If you’re totally illiterate and living on one dollar a day, the benefits of globalization never come to you. – Jimmy Carter As described in Tom Zaniello’s book Cinema of Globalization, there is no shortage of films espousing anti-globalization messages. Whether railing against international corporations, big oil, United States foreign policies or Wal-Mart, world cinema filmmakers have no shortage of topics.
In a refreshing change of pace, the film Slumdog Millionaire proudly demonstrates that through the benefits of globalization, the poorest of the poor can breakthrough to overcome the social stratification and restrictions of the Indian caste system. Adapted from the novel Q&A by Indian author Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire, directed by English filmmaker Danny Boyle, opened to huge fanfare during its release in 2008. It would go on to win 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In addition to being the biggest awards winner at the 2009 Academy Awards, the film also received more than 100 additional awards the same year (IMDB). Undoubtedly, much of the films worldwide appeal comes from Boyle’s unique ability of mixing both influential Western filmmaking style and culture while simultaneously and seamlessly infusing traditional Indian culture and filmmaking as well. The movie tells the story of underprivileged 18 year old Jamal, who grew up orphaned with his brother Salim in the slums of Mumbai, India.
At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Jamal as he is one question away from winning 20,000,000 rupees on the popular Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ”. As the episode runs out of time, Jamal will return the following day to answer the final question, however, the movie cuts away to show him being abused and interrogated at a police station as they try to determine how he could know all the answers. The comments by the police inspector show his frustration and reason for suspecting Jamal has cheated, “Professors, doctors, lawyers do not get pass the 60,000 rupees.
He’s at 10 million. What the hell could a slumdog possibly know? ”. In order to prove his innocence and dispel the accusations of cheating, Jamal recounts his story of growing up in the slums of Mumbai and how the unique experiences set him up to know the answers to all the questions, so far. As Jamal retells his story we learn about his lost love Latika and the extent he will go to be reunited with her. Interestingly, it is often in his long search for Latika, that leads Jamal to learn many of the answers to the questions he is asked during the show. The popular American Who wants to be a Millionaire’s “recognizable to audiences in over 50 countries and gives the film it’s narrative background” (Rich 8). The first question Jamal is asked during the show is who is the star of the popular Indian film Zanjeer? Through an early flashback of his youth, we see Jamal trying desperately to get the autograph of a popular Indian movie star. Going as far as to jump into a pile of excrement when his older brother Salim locks him inside an outhouse, we see a determined Jamal weaving through the mass of fans in order to get the autograph of Amitabh Bachchan, who subsequently also starred in Zanjeer.
As globalization certainly influenced the rise and popularity of Indian cinema, especially Bollywood films, it also created a huge fan base and following which provided an environment where normal Indian citizens could idolize and worship such stars as Amitabh Bachchan. The next time we see Jamal directly impacted by globalization is after the death of his mother at the hands of Muslim gangs. Orphaned and living on the outskirts of a landfill, scavenging for food to merely survive, Jamal, his brother Salim and Latika are lured to an orphanage run by a gangster Maman by offering them bottles of Coca-Cola soft drinks.
Once in the orphanage, they learn of the ill-intentions of Maman, who blinds children and forces them into begging on street corners. Before escaping with the help of his brother Salim, Jamal learns the lyrics to the popular song Darshan Do Ghanshyam by Sant Surdas which proves to be another answer to a question on his quest for $20,000,000 rupees. Salim and Jamal survive the next several years by utilizing capitalism and their entrepreneurial spirit to support themselves. Barefoot, broke and ungry, the boys find themselves outside the Taj Mahal, where they steal shoes for themselves with Jamal, wearing a pair of Chuck Taylors and his brother Salim donning a pair of Western cowboy boots. The boys soon return and are shown stealing several pairs of shoes, which they then take to the main streets of India and hawk them to locals as “American style shoes”. The boys take their money making schemes further by providing tours through the Taj Mahal and guiding foreign tourists around India. Jamal takes Salim back to Mumbai in search for Latika, the girl he loves.
Upon finding she is a prostitute working for Marman, the boys attempt to rescue her which ends with Salim killing Marman. After running away and seeking refuge in an old hotel, Salim pulls his Colt revolver on Jamal in order to have his way sexually with Latika. Jamal then leaves his brother and the girl he loves as he seeks out a life of his own. Years later, we find Jamal working as an errand runner for an Indian call center which handles tech support and warranty information for multi-national companies. While sitting in for a co-worker, he uses the data base to search for his Latika, but to no avail.
A subsequent search for his brother and a follow-up phone call leads to a reunion of the two brothers. Salim is now a top lieutenant for an Indian crime lord and Latika is now the wife of the crime lord. After an impromptu meeting with Latika, Jamal offers to wait for her everyday at 5pm at the train station. Latika, who finally decides to meet him, has her plan spoiled by Salim and his gang who prevent her from running away with Jamal. As a last resort, and a means of reaching out one more time to Latika, Jamal makes it on to Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Latika’s favorite show. Jamal uses his life experiences from the slums of Mumbai to get through all but the last question on the show. When asked the final question, “In Alexander Dumas’ book “The Three Musketeers”, two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What is the name of the third Musketeer? ”. Jamal does not know the answer and chooses to phone a friend. Expecting to call his brother, he is surprised to have Latika answer the phone. After learning she is safe, Jamal guesses on the final question rather than take the guaranteed $10,000,000 rupees.
Jamal’s desire of love over material things is most important to him, therefore he has nothing to lose by guessing the answer. Jamal utilizes Western thought and influences of globalization in an attempt to free himself and ultimately reunite with his lost love. It is through Jamal’s pursuit and triumph of the American influenced show Who Wants to be a Millionaire which provides the metaphorical vehicle to connect with his lost love and the money enared from winning allows him to break free from the constraints of the Indian caste system and finally be with his one true love. In academia, it is known that globalization affects the lives of individuals, Slumdog Millionaire sets out to demonstrate how globalization enhances the lives of the individual, as well.
Slumdog Millionaire, Dir. Boyle, Danny. Searchlight 2008 Film. Rich, Frank, “Who Wants to Kick a Millionaire? ” New York Times 302. 36 (December 2008). Academic Search Elite (EBSCO). Internet Movie Data Base, retrieved 23 January 2011. Website