As is the case in most years, I had only seen a handful of the films that were nominated for the major Academy Awards. I suspect I was like a lot of American moviegoers who say, “Hmmm, I’ve never heard of that movie,” when the nominations come out.
One of the movies which pretty much fell into that category was Best Picture-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” At the time of the nomination there was a vague recognition because there had already been a buzz about it.
All the pre-Oscar predictions proved right, that the film was the shoo-in to pile up the awards. When I left the theater Friday night, I was struck that while the movie is not particularly religious, it is quite spiritual.
Here’s a quick snapshot, and I won’t ruin the ending if you haven’t seen it.
The protagonist, Jamal Malik, is on the verge of attempting the million-dollar question (in Indian rupees), when the show ends. He is promptly arrested because the suspicion is he’s been cheating. How could a guy who grew up in the smothering poverty of the Mumbai shanty-towns possibly have all this knowledge?
Through the serendipitous tale of Jamal’s life we see how he knows the answers and how the two key relationships in his life, with his best friend Samir and his lost love Latika, shape his destiny.
If it sounds like a fairy tale dressed in 21st century garb, it is. It has all the earmarks: money, power, love and relationships. From a storytelling standpoint, Christians will find plenty of links to biblical concepts.
The only time when religion comes into play is in one of the questions on the “Millionaire” show, where Jamal is asked what a Hindu god is holding in one of his hands. He remembers it through the lens of a gang of Hindus ransacking Jamal’s predominantly Muslim slum in which his mother is killed.
Jamal’s faith in the eternal power of love underscores his and the film’s spirituality. It isn’t a new concept, and rather analogous to the love Jesus displayed for humanity by his death.
The final lasting impression are the images of India. I have never been there, but the depth and breadth of the nation’s poverty is displayed graphically in a way that goes beyond ordinary news coverage. It compared well to what a close friend of mine described to me after a business trip there last year.