Tale wagging the Slumdog

February 2, 2009 in Apropos of Nothing, Quiz Show

slumdog-millionaire1Myself and my Mrs took ourselves off to the cinema last Friday to finally see Slumdog Millionaire.  It’s been out in Ireland since January 9 but our local picture house, the Empire Multiplex, operates in a different timezone, where all but the biggest blockbusters arrive several weeks late.  If at all.

But I digress.  The movie itself is excellent.  It was easy to see why it’s been nominated for so many Academy Awards.  The story is touching and some of the shots are fantastic, really making use of the fact that India is DIFFERENT.

However, this is a blog about quizzes so, quite properly, this post is all about the quiz that acts as the base around which exposition and the plot are constructed.

At this point, I think almost everyone knows that an episode of Who wants to be a Millionaire? is at the centre of the movie.  The plot uses each of the show’s questions as a gateway into the lead character Jamal’s past. Simply put, he’s not a highly educated guy so, as he progresses through harder and harder questions, eyebrows begin to be raised. When the hooter goes off, meaning that they’ll be returning the following day, he’s arrested by the local police and taken away for questioning.  In the station he then tells the detective (and us) how he came to know the answers, on a question-by-question basis.

As a word of warning, don’t be too quick to believe the “Feel good film of the decade” banner on the poster.  Some of the flashback scenes, particularly those invoving Jamal’s youth are genuinely hard to watch.  The film pulls no punches in showing Mumbai‘s slums in the ’80s.  Or rather Bombay’s slums.  As perhaps a gesture towards the city, the slums are consigned to the past when Jamal tells the interrogating officer that Bombay had “turned into Mumbai” as he begins to tell him of his adult life working in a call centre.  Sorry, that’s another tangent isn’t it?

Back to the quiz. The host is brilliantly patronising. Of everyone involved he’s the most certain that Jamal is cheating and does nothing to help him. Unsurprisingly, some of the questions are completely India-specific, with a hard Cricket question thrown in for good measure. Lifelines are used well, both in the context of the plot and the quiz itself.

On the flipside, I do have three issues with the quiz. The smallest of which is that, for the last few questions the host keeps telling us that, if Jamal gets the next question wrong, that he’ll lose everything. That is not in the rules of …Millionaire as I know them, but I can see how it’s not as dramatic to say “you’ll go back to 32,000” (or the equivalent in Rupees).  Secondly, while he tells us why he entered, we’re never told how Jamal managed to get on the show.  Was it pure luck that his name was selected or did he use the call centre in some cunning way?

Finally, I won’t tell you what it is, but the final question is far too easy. The plot certainly leads to it but, objectively, there’s no way it would be the final question. And one can’t even put it down to cultural differences between India and the western world as we’re even shown that it’s a piece of trivia that he should have known since primary school!

Still, it’s a great movie. Go see it.

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