A story about a chai-wala in a Call centre who wins the highest amount on a reality television show, ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’. The movie traces his life from the mischievous little boy living in Dharavi in Mumbai, to a rag picker, to a beggar, to a fake tour guide cum thief, to a chai-wallah in a posh call centre. It tells us how he, as a child, an adolescent and as a teenager, gathers knowledge from the bitter sweet experiences of his life that enable him to answer the very questions his game show poses to him. The movie is based on a book called Q and A by Anand Swarup. It is a compelling watch, with good quality performances put in by actors of varied backgrounds. The child artists are fresh in their outlook and almost natural in their roles of Jamal, Salim and Latika.
The movie also shows the other side of India, the side which Bollywood so often chooses to ignore. The side most of us, as happy, educated, urbane Indians are blissfully unaware of. The movie captures the vibrancy, the solemness, the boom and the doom of living in the back lanes of run down Dharavi. It may also be called a post-modern take on the City of joy, where amidst the melancholy of the lives of our young protagonists, there is an intense desire to acquire what they want from life: a desire to excel, a desire to seek pleasure, love and success. What differs is their means of getting what they want from life. Dreams are the same, but the means are different. Both Salim and Jamal want to run away from Dharavi,into a more luxurious home (a bungalow at Harbour road) . But Jamal wants to be a professional singer, while Salim, a professional Gun shooter. They both want Latika, but Jamal seeks her as a sweetheart, while Salim, as a prize trophy, to be acquired and later done away with.
It’s not just the story of Jamal Malik, but the story of the three musketeers (Jamal, Salim and Latika) and all the other people who cross their paths to teach Jamal what he must know to win the 20 million game prize. Surprisingly, it’s only the last two questions whose answers he doesn’t know. Yet, it is these very two questions whose answers he wriggles out of; one by his shrewd understanding of men (living on the streets teaches you this basic art of who are the trustworthy men and who just pretend to be) ,and the other, by pure luck.
The movie is about love that survives against all odds, through time and space. It was love that compelled Jamal to return to Mumbai, it was love that made him enter the show, love for Latika. On the flip side of the coin, it was brotherly love that saved Jamal’s eyesight from the goons and later, reconciled him with his sweetheart. Had it not been for Salim’s love for his younger brother, this story would have a sad ending.
The music never distracts from the story, nor does it intrude upon the narration. It flows through the story, providing serenity when needed or disrupting the calm when the situation demanded. I won’t call it Rehman’s best piece of work so far, but it is what the movie needs it to be. After all, it’s not exactly a musical. It is a musical take on a documentary. Latika’s Theme has faint resemblance to Bombay’s theme, but in a nostalgic way. The background tracks are as varied as the moods felt by the viewer while watching the movie. It is compelling, intriguing, cheerful and sometimes sad.
Overall, a must watch for viewers of all age groups. It is surprising that a movie so close to the Indian heart and sentiments came from a non-Indian film maker. Yet, hats off to him for condensing so many emotions and sentiments in a film of merely two hours. It’s always a challenge to do justice to a story penned down in a book, but Slumdog Millionaire took it a couple of steps further than mere narration. It is a movie that captured the hopes and hearts of the millions of slum dogs sweating it out, out there. For that,,he deserves all the praise and awards being bestowed upon him.