resort to torturing him with electricity, hooking clamps to his toes and chest. Jamal still won’t admit anything, even after losing consciousness and spitting blood. The police inspector asks him, “What can a slumdog know? “ He tells them, “I know the answers.”

Next, the movie switches to a flashback format and we see Jamal and Salim become orphaned at a very young age after their mother is killed in the Hindu-Muslim riots. They are left homeless, without any means of feeding or sheltering themselves. Latika, a young girl who has also been orphaned, joins them. Jamal lobbies for her inclusion in their band of refugees telling Salim, “She can be our third musketeer.”

The three children are approached by a man named Maman and taken to his orphanage. They are given plenty of food and the young orphans think he must be a good man if he’s giving them this much to eat.

All the children are taught a song. Young Salim is shown assisting the men in the orphanage as a young boy performs the song. Once the boy has finished the men chloroform him and drop boiling oil by a spoon into his eyes. The rationale is that blind orphans will bring more money when begging on the streets, which is what all the orphans will be forced to do.

The men tell Salim to go get Jamal and Salim realizes instantly what they plan to do. When he goes to get Jamal, he discovers that Jamal is excited and can’t wait to sing the song, obviously knowing nothing of the plan to blind him. Salim tells Jamal to do exactly as he says and after Jamal sings, Salim reaches the hot oil first, throws it in the face of one of the men, and screams for Jamal to run, shouting “Athos.” Jamal replies “Porthos!” and takes off after him. Those are the names of two of the three musketeers.

Jamal does not want to leave Latika behind so they grab her too. Unfortunately, Jamal and Salim make it onto a train going by but Salim lets go of Latika’s hand (intentionally) and Haman and his men capture her.

Jamal and Salim survive by giving tours of the Taj Mahal (complete with facts they’ve made up) and by stealing, and then selling, the shoes of tourists. Jamal never forgets about Latika and wonders if she’s alive.

Jamal goes to where the orphans are begging and tracks down the boy who was blinded. He is singing and hoping for money. Jamal gives him a one hundred dollar bill and the blind boy asks Jamal to tell him the name of the president on the front of it. Jamal tells him “Benjamin Franklin.” Jamal asks if Latika is still alive and the blind boy says yes.

Jamal and Salim return to Mumbai in search of Latika. They find her and discover that Maman has forced her to work as a dancer in a brothel. They rescue her and as they are leaving, Maman and his men confront them. Maman says he never forgets a face but before he can do anything to Jamal, Salim, and Latika, Salim pulls a gun on Maman and forces him to his knees. Maman, upon realizing that he is not in a good position, begins to beg for his life. Salim, in what is a turning point for his character, shoots him dead because he knows that Maman will never stop trying to seek revenge on the brothers for rescuing Latika.

Even though I abhor violence and was anxious about seeing the movie because of it, I couldn’t help, even at the risk of sounding hypocritical, being happy that Salim shot Maman. Well, maybe not happy. But totally on board with it because it was necessary to ensure the survival of Jamal, Salim, and Latika. And Maman was a very bad person who got what he deserved.

After the three left, Salim got drunk and I felt like the murder he committed and the drinking was supposed to somehow signify that he no longer considered himself a child and was now a man. He also claimed Latika as his own, at least for the night, which seemed to break Jamal’s heart.

I found the duality of Salim’s character interesting. He was at times responsible for saving his brother yet also had total disregard for how some of his choices would affect Jamal.

Jamal loses track of Salim and Latika and eventually goes to work as a “tea-server” at a call center. He is asked to relieve one of the call center workers one day and while sitting at the desk, looks up his brother’s phone number and calls him.

They re-connect and Jamal learns that Salim is working for Maman’s enemy. Latika is forced to live with the man Salim works for.

Jamal goes to see her and tells her he will be waiting at the train station every day at 5:00. Latika tries to meet him but is captured again. One of the men slices her across the cheek with a large knife.

During the movie, childhood flashbacks are interspersed with Jamal answering questions on the Hindi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

He is able to give the correct answers because he has encountered situations his whole life that coincidentally match up with the questions he is asked.

One of the questions is about a song and it’s the same song all the orphans learned from Haman. Another question asks whose face is on the one hundred dollar bill. He is also asked who invented the revolver (which is what Salim used to kill Haman).

At one point, Jamal goes to the bathroom during a break after he has already won quite a bit of money. The host of the show, an arrogant often hostile man (who is no Regis Philbin ) is in the bathroom at the same time as Jamal. When Jamal looks in the mirror after washing his hands, he realizes the host has written the letter B on the steamy mirror. Jamal goes back out, answers D, and gets the question right.

I knew the host was trying to give Jamal the wrong answer. I elbowed Dave in the side and said, “It’s not B, its D. There is no way, knowing what we know about Jamal’s character, that he would trust anyone, never having been able to most of his life.

The show breaks for the night, right before Jamal is asked the final question worth one million dollars. As he is heading out the back door, a hood is thrown over his head and he is transported to the police station for interrogation, as the host of the show believes he must be cheating. We’ve already seen most of the torture at the beginning of the movie and the scene ends with the Police inspector proclaiming that Jamal is telling the truth.

Salim decides to help Latika escape one more time, giving her his phone and telling her not to lose it. She tells him, “they’ll kill you” but he pushes her out the door and goes back inside.

The last question, for the million dollars, is what is the name of the third musketeer? Jamal needs to use a lifeline and the only one he has left is phone a friend. It’s Salim’s phone that rings and Latika finally answers it. Jamal is shocked that Latika, and not Salim is on the phone. He asks her who the third musketeer is and she says, “I don’t know. I never knew.” She tells him she is safe and time runs out.

Jamal doesn’t know the answer so he appears to guess (it’s Aramis). He gets it right and the audience goes crazy.

Meanwhile, Salim has locked himself in a bathroom, filled a tub with money, and waited for everyone to discover that he’s helped Latika escape. They break the door down and shoot him in a hail of bullets but not before he is able to kill the man responsible for enslaving Latika.

The movie ends with Jamal heading to the train station and this time, when Latika joins him, no one prevents them from being together.

As the final credits roll, the entire ensemble cast dances and sings in a musical number that is 100% Bollywood (I totally thought when they first started dancing that they were doing the choreography from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video but I was wrong).

This was a fantastic movie. The cinematography and the fast pace of the script kept me engaged and I never felt like the story dragged. This was also one of the most original films I have ever seen.

I think Slumdog Millionaire definitely earned the academy award for best picture. I will remember it as one of my favorite films of 2009. Go see it.

If I can handle it, anyone can.

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