"'s about - a guttersnipe with resiliency and smarts - who would do Dickens proud..."

Mumbai Street Kid Makes Good

(010209)  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, look out: a movie that rocks and rolls, that transports, startles, delights, shocks, seduces. A movie that is, quite simply, great.

Slumdog Millionaire, the epic yarn of a Mumbai street urchin who grows up and goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - and then keeps getting the answers right, one stunner after another - is that movie. It's exhilarating. It's life-affirming. (Am I gushing enough?) It's about true love and destiny, about raging poverty and vast wealth, about the global powerhouse that is India in the 21st century. And it's about a scrappy hero - a guttersnipe with resiliency and smarts - who would do Charles Dickens proud.

Directed by Danny Boyle (with a co-directing nod to Loveleen Tandan), Slumdog Millionaire careens with hyper-kinetic energy - but the constantly moving camera, jump-cuts, the flashbacks and flash-forwards, the thumping soundtrack, aren't mere show. They're in service of the narrative, and reflective of its setting: a country teeming with crowds, a noisy, mad, knockabout place, awash in color and contradiction.

Played by three actors - Ayush Mahesh Khedekar as the tiny, wide-eyed orphan, Tanay Hemant Chheda as a wily young teen, and Dev Patel as the stone-serious 18-year-old game show contestant - Jamal Malik is an unschooled, unwashed product of urban tumult.

How Jamil, a gofer who serves tea - a "chai wallah" - to the phone workers in a Mumbai call center, landed in the hot seat on the TV show watched by everyone, and hosted by the acerbic, unctuous and wee-bit-sinister Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor), is literally the million-dollar question. Make that the 20-million-rupee question.

Essentially, Jamil has done it for love: Latika (Freida Pinto, in the grown-up incarnation) is the girl he ran with in the back alleys and orphanages of his youth, getting into mischief along with his brother Salim. At a certain point in their childhood, Latika is torn away - she's the prize catch for a prostitution ring - and Jamil's left with Salim to survive in the squalor. All these years later, to be a contestant on a show the whole country stops to watch - well, maybe, just maybe, Latika will be watching, too.

Slumdog Millionaire is structured as a series of flashbacks: 18-year-old Jamil is in a police interrogation room (for reasons that will become clear), where he is forced to explain how he came to know the answers that have put him one question away from winning a mega-sum on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. And then Boyle, working from a screenplay by Simon Beaufoy (adapting from Vikas Swarup's novel, Q & A), jumps back to the episode in Jamil's life that led to his having that knowledge at hand.

Although Slumdog Millionaire - with its grand tableaux and, yes, the Taj Mahal, even - is on a scale far larger than the British filmmaker has worked before, in a key way it's very much in keeping with Boyle's body of work. In nearly all of his films, from his macabre debut noir, Shallow Grave, to his druggy Scots drama, Trainspotting, to the kid Christmas pic Millions, a bag of money provides the impetus to the plot. It's a lure, a goal, a reason to fight and feud, to dream and scheme. Here, the bag of money dangles like a piece of bait - LED lights signaling the sum - from the game show's Mumbai TV studio.

A story about fate and purpose, Slumdog Millionaire can be dark and frightening, bloody and gross. (One scene: the young Jamil diving into a pile of human waste to save a . . . well, ick, ick and ick!) But ultimately, the movie is exuberant, celebratory. It's impossible not to feel good as the cast kicks up its heels in a cavernous train station, breaking into song, Bollywood style, as the final credits roll.

It's the years best film. And that's my final answer.

Directed by:    Danny Boyle & Loveleen Tandan
Written by:    Screenplay by Simon Beaufoy. Adapted from
 Vikas Swarup novel "Q & A"
Starring:    Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
Released:    12/25/08 (USA-wide)
Length:    120 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE 2009 Fox Searchlight Pictures
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