Slumdog Millionaire: Class and Race

The hero of Dany Boyle’s award-winning drama “Slumdog Millionaire” is clearly an underdog.  And that’s why the film works, says scribe Simon Beaufoy.

“These kinds of characters are still underrepresented in cinema,” especially in his native U.K, says Beaufoy.

“For a brief period there was such a thing as the working-class hero, but we’ve all become middle-class. We’ve written ourselves out, into a ‘sophisticated’ place.” India, with its startling contrasts of wealth and poverty, offered a new approach.

Anything Possible in India

“What’s brilliant about India is that anything’s possible. It’s a young country, like America. I’ve got this naive optimism that the underdog can prevail and overcome, and transposing that to somewhere as uncynical and romantic as India gave me a whole new lease on life.”


Story’s Premise

Today is the biggest day in Jamal Malik’s life. A penniless, eighteen year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, he’s one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” But when the show breaks for the night, suddenly, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. After all, how could an uneducated street kid possibly know so much

Determined to get to the bottom of Jamal’s story, the jaded Police Inspector spends the night probing Jamal’s incredible past, from his riveting tales of the slums where he and his brother Salim survived by their wits to his hair-raising encounters with local gangs to his heartbreak over Latika, the unforgettable girl he loved and lost.

Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out.

The project was initiated at Film4 who co-developed and co-financed the film with UK production company Celador Films. The film is produced by Celador’s Christian Colson. Film4 chief Tessa Ross and Celador Films Chairman Paul Smith act as executive producers. The cast includes Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan, Madhur Mittal and Freida Pinto.

Slumming It: Origins of a Gritty, Rollicking Fairy Tale

The global adventure of making “Slumdog Millionaire” began with an unpublished manuscript from an obscure Indian writer: The debut novel of diplomat Vikas Swarup, “Q&A,” which traced the circuitous story of a young slum-dweller charged with foul play after winning a massive fortune on the nation’s most popular TV quiz show. The story’s mix-mastering of high comedy with deep poignancy, and its journey through a modern India teeming with equal parts human strife and human wonder, attracted the attention of executive producer Tessa Ross, the head of film and drama at Channel 4.

Seeing in the story an emotional power and distinctive cinematic potential, Ross in turn showed the manuscript to screenwriter Simon Beaufoy, best known for his Oscar-nominated original screenplay for the runaway comic hit “The Full Monty,” which featured the equally unlikely scenario of six unemployed steelworkers forming an all-male strip act. Beaufoy was soon completely drawn in, first, by this new and different take on the classic rag-to-riches (or is it rags-to-rajah) fairytale, where our hero overcomes enormous obstacles to reach an uplifting conclusion; and second, to the extraordinary backdrop against which the story is set.

He was especially excited because he believed that the story would reveal to Western cinemagoers a compelling side of India few have seen before, one of the heaving populous, massively diverse mega-cities growing throughout the world. “The book reveals Mumbai as a city in fast-forward,” he says. “It’s like a Dickensian London brought into the 21st century. It’s rapidly developing. The poor are poorer than ever before. The rich are richer than ever before. And there’s this mass of people in the middle, trying to force their way up. It’s a fantastic setting for a fairy tale.”

The challenge for Beaufoy was to retain the kaleidoscopic soul of the novel, but at the same time, translate its yearning, comical, romantic characters and disparate events into a tightly woven screenplay structure full of dynamic tension and creative interplay.

“The biggest problem in converting the book to a screenplay was that it was effectively a series of stories, twelve short stories,” Beaufoy explains, “some of which weren’t even linked in any way. It had no over-arching narrative. Some of the stories were almost discreet little tales that had no reference to the main characters at all.”

So Beaufoy meticulously picked his way through the novel¬ís many narratives and forged a through-line that would take the audience from beginning to end via Jamal’s tale-spinning at the behest of the Police Inspector. “My job was to find the overall narrative, to trace a storyline that went all the way through Jamal¬ís life, while still being able to jump back to the story of the police interrogation and the finale of ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire¬í It was quite a challenge.”

As Jamal flashes back on all the circumstances, some harrowing, others enlivening, that brought him to this moment of dire suspense on “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire,” Beaufoy lets the screenplay jump fluidly across genres. “The fun part was that you could fire off in all different directions in this story,” says Beaufoy. “There are romantic bits, comedy bits, gangster bits ¬ñ and I felt I was able to explore them all and still somehow encapsulate them all in a single tone, which was lovely for me. It gives the film a more dynamic feeling because it¬ís never stuck in just one genre.”

When the screenplay was completed, it was clear that Beaufoy had met the challenge of re-shaping the novel into a rapid-fire tale of intrigue and enchantment that would inspire a director’s vision. Producer Christian Colson says: “Simon has a very warm, specific voice which is particularly well suited to this material. He was the one who came up with the new title of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, which we all fell in love with. I guess in classical terms the script is a comedy, it’s a comedy but it also has pain and pathos. It’s a fairytale and like all the best fairytales, it has moments of real darkness and horror. It’s a story that will make you laugh, cry and often gasp.”