How does a Chai Walah become a contestant on the most popular game show in India? What motivates someone to want to be on a game show? Money and fame would be two obvious answers. Good answers, yet wrong answers.
Love. Love is the motivation to appear on this game show. For Jamal, love is the motivation. Not love of money, nor does he really want the money he would go on to win. His real motivation was love, the love for a young woman, a young woman who is consistently wrenched from his life time and time again.
But why a game show? Why choose a game show as a vehicle for love? The answer is simple, really. How else can one find someone in a city of 19 million people? Mumbai is a huge, complex, and densely populated city. Finding a single needle in a haystack would be easier. However, everyone watches the "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" game show. And what better way to find someone, or let someone know you are trying to find them then use the publicity of the game show to find that person.
Jamal’s life is complicated when Prem, the host of the game show, suspects Jamal of cheating. Prem arranges for Jamal to be arrested after the game show closes down after the first round. Jamal is then interrogated by Irrfan Khan, the police inspector, and the movie then is told in a series of flashbacks.
The lives of Jamal and his brother Samil unfold through these flashbacks, life on the streets of Mumbai, working as street beggars and the horrors of the physical abuse these children endure. Latika is introduced to us soon after Jamal and Samil lose their mother in an attack by Hindis upon a Muslim neighborhood.
Controversy has arisen from the images of Mumbai slums, street children, violence perpetrated upon these children by the police, and the stark poverty evident. Shantytowns are visible in several scenes, people are seen bathing and washing in filthy water, and the available toilets are little more than crude outhouses perched upon a wooden platfrom, emptying onto the ground below.
Throughout Jamal’s young life he was exposed to many different influences. These events and circumstances prepare him for his success later when he becomes a contestant. Dharma plays an role, as the many injustices committed against Jamal and Latika are later balanced.
Dharma permeates Slumdog Millionaire, the life of Samil, Jamal, and Latika, even the villains that appear throughout the movie. Jamal working as a Chai Walah at a call center, one of those infamous call centers that people here in the United States complain about, has the opportunity to fill in for a friend. While one or two of these “opportunities” might be coincidence, the abundance of coincidences really leans more towards a cosmic arrangement at work.
The movie works as an interesting love story, as a somewhat expose of the underbelly of urban street life present in a large Indian city, and means of conveying the message that sometimes balance comes to life.