Jamal Malik is one question away from winning twenty million rupees. How did he do it?
A) He cheated
B) He’s lucky
C) He’s a genius
D) It is written
So begins our journey with Jamal (Dev Patel) in “Slumdog Millionaire”, as he guesses questions on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” But when we first see him (and the film switches back and forth between different points in time), he is being beaten and almost tortured to confess that he cheated—he has just gotten the second-to-last question correct, and no one suspects that a poor boy like him could make it that far without help. But Jamal insists he knew the answers, all coming from memories he has of his childhood.
His childhood, and his entire life, has not been a pleasant one. He grew up in the slums of Mumbai, often at odds with his brother Salim (played as a young adult by Madhur Mittal). One day, their mother is killed in a riot against Muslims, and they have to run away. They eventually find a girl about Jamal’s age named Latika (played as a young woman by Freida Pinto), who accompanies them for a time as they travel around Mumbai, even living in a garbage dump (one that isn’t too unlike the ones I’ve seen in Trujillo, Peru).
One day at the dump, a man named Maman (Ankur Vidal) comes and offers them a soda, then taking him to his “orphanage”. Dozens of kids are there that Maman sends out into the streets as beggars. Some of them he even goes so far as to blind them himself. When Salim and Jamal realize one night that he is doing this, Salim takes some of the liquid that Maman uses to blind the kids, throws a pan of it at Maman and scars him, and the two brothers and Latika run off again. They try catching a train, but Latika is unable to make it with them.
Years later, the two boys are in their pre-teens, pretending to be guides around the Taj Mahal so they can try and con tourists out of money. One day, they decide to return to Mumbai so Jamal can look for Latika, whom he has missed. They find that Maman got her and is about to sell her as a virgin prostitute. The boys rescue her, and Salim uses a gun nearby to shoot and kill Maman. The three find a place to stay together for a while until Salim finds Javed (Mahesh Manjrekar), Maman’s rival crime lord, and gets a job working for him. Salim shuns Jamal and keeps him from Latika.
Years later, Jamal has found a job as a chaiwala (a tea server) at a Mumbai call center, which makes for a funny scene of Jamal as one of those Indian telemarketers. But one day, he gets a chance to call his brother: he is able to reach him and meet with him. And he eventually goes to Javed’s house and finds Latika. He promises her he will wait at a local train station for her everyday so they can be together. But one day, when she does come, Salim and other men of Javed’s take her back, which prompts Jamal to get her to see him somehow that he knows she will see: he goes on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
But when the host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) tries feeding him a wrong answer and Jamal still gets it right, he gets the police to question him. But after the police listen to his story, they believe him, let him go, and allow Jamal to answer the final question on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” And long story short, Jamal wins, and he and Latika are reunited at the train station finally.
JAMAL: I knew you’d be watching.
LATIKA: I thought we’d meet again only in death.
JAMAL: This is our destiny.
So I guess the answer is D) It is written. I remember seeing the film for the first time about four years ago, and it didn’t hit me until a couple years later what this implies. “Slumdog Millionaire” suggests that the only reason Jamal got from being a child in the slums to a millionaire in love was because it was his “destiny”, his fate; it was just supposed to happen.
And this brings up a question that I’m sure many Christians (including myself) ask. If God knows our innermost being (as Psalm 139 tells us), and He knows the plans He has for those who suffer for His name (as Jeremiah 29:11 tells us), then does that mean we are ultimately unable to make our own life choices? This is kind of a conflicting issue when we word it like this.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20: “‘This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’”