When I first met Jamal, the hero of Vikas Swarup’s book, Q&A, I was captivated by his inate goodness, particularly given his background as a beggar in Bombay. His rise to riches in no way affects his values. If anything, he just re-affirms them as he ducks and weaves his way through crime and corruption to win millions, and, more importantly, capture the heart of the girl he adores. Now that this entrancing novel has been adapted for the big screen, under the title Slumdog Millionaire, it is even easier to appreciate the similarities between Jamal’s childhood in Bombay, and those of the beggar children in Dicken’s London. The movie opens with the death during a religious uprising of the mother of Jamal and his brother, Salim. In the aftermath they meet Latika, an orphan girl of similar age, and Jamal imagines them to be three musketeers. They all survive, in their own different ways, life in the Dharavi slums and the brutality of the local orphanage, reconnecting later in life in the Mumbai which has taken over old Bombay. Jamal’s journey from child to Chai-wallah (teaboy) in a call centre contrasts strongly with that of his brother, for whom grinding poverty means a policy to kill or be killed. Jamal is poised to win a quiz show with a prize of $10 million rupees – but his only real concern is to find Latika and free her from a life of exploitation. Will he answer the final question? Will he see his one true love again? And what role does his violent brother have to play? Go and see Slumdog Millionaire to find out the answers, but don’t expect easy viewing or a charming Bollywood landscape. Director Danny Boyle’s movie is relentless, punishing and brutal. But it is also a celebration of the excellent acting talents the nine actors playing the different ages of the main three characters, and the pulsating energy and drive that personifies modern India.
Reviewed by Kaye Fallick