Jamal comes from the slums, but by chance finds himself on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? (although the host kept saying “Who wants to be a milliner?”) and then tortured by the police because it’s assumed that he’s been cheating with the aid of an accomplice. But his explanation how he knows the answers to the questions is also the story of his life – his mother’s murder at the hands of a Hindu mob; working as a beggar at risk of being mutilated to improve his chances of being given money; scamming foreign tourists around the Taj Mahal; and above all, his repeated search for Latika, the love of his life.
The final question on the programme is the one to which he has no answer: after Porthos and Athos, who was the third musketeer? He talks about himself, his brother Salim and Latika as the Three Musketeers, but he could never name Aramis. But he takes a guess, wins the game, and has won Latika.
The credits come with a Bollywood-style song-and-dance routine. I can imagine Indian audiences saw that part and murmured to each other, “It really was set in India.”
It’s an enjoyable film, but not, I think, an especially deep one. I quite liked the plot device of using the questions to drive a story of Jamal’s life, but it was ultimately a sort of romance rather than a harrowing commentary on whatever ills the lowest of the low in India suffer. I don’t know how plausible it was that Jamal had got a job as a chaiwallah in a call centre. It might be more likely for someone like him to end up working for a well-known local businessman as Salim did. Worth seeing, though.