Painting India on the Silver Screen

First, a lesson in how to make a movie sound cheesy and boring:

The story of how impoverished Indian teen Jamal Malik became a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be A Millionaire?” – an endeavor made without prize money in mind, rather, an effort to prove his love for his friend Latika, who is an ardent fan of the show. [imdb]

While that sentence does not misrepresent the movie, Slumdog Millionaire is far more than a romantic game show appearance. Rooted in the escapism that is typical in Bollywood cinema, the story is a deep one that uses Jamal’s rags-to-riches appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as a framework from which to explore not only his incredible story as an impoverished orphan from the slums of Mumbai, but also the ups and downs of life in poverty.

Over the course of two hours, we follow the stories of Jamal, his brother Saleem, and love interest Latika, and witness their encounters with everything that life brings them, including Amitabh Bachchan, religious tensions, police brutality, child exploitation, urban gangs, and love. What’s most striking is that these individually believable microstories combine to paint a refreshingly realistic portrait of India, even though stepping back to the big picture reveals an unbelievable fairy tale.

Much as Gregory David Roberts did with his writing in Shantaram, director Danny Boyle brings the energy of Mumbai and all of India to life with brilliant cinematography, an excellent cast, and a surprisingly great soundtrack by AR Rahman and MIA.

Experiencing India through their eyes is fully enjoyable and humbling. If you don’t want to take my word for it, take a look at what just about everyone else has to say.