Danny Boyle (Sunshine) directed this wildly energetic, Dickensian drama about the desultory life and times of an Indian boy whose bleak, formative experiences lead to an appearance on his country's version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" Jamal (played as a young man by Dev Patel) and his brother are orphaned as children, raising themselves in various slums and crime-ridden neighorhoods and falling in, for a while, with a monstrous gang exploiting children as beggars and prostitutes. Driven by his love for Latika (Freida Pinto), Jamal, while a teen, later goes on a journey to rescue her from the gang's clutches, only to lose her again to another oppressive fate as the lover of a notorious gangster.
Running parallel with this dark yet irresistible adventure, told in flashback vignettes, is the almost inexplicable sight of Jamal winning every challenge on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," a strong showing that leads to a vicious police interrogation. As Jamal explains how he knows the answer to every question on the show as the result of harsh events in his knockabout life, the chaos of his existence gains shape, perspective and soulfulness. The film's violence is offset by a mesmerizing exotica shot and edited with a great whoosh of vitality. Boyle successfully sells the story's most unlikely elements with nods to literary and cinematic conventions that touch an audience's heart more than its head.