Director Danny Boyle takes his trademark visual whizz-bang style to the slums of Mumbai in a breathless, exhilarating cross between Trainspotting and City of God. Skins' actor Dev Patel is Jamal, forced to tell his life story to a pair of rough coppers, explaining how he wound up winning millions on India's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, recounting his perilous life surviving on the tough streets of Mumbai. Will they believe his story and let him re-appear to answer the final, 20m rupee question? Coming-of-age pathos, romance, and nail-chewing suspense combine in an irresistible package you'll want to phone a friend about.
Danny Boyle is a toughie to predict, and few would have guessed he'd follow head-scratching sci-fi epic Sunshine with this down-to-earth Mumbai-based treat.
Borrowing from his previous Millions and Trainspotting, with a healthy dose of City of God, Boyle's energy fizzes throughout Slumdog Millionaire, a sugar-sweet movie hiding surprising crunches.
The Full Monty scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy, adapting Vikas Swarup's source novel, is a nicely old-fashioned triumph of the spirit tale flashing back and forward through the life of Jamal Malik (Patel).
Opening with Jamal's jarring, brutal interrogation at the hands of two policemen in the service of venal Who Wants to be a Millionaire host (a slimy turn from Bollywood superstar Kapoor), convinced that Jamal has cheated, Boyle's camera never touches the ground.
The answer to each question representing a key moment in his life, Jamal's tough childhood unfolds: his orphaned existence with his older brother Salim, their life in a dodgy orphanage, hustling tourists at the Taj Mahal, and Salim's growth into a fully-fledged gangster (Mittal), while Jamal winds up making tea in a call centre.
Amidst the hard knocks, Jamal's search for his lost love for Latika (Pinto), a girl he and Salim hooked up with as kids, keeps his flame burning.
Beaufoy's bouncy script allows easy access for those completely ignorant to Indian movies, with his tear-jerking love story populated by good eggs and hissing villains.
But jumps from the slums of Mumbai (nee Bombay) to postcard tourist traps, to an Indian call centre (complete with Brit trivia classes), the gangster underworld funding Mumbai's rebirth, clips from Amitabh Bachchan movies, and the Millionaire studio pack enough surprises and flavour to make this one of the year's best movies.
Boyle's camera burns with the same kinetic verve of his previous films (there's even a Trainspotting-esque chase with the police and one character takes a dive into a toilet), and he is fast proving himself the English Scorsese, fusing rock and roll visuals with an infectious score from Indian supremo A.R. Rahman.
Kudos too to co-director Loveleen Tandan, who coaxes winning performances from the child actors in the, often disturbing, flashbacks scenes.
Hard hearts may balk at the unashamed sentiment, black and white morality, and question-flashback contrivances, but let them eat pie and mash: this is a tangy banquet of smile-on-the-face feel good.