By: Peter Malone
Slumdog Millionaire is a rags-to-riches saga that unfolds like a Dickens novel set in Mumbai.
The story centres on Jamal, a boy from the slums who has somehow become a big winner on India's version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
As he gets close to the final question and a huge payoff, Jamal is grabbed and taken to a police station, where he is accused of cheating on the show.
No one can believe that this uneducated street kid could possibly know the answers to questions about gods, poets, guns and great literature.
But Jamal does know the answers, and mostly through terrible life experience.
To prove his innocence, Jamal has to tell his life story. And as soon as Slumdog Millionaire moves back in time to Jamal's childhood, the film goes from ordinary to extraordinary.
Despite the poverty and hardship in the slums of Mumbai, the movie is suddenly vibrant with colour and music and all the energy of childhood itself.
Jamal and his brother are the poorest of the poor, and tragedy soon finds them fending for themselves in the city's streets.
Along the way they encounter an orphaned girl, Latika, and she becomes the love of Jamal's life. The children call themselves the Three Musketeers and vow never to be separated.
Preyed upon by adults, living by their wits and barely escaping some adventures with their lives, the children learn to survive -- working, begging or stealing.
As adolescents, their paths diverge: Jamal is quiet and keen to work, but his older brother (Madhur Mittal) has become part of the city's criminal element, and Latika (played as an adult by Freida Pinto) is going down the same desperate road.
Jamal's appearance on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? turns out to have nothing to do with money and everything to do with his hope that Latika will see him on TV.
Slumdog Millionaire is based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup. It's a complex story, with plenty of detours and sidestreets -- such as Jamal's relationship with the smarmy host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? -- and this film version is generally a treat for the eyes. (Slumdog Millionaire ends with a Bollywood-like song and dance number that will keep you in your seat for the credits.)
The performances are terrific, and the cast includes Anil Kapoor as the wily TV host, and Irfan Khan as the police inspector.
Jamal, his brother Salim and Latika are each played by three different actors, and the children cast for the scenes of their youth are partidularly good.
Slumdog Millionaire is what's usually called a crowd pleaser. Audiences stand to applaud the movie, and it won the People's Choice Award this year at the Toronto International Film Festival. The movie is in Hindi and English, with English subtitles.