Feb 042009
Authors: Marjorie Hamburger

Many of us are familiar with both classical and modern rags-to-riches stories. We’ve read Oliver Twist, watched American Idol and researched the background of our current president.

“Slumdog Millionaire,” directed by Danny Boyle, is another tale of this sort that takes place in modern day India. The main character, Jamal (Dev Patel), is a 20-year-old young man from the slums of Mumbai. He goes on the Hindi version of the reality television show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” and is on the brink of winning 20 million rupees.

How could a street bum have made it this far on the show when most top-notch lawyers and doctors could not? Is he just lucky? Is he cheating? Or is it his destiny?

Highly suspicious that Jamal is cheating, the show’s host hires security to pry an explanation from him using torture. Yet Jamal holds steadfast because he knows all the answers.

As Jamal explains how he knew each answer to the reality show, his life’s story is laid out in a vivacious and illustrious narrative.

As a young child, Jamal and his older brother, Salim, were orphaned after their mother was killed in the 1992-93 anti-Muslim riots. From there, the two joined with another orphan, a girl named Latika, who soon became the love of Jamal’s life. Despite the hardships and horrors encountered during their adolescence, the three musketeers, as they refer to themselves, make it to young adulthood.

Each finds different methods of survival. Jamal poses as a tour guide at the Taj Mahal, while stealing tourists shoes and selling them at the market. Later he becomes a tea server at a Mumbai call center. Salim takes a more unlawful, gangster approach of making quick cash despite the means. And Latika is used and abused by countless men, always imprisoned in uncompromising situations.

Though their paths inevitably separate them from each other, Jamal desperately finds ways to reunite with Latika. This is the sole reason he goes on the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” He thought she might be watching.

Above all else, this is a love story. It involves the type of romanticized love that is rarely depicted in film these days, yet this makes it all the more authentic and inspirational.

“Slumdog Millionaire” portrays a side of India that much of the world has never seen. This is no Bollywood flick, but instead an exploration of the different social classes, especially concerning children in the lower middle-class. Through vibrant visuals and breathtaking cinematography, Jamal’s story comes to life and enlivens audiences.

For a timeless rags-to-riches tale, “Slumdog Millionaire” is able to bring a new, insightful approach to the genre.

Staff writer Marjorie Hamburger can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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