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Slumdog Millionaire

By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- The teeming Indian city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay), nicknamed "Maximum City," provides the backdrop for the vibrant drama "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight/Warner Bros.).

Though harrowing at times, director Danny Boyle's sweeping panorama of Third-World life -- adapted from Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's novel "Q & A" -- is ultimately hopeful, stressing the dignity of the underprivileged and the primacy of spiritual over material values.

Despite its epic scale, the story is told from a single point of view, that of 18-year-old Jamal Malik (Dev Patel). A product of the city's rancid slums, he works as a "chai wallah," i.e. tea waiter, in a call center, a fact derided by Prem (Anil Kapoor), the acerbic host of Indian television's version of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?" when Jamal first appears as a contestant.

Although raised in equally impoverished circumstances, Prem makes his contempt for Jamal obvious, as well as his expectation that this "slumdog" will be swiftly eliminated. Instead, Jamal launches a winning streak that carries him within striking distance of the program's ultimate prize of 20 million rupees.

As a result, he's arrested on suspicion of cheating, and the film's opening scenes show him being beaten and tortured in a police station. Wearying of such methods, the inspector in charge (Irrfan Khan) listens to Jamal's explanation, which entails nothing short of a full-blown autobiography, since each of his correct answers is associated with an important event in his past.

Orphaned at an early age -- we see his mother's violent death at the hands of anti-Muslim rioters -- Jamal grows up in the company of his older brother, Salim (Madhur Mittal), who can be fiercely protective but also, at times, spiteful. When the pair are joined by a third "musketeer" (references to the senior Alexandre Dumas' classic novel recur throughout), a girl named Latika (Freida Pinto), Jamal forms a lifelong attachment to her.

Lured to the deceptively named Hope Orphanage, the three are exploited for the money they can score as beggars. The boys eventually escape, but in the process become separated from Latika.

While Salim gets drawn, from an early age, into the city's criminal underworld, Jamal plays it straight and never gives up hope of reconnecting with his one and only.

As the portrait of a man who encounters evil in many forms yet remains fundamentally innocent, and who gains wisdom from all he endures, "Slumdog Millionaire" is an exhilarating celebration of humane values.

The film contains beating and torture, fleeting rear nudity, crime and prostitution themes, underage drinking, brief scatological humor and occasional rough and crude language. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.


Copyright (c) 2008 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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