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Dignity, hope triumph in 'Slumdog' squalor

THE biggest winner of this year's Academy Awards, racking up eight Oscars including best picture, best director and best editing, "Slumdog Millionaire" has most of the cinematic traits required to be a global smash hit.

Currently screening at major cinemas around Shanghai, this low-budget indie product captures with ease the hearts of audiences and critics alike with its positive and inspirational themes, a dark but ultimately optimistic storyline, exotic scenes, dazzling visuals, a sensational musical score, and exhilarating Bollywood-style choreography.

Directed by Scottish talent Danny Boyle whose works include the druggie drama "Trainspotting" (1996) and the zombie saga "28 Days Later" (2002), Boyle's newest hit depicts a rags-to-riches love story set in India.

Jamal Malik (played by fledging British-Indian actor Dev Patel), is an 18-year-old orphaned underdog from the filthy shanty slums of Mumbai who attempts to find his childhood love by making an appearance on the Indian version of a popular TV quiz show, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

When Jamal is suddenly and unexpectedly only one question away from bagging the top prize of 20 million rupees (US$400,906), police arrest him on suspicion of cheating - he has been accused of this by the snobbish and smarmy game show host Prem Kumar (vividly portrayed by Anil Kapoor).


Desperate to prove his innocence during the often violent interrogation, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slums where he and his elder brother Salim (played by Madhur Mittal) grew up, of the killing of their mother in an anti-Muslim attack, of their adventures together on the road, and of vicious encounters with gangsters.

And he also tells the story of Latika (played by the stunning former Indian model Freida Pinto), the first-and-only girl he loved but lost.

Every chapter of his life brings a key to each of the game show's questions.

Maybe it seems a little artificial that every question in the show just happens to have some connection to Jamal's early life.

But the point is: the plot, which loosely draws inspiration from the Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's page-turning novel "Q & A," remains convincing.

More importantly, it serves the director's themes well - dignity and hope within the squalor, humor and satire within the violence.

In the end the most uplifting aspect of "Slumdog Millionaire" is the romance between Jamal and Latika, two star-crossed lovers who struggle to find their way back to each other through harsh realities and grim prospects.

And do you want to know what is the final answer that makes the film worth a million?

It's the almost unbelievably sweet ending - an unexpected and delirious contrast to the darkness and despair of the previous two hours.

"Slumdog Millionaire," a Fox Searchlight Pictures release, is rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

It is in English with Chinese subtitles and earns four stars out of five.


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