Universal topics bring film closer to home

‘Slumdog Millionaire’

Rated R

Grade: A-

Opens Nov. 21

There are no marquee stars in director Danny Boyle’s new film “Slumdog Millionaire.” And the streets of Mumbai, India, are not your normal setting for a blockbuster studio picture. But that doesn’t mean this often heartbreaking, but ultimately heartwarming movie feels at all foreign. In fact, once you settle in to the unusual backdrop, it feels more like it was ripped right out of a Hollywood “how to” book, particularly the chapters about siblings, true love and destiny.

Based on the best selling novel “Q&A” by Vikas Swarup, the story centers around the lives of two boys, Jamal and his older brother Salim, who run among a pack of “slumdog” children on the dirty streets of Mumbai. Life here is chaotic, colorful and shockingly cruel, and we learn about it all through a series of flashback sequences that originate from an unlikely jumping off point - the Indian version of the popular television game show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire,” where Jamal is just one question away from winning a record 20 million rupees.

After the boys are tragically orphaned, they are left to fend for themselves and soon team up with a street urchin girl named Latika. These “Three Musketeers,” as they call themselves, endure horrors and joy, separations and reunions. But as horrific as their lives are, there is still an inexplicable sense of hope and confidence in their ability to survive.

There is a lot of Oscar buzz about this film and, for the most part, it’s easy to see why. If anything, it reminds you that there are countless stories still to be told, if only Hollywood studios are willing to look for them outside the U.S. But the film is also a reminder of just how small the word is when it comes to the universal (perhaps cliche) themes that touch each of us, no matter where, or how, we live.