You will not know any of the actors, nor indeed the setting in Mumbai (Bombay) unless you’ve been paying attention to the news of late or have been to India. You will not find appealing the setting, or many of the situations that Jamal Malik, a child of the Mumbai slums finds himself in, nor will you be glad you saw human degradation at it worst (hence the R ratings). But like a diamond found in a coal mine in the midst of mere lumps of coal, this movie is a gem in many ways, and a brave and brilliant testimony to the resillience of the human spirit. And if you like suspense, and also surprisingly happy or bittersweet endings, this is the movie for you.

Danny Boyle, a British director has teamed up with a group of actors whose sphere is Bollywood, the Indian equivalent to Hollywood, and the result is compelling story telling for a full two hours. Perhaps most impressive in this movie is the juxtaposition of Jamal’s life story with the questions asked him when he manages to get himself on the Indian version of the Millionaire TV show. As the last line of the movie shows, the theme is ‘it is written’, that is that there is a karma, a fate, a destiny that is guiding the action in this story and its outcome, and in this respect one can find this film quite similar to Benjamin Button. And like in the case of Benjamin Button we are dealing with a person in Jamal Malik who is an engenue, an innocent caught up in a maelstrom not of his own making. Unlike his brother who chooses to go over to ‘the dark side of the force’ Jamal maintains his innocence, and his quest to find a girl he grew up, Latika, a girl he loves unconditionally. In desperation, having been separated from her several times, he chooses to go onto the Millionaire show in hopes she will see him and find him.

In some respects this story will be reminiscent of many of the Rudyard Kipling stories coming from and set in India, and it is a true rags to riches tale (‘Rikki Tiki Tavi’ comes to mind in some ways) It’s just that there are a lot more rags in India to overcome especially if one is born a slumdog, and indeed Kipling’s poem ‘If’ would be apt in this movie as well. There is a winsome quality to the story of children overcoming adult evil including adults who prey on children.

I have little doubt this film will get serious consideration for best picture of the year, and it may well be the first film, not merely made in India, but really starring Indian actors and Indian production that registers with Americans, though we have seen Ghandi and other such western uses of India as a setting for a film previously. Though this film is about children and young adults, I only recommend it for adults because of its graphic quality (no there is not a lot of violence and no explicit sex in the film). But it is a film well worth seeing, carefully constructed, and as the closing line of the film says –the outcome falls into the category of ‘it is written’.

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