Chris Graham | ‘Slumdog’ will hit you hard

I never leave a movie theater with tears streaming down my face. I’m not talking teary-eyed. That’s happened before. I’m talking a salty liquid on my cheek. “Slumdog Millionaire,” currently playing at The Visulite in Downtown Staunton, did that to me.

Based on the award-winning novel Q and A by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting”), the story is among the more unusually told that you will come across in film, dating back in my mind to Quentin Tarantino’s breakthrough “Pulp Fiction” in the mid-1990s. “Slumdog Millionaire” follows a young orphan boy, Jamal (played as an adult by Dev Patel), as he searches for an orphan girl, Latika (played as an adult by Freida Pinto), in the world-within-the-world that is India after the two are separated as small children.

The story takes us into the underbelly of India as Jamal and his brother, Salim (played as an adult by Madhur Mittal), struggle mainly just to stay alive in a world where orphanages are run by shady characters who profit from what the kids in their charge get from begging on the streets and gangsters who have advanced from robbing and killing indiscriminately to running Mafia-style operations that make dirty money on the macro scale.

Jamal somehow turns out OK despite all this, even as Salim ends up caught up in the middle of a host of bad dealings. The motivation, from the story, is his desire to find Latika, to whom he had promised as a young child that they would live happily ever after.

That’s how he ends up on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, aiming to get her attention by getting a chance in the hot seat on the hit game show.

This is where the movie begins, or I’d be more accurate to say it’s sort of where it begins. We meet Jamal in a police barracks being tortured by a burly cop trying to find out how a slumdog like Jamal could get all the way to the final question on the show without cheating.

The genius of the telling is that we learn about Jamal and Salim and Latika through Jamal’s account of how he came to know the answers.

I can’t say much more, because the element of surprise is the key to taking this money in. I will warn you, though, that you might not like some of the early scenes, in particular, that take you into the slums of Mumbai and tend toward the graphic in their depiction of how tough life is for people in a developing economy.

And that at the end you will leave in tears. Maybe even blubbering. And on a positive note, feeling an awful lot better about the world than you did when you sat down with your popcorn.

 

– Column by Chris Graham

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