2009-01-02 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'Slumdog Millionaire' - Street Smarts
By Robert Snyder

It is an interesting irony that the word, "smart," should mean "intelligence" as well as "pain."

In the film, "Slumdog Millionaire," the hero, Jamal (Dev Patel), personifies this ambiguity. An uneducated "slumdog" orphan in Mumbai, India, he somehow finds himself winning big bucks on that country's version of the popular American game show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." That fate leads to brutal torture at the hands of the skeptical authorities, who are certain that he must be cheating.

Under Danny Boyle's skillful direction, "Slumdog Millionaire" shows how Jamal's intuitive street smarts throughout his tragic life put him in a position to answer every question thrown at him by the slick TV host, Prem (Anil Kapoor): A pistol once pointed at his head gives him the solution ("Colt") as to its creator, or a blind beggar-boy friend showing him a $100 bill plants the memory of the U.S. leader ("Ben Franklin") who appears on it.

At the heart of the story is a "Rocky"- type romance, with Jamal seeking to save his long-lost love, Latika (Freida Pinto), from gangland slavery and abuse. Key to Jamal's turmoil is the dubious allegiance of his brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), who went bad early and now does the bidding of a mob boss.

Much of the film charts the struggle of Jamal as a boy (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) in the hellhole slums of Mumbai (once Bombay), juxtaposed with the Taj Mahal elegance of the wealthy class. For a slumdog to become an instant millionaire is inconceivable in this society. Hence, the torture scenes.

"Slumdog Millionaire" may be a fairy tale, but it fits in the age of Obama.

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