Right, so let's take a deep breath and move on. So, there's Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), who's just won 10 crore (100 million) rupees in Kaun Banega Crorepati (conveniently, it's still Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the film), and he's just been rewarded with a night in jail, subjected to all kinds of interrogation techniques that Guantanamo Bay would balk at, because the rather condescending host (Anil Kapoor, playing a professional asshole) of the show thinks he's a bloody cheat. After much useless torture, the cops (Irrfan Khan and Saurabh Shukla) decide that it's better to be nice to him, and have him explain how he knew the answer to every single question.
It appears as though every significant event has occurred purely to help young Jamal answer questions on a television quiz show. Except for Latika, a girl orphaned by the same riots as Jamal and Salim. Jamal's hunt for Latika after she's captured by a local Fagin culminates in his appearance on the show, which in turn culminates in, well, expected fashion. Jamal's answers are the result of rather harrowing experiences, some of which are shot with almost poetic elegance by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, including little Jamal's rush through some rather fresh bodily waste, and the extraction of a child's eyeball with a spoon. Everyone knows a blind singer earns double, Jamal tells the cops, explaining how he answered a question correctly.
Every single cliché about India that exists in the West is represented: stifling poverty, organised begging, sleazy tour guides, child abuse and prostitution, the underworld. In attempting to catch them all, Boyle manages to do nothing more than merely stroke their surfaces, and the short-story style does not help at all. It also hurts the characters - they turn out hollow, with none of the three actors assigned to play Jamal, Salim and Latika actually getting into their roles with any conviction. Dev Patel struggles with the role; he comes across as far too polished for the 'slumdog' he's playing, all smoothness and no rough or jagged edges. Anil Kapoor lays on the condescension towards the chaiwallah so thick that you're annoyed with him before his first scene ends. He does get to swear, though, and does so quite naturally. He must have been thrilled with that one.
To be perfectly honest, it took me two days to actually realize all of this. For the two hours that the film runs, it is an exhilarating ride, aided with a percussive, powerful hip-hop soundtrack by A. R. Rahman, an effort far superior to the tripe he has churned out for Bollywood in 2008. Each mini-story is a little puzzle, with a prize at the end: the answer to the quiz question. And the prize, more than the characters or the storylines, is what keeps you hooked, again and again, until the final denouement, a most cheesy Bollywood-type dance sequence set in