Slumdog Millionaire

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Slumdog Millionaire poster.jpg

Police Inspector: Doctors... Lawyers... never get past 60 thousand rupees. He's won 10 million. What can a slumdog possibly know?
Jamal Malik: [quietly] The answers.


A 2008 film directed by Danny Boyle based on the novel Q and A by Vikas Swarup.

Jamal Malik is on the verge of winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?. There's just one problem: he's a "slumdog", working at a minimum wage job, and nobody can see how he knew any of the answers. As they go through each question, he shows how events in his childhood and life contributed to his knowing almost every single one.

Notable for being quite cynical, but starring an absolute idealist and having a mostly happy ending.

Please note that, apart from the dance number at the end, this is not a Bollywood movie. It's a Western movie made in Mumbai. It does, however, have several references to Indian culture and Bollywood movies--including songs that have been used in other movies, a credits sequence made to look like old-fashioned movie posters and a reference to legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan (not to mention using two well-known Bollywood actors in the film).

Even though critically acclaimed internationally, over the next few years the movie attained widespread Hatedom and Snark Bait status in India, with numerous Take Thats from other Indian movies; mostly because Danny Boyle managed to hit just about every single Bollywood cliche in it, while turning the "Violent Mumbai" stereotype Up to Eleven to create the film's dark and cynical atmosphere. It didn't help that the word "Slumdog" became a kind of euphemism for not just Indians but South Asians in general, (Community, anyone?) never mind the fact that it's an insult, even to people who live in slums.

Tropes used in Slumdog Millionaire include:
  • Adaptation-Induced Plothole: Jamal is constantly at risk of losing everything if he answers a single question wrong. This would make sense for a fictional game show, which can set its own rules, but Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? provides benchmarks that, once passed, guarantee the contestant some amount of money, even if they get a wrong answer.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Though there are a lot of things different from the book (including the main character's name - in the book it's Ram Mohammad Thomas), the film manages to condense most of it down and still be good.
    • It also drifts into Pragmatic Adaptation zone.
    • The book could not use the actual Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but the film version could, due to it being made by the original producers of the series (however, they had sold the rights to the franchise by the time the film was released).
  • Aloof Big Brother: Salim.
  • Award Bait Song: "Dreams of Fire" is a by-the-book song of this kind... but the one that actually awards, "Jai-Ho", might count.
  • Bait the Dog: The men who "recruit" the beggar children at first seem like nice guys (albeit certainly criminals); they're actually despicable villains.
    • The Millionaire host was jealous because like Jamal he was a slumdog who came to some success. And he would rather have the show be about him.
  • Batman Gambit: The quiz host attempts to pull one of these on Jamal and it backfires spectacularly, which actually turns it into an accidental Secret Test of Character.
  • Because Destiny Says So: D. It is written .
  • Berserk Button: Jamal is probably one of the sweetest, kindest, and most honest and trusting people you could ever have the fortune to meet. Nevertheless, if you ever insult or harm Latika, he will do his level best to kick your ass.
  • Bilingual Bonus: There are a lot of curse words in the beginning the subtitles decided to leave out.
    • The Hindi song Ringa Ringa, which plays when Jamal and Salim find Latika in their teens is about a woman who was forced into sex by a sleazy guy, fitting as Latika was about to become a prostitute and have her virginity sold off.
  • Book Dumb: Jamal and Salim, literally due to poor schooling. They know the names of two out of The Three Musketeers, and can pick up enough history of the Taj Mahal to sound convincing, and run a small racket at age 13 or so; see Informed Flaw.
  • Cain and Abel: Jamal and Salim eventually.
  • Chekhov's Armory: Every single event in Jamal's life. Every single one.
  • Con Man: Part of Jamal's youth is spent pretending to be a tour guide and making up the history as he goes along.
  • Creative Closing Credits: Specifically, a Bollywood dance sequence. "Jai-ho!"
  • Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!
  • Dance Party Ending
  • Determinator: Jamal.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Latika plays a prank on Salim, putting chillies on his privates as he sleeps. Salim, in revenge, abandons her to a life of slavery, sexual harassment, and abuse at the hands of an evil gangster.
  • The Dulcinea Effect: Given the amount of time the film covers vs. the amount of time Jamal and Latika are together, plus the lengths Jamal is willing to go to find her, I'd say this trope fits.
    • It's not entirely clear how long the kids spent together the first time, but it seems to have been a while. Given how things were left off (with her in the hands of the vicious slavers), it's perhaps not surprising that Jamal would be obsessed with rescuing her. Now, Jamal and Latika's romantic devotion developing over the course of a few hours in their second time together is a better fit.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Eye Scream: The beggars get their eyes burned out to make more money.
  • The Fagin: Maman initially seems to be the nice version who takes in children to sing for money on the streets. But blinds them to make them look more sympathetic.
  • Famous Last Words: "God is great." Salim.
  • Feigning Intelligence: The two brothers feign expertise on all sorts of stuff to get by (and learn what they didn't know in the process). Thing is, both are actually pretty smart, if unlettered.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Despite being attacked by a group of gangsters who obviously intend to disfigure her, Latika receives a single elegant slash across her face which heals cleanly, and actually accentuates her cheekbones.
  • Heel Face Revolving Door: Salim.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Latika.
  • Imagine Spot: When Jamal meets his brother again after a few years, he imagines rushing him off the roof and killing them both.
  • In Mysterious Ways
  • I Remember Because: Essentially the entire plot of the movie.
  • Ironic Echo: When Maman is first torturing the children he says "Maman never forgets". Later, when he's grovelling for his life, Salim throws this back at him. Maman says that he can make an exception but Salim ignores him and blows his head off.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: When the police think Jamal cheated, they use Electric Torture on him to make him confess. Particularly disturbing is that they're so casual about it, you get the impression they do this all the time.
    • As an Indian, I have to say that's pretty realistic. They're Mumbai Police. They DO do this all the time. But sorta, kinda, understandable as they get paid peanuts to put their lives on the line against ruthless gangsters who usually have political connections. The Bollywood movie Gangajal deals with this topic.
  • Jeopardy Intelligence Test: And how.
  • Jerkass: Salim was a total dick to Jamal when they were younger, like locking him in an outhouse to prevent him from seeing his favorite actor, and stealing Jamal's autograph of said actor and selling it. And that whole business of dooming Latika to prostitution.
    • The Millionaire host as signs of this. He happily mocks Jamal for being an assistant at a call center and calls him a "chaiwalah" (approximately it means tea maker but is used as a derogatory term here), all in the name of entertainment.
  • Kick the Dog: Salim. Repeatedly.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Salim's Start of Darkness is killing Maman, the evil child slaver.
  • Last Stand: Salim in a bathtub filled with money. Two reasons; it gives him a chance to get the drop on whoever was coming in first(likely his boss) as they take a few seconds to try and figure out what's going on, and if he has to go out, he'd prefer to go out in a manner people are going to talk about for years.
  • Lip-Lock Sun-Block; The final kiss.
  • Mistaken for Special Guest: Jamal uses this to his advantage on several occasions.
  • Necessary Fail: Good thing your life sucked so much, Jamal.
  • Neutral Female: Latika, especially when they're kids and Jamal and Salim are fighting.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: It takes long for Jamal's suffering to be overcome by the happiness promised by the previews and blurbs...
  • Nobody Poops: Subverted. Heavily. Specifically, Salim locks Jamal in an outhouse above a river as revenge for losing him a few bucks, just when a movie star shows up. Jamal is forced to jump into crap higher than his head to get out.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Jamal searches the name "Latika" in the phone listings and gets over 26 000 results. Even when he searches "Salim K Malik" he gets about ten results.
  • Operator From India: Jamal works at one of these places. The English cultural teaching is portrayed with some accuracy.
  • Ordered to Cheat
  • Orphanage of Fear: Oh yes.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: The portrayals of the main characters get more and more realistic as Jamal gets older. This is because as he matures, he better understands what is going on instead of turning it into caricature.
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: The questions with Jamal's flashbacks. See Someday This May Come In Handy.
  • Porn Stache: Prem Kumar. It helps that the actor portraying him is famous for it within Bollywood.
  • Race For Your Love: Latika's desperate dash to get to the phone in time, in a variation on the usual trope.
  • Radio Contest: How Jamal gets on the show.
  • Rags to Riches: Subverted since Jamal doesn't really care about winning the money, he just goes on the show in order to find Latika.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Salim, Jamal's brother, invokes this to make up for all the crap he put him through. In a bathtub full of money, no less.
  • Red Light District: Jamal and Salim as teenagers visit one to find Latika.
  • Reverse Cerebus Syndrome: Opens with a Downer Beginning, has many dark moments (specially in flashbacks), but it all leads to a happy ending.
  • Rule of Romantic: Why the movie's portrayal of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? bears little to no resemblance to how the show actually works.
  • Say My Name: LATIKA!
  • Shallow Love Interest: Latika.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Jamal doesn't seem to realize other females even exist.
  • Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty: The slums are gritty, the quiz show is shiny.
  • Smarmy Host
  • Smug Snake: The quiz show host.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: Every. Single. Experience that Jamal has helps him answer the questions on the quiz show.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Jamal and Latika.
  • Street Urchin: During their late childhood to adolescence, Jamal and Salim are like this, conning tourists among other things.
  • Sudden Musical Ending
  • Took a Level In Badass: Salim keeps taking levels in badass throughout the entire movie.
    • And Jerkass.
  • Translation Convention: Even the kids at the slum speak English to each other.
    • Completely justified, though as English is an official language of India and it's incredibly widely spoken.
    • Not as much as you would think. Except in the higher classes, they'd mostly speak the regional language. So no, not justified.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Jamal, Salim, and Latika.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Latika.
  • Virgin Tension: When Jamal first tries to rescue Latika.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: Salim dying in a bathtub full of money after popping some bitches. It is entirely possible this is an invoked trope.
  • A World Half Full: India is presented in such a fashion in this movie, quite unflinchingly. Although there are hints it is getting better.
    • "That... Used to be our slum. We used to live right there, man. Now, it's all business. India is at the center of the world now, bhai."