The movie is based on the Indian version of ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’. The rags-to-riches story is set in the backdrop of slums of Mumbai. Half the script is delivered in Hindi.
The film starts at the end. Jamal Khan (Dev Patel) is just one answer away from winning 20 million rupees on the show hosted by Anil Kapoor. How can possibly an orphan from slums who now serves tea to call center employees, know each and every answer? Is he a fraud? Is he a genius? Or something weird is going on? He is squeezed out of the room and whisked to the nearest police station for interrogation by corrupt police officers. This is where the story begins. Jamal’s life story unfolds in a flashback in which he reveals that each answer he gave had a significant story related to it. His tale involves comedy, drama, crime, tragedy and romance.
Jamal (Tamar Hermant Chheda) and his elder brother (Madhur Mittal) are orphaned when their mother is killed in the riots. They take up another young orphan, Latika (Rubina Ali) and join up under Maman. Salim saves Jamal from being blinded for begging and they flee from there leaving Latika to fend for herself.
They begin pick pocketing tourists at Taj Mahal. They start searching for Jamal’s love during which Salim gravitates towards a popular gang for which he murders Maman, after which he banishes Jamal and takes Latika as his prize. Years later, Jamal (played by Dev Patel) is working as a chai wala in a call center. He hunts down Salim and comes to know that he had offered Latika to his boss. Jamal is now determined to win back Latika, the love of his life.
The way Boyle ties together Jamal’s life experiences with his answers on the show is truly amazing and the film shows the variety of emotions as we see him growing up, falling in love, being a part of crimes his brother did and coming close to death.
In the movie, India is portrayed as a place of terrifying poverty and unforgettable brutality. The scene when a child is blinded is a hideous scene showing cruelty of the criminals. Poverty and crime in India is shown in abundance. The scenes of Taj Mahal depict the disrespect by Indians to the tourists. The image of India portrayed by Boyle is of a poor country with crime and hideous child cruelty all over. Many critics have even compared the brutality o the movie with Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. Maman seems like the Fagin and the cruelty shown in the film is truly Dickensian. The pick pocketing at the Taj Mahal is another evidence of its similarity with Oliver Twist.
But the journey of the little boy is worth praising. It is indeed a story of dreams and optimism, making its way from rags to Oscars. With the mesmerizing music of A.R. Rehman, it is a deserving film.