For an arthouse film that isn’t in many mainstream theaters, Slumdog Millionaire has been getting a lot of buzz and picking up a lot of awards. It’s pretty well done, but if you go in expecting an upbeat feel-good picture you may be in for a bit of a shock, since most of it is surprisingly dark and gritty.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. He is one question away from winning the big 20M rupee prize when he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. The police try to beat a confession out of him, replaying each question in turn and challenging him to explain how he could possibly have known the answer. For each question there is a flashback to his experiences growing up in the slums of Mumbai. At some point in each story is a incident that caused him to know the answer.
It becomes clear that his real motivation for going on the show is not the money. He want to be reunited with his childhood sweetheart Latika (Freida Pinto).
There is a fair amount of humor in the flashbacks, but mostly they are very grim, depicting a world of extreme poverty, violence and cruelty. Some Indians have protested this depiction of their country. (It doesn’t help that this is a British production, though filmed in India with Indian actors.) Still it’s probably fair to say that most of the things depicted in the movie really do happen.