Back in the middle of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? craze, there was an event at my hometown mall (aww, remember when malls were still a thing?) where they offered an eligibility test for the show – basically just a bunch of trivia questions. My brother and I both took the test. He passed, and I didn’t, but I did get to take home a commemorative coin with Regis Philbin’s face on it, so you can’t really call that losing, can you? (For the record, my brother never got called to go on the show.)
The plot of Slumdog is bizarrely Dickensian: a boy and his brother grow up on the mean streets of Mumbai, orphaned at a young age and then taken in by a devious Fagin (I learned that name from a previous Best Picture!) who runs a begging operation. Hijinks ensue, eyeballs are gouged out, and eventually the boy ends up serving tea at a call center. Then, in a step that’s not fully explained, he ends up on a game show, where he happens to get all the questions right and is tortured under suspicion of cheating. A nice family film. Did I mention the interrogation framing device, at least the third such structure I’ve seen in all the Best Picture films.
I do enjoy a good game show, so I’m torn between loving this movie and cringing at the absurd plot holes. For example, as a game show aficionado, I’m well aware that the structure of a game show prevents the contestants from ever speaking to the host off-air, as happens at a fairly significant moment in this film.
And that raises another question: how exactly did the uneducated Jamal Malik manage to make it to the Hot Seat on The Millionaire Show (as my mom used to call it)? As you may recall, the show is structured so that a pool of potential contestants are given a quick-fire question that involves sorting things in order the fastest in order to make it in the Hot Seat – but we only see Jamal after he’s already started playing. Even if the Indian version of the game didn’t require a pre-test, how is it that he happened to face exactly the right questions to win? Tricky.
While we’re on the subject of questioning the improbably things that happen, let’s talk about brother Salim for a moment. The boys start out as rivals, but in the relatively innocent sibling sense. Later, as their lives get harder, Salim grows more ruthless, until they part ways. Then, Salim completely flips again, in defiance of every decision he’s made up to that point. Why the dramatic arc? Why does Jamal dance joyfully mere hours after his brother [spoiler deleted]?
Okay, so as long as you don’t think particularly hard about it, it’s kind of a fun movie. Best movie of the year? Well, I don’t know. On the other hand, it’s nice to see a movie that isn’t exclusively peopled by white folks win something. I haven’t seen many of those lately.
First Time Watching? No.
Final Verdict: You probably expect a final answer joke here.