'Slumdog' Actor Dev Patel On 'Living The Dream'

Dev Patel i i

Dev Patel arrives at the Screen Actors Guild Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 25, 2009. Patel was nominated in the supporting actor category. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
Dev Patel

Dev Patel arrives at the Screen Actors Guild Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on Jan. 25, 2009. Patel was nominated in the supporting actor category.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
'Slumdog' dance sequence i i

Patel filmed the final dance sequence of Slumdog Millionaire with an injured foot. He jokes that the film's choreographer called him "a cross between Jim Carrey and Michael Jackson." Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight
'Slumdog' dance sequence

Patel filmed the final dance sequence of Slumdog Millionaire with an injured foot. He jokes that the film's choreographer called him "a cross between Jim Carrey and Michael Jackson."

Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight

The Oscar-nominated film Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a Mumbai street kid who makes an improbable run on the Indian version of the television show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?.

It's a small film with a big heart, and perhaps no one appreciates the rags-to-riches theme as much as Dev Patel, the 18-year-old Londoner with no formal acting training who plays the lead.

"If you asked me a year ago would I ever have been doing a movie with [director] Danny Boyle, I would have absolutely laughed in your face," Patel tells Liane Hansen.

Patel describes himself as "a very lucky kid," with parents who supported his desire to be an actor. His path to the big screen began when his mother suggested he attend an open audition in London for a small teen drama. He snagged a part in the production, and when the daughter of director Danny Boyle saw his performance, she recommended him for the role in her father's film.

From there, it was off to Mumbai, where Slumdog filmed for four months. To prepare for his role, Patel visited the city's slums, hawked tea in a telephone call center and scrubbed dishes in the kitchen of a hotel. And, he says, he fell in love with the teeming mega city, which he fondly describes as "a shock to all senses."

"As soon as you step off the plane — bang! — you're hit with a wall of heat, and your clothes become sweaty all of the sudden and the air smells different," says Patel. "Someone called it the smell of sweat and dreams, which I really love."

As for Patel, he says that he feels like he's "living the dream."

"I feel so blessed," says the young actor. "I'm not thinking too far ahead at the moment. I'm just trying to enjoy each moment right now and just go with the flow."

'Slumdog Millionaire': Mumbai Jackpot

Jamal Malik and Anil Kapoor as Prem Kumar i i

His final answer: With the odds against him, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) gives game-show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) a run for his money. Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight
Jamal Malik and Anil Kapoor as Prem Kumar

His final answer: With the odds against him, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) gives game-show host Prem Kumar (Anil Kapoor) a run for his money.

Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight

Slumdog Millionaire

  • Directors: Danny Boyle,                   Loveleen Tandan
  • Genre: Drama, Romance
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

Rated R for some violence, disturbing images and language.

Jamal Malik and Irfan Khan as Police Inspector i i

The police inspector (Irfan Khan) refuses to believe that the "slumdog" Jamal just "knew the answers," insisting his success on the show is just a scam. Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight
Jamal Malik and Irfan Khan as Police Inspector

The police inspector (Irfan Khan) refuses to believe that the "slumdog" Jamal just "knew the answers," insisting his success on the show is just a scam.

Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight
Dev Patel as Jamal Malik and Freida Pinto as Latika i i

Jamal Malik is constantly trying to rescue Latika (Freida Pinto), the love of his life, from catastrophe. Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight hide caption

itoggle caption Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight
Dev Patel as Jamal Malik and Freida Pinto as Latika

Jamal Malik is constantly trying to rescue Latika (Freida Pinto), the love of his life, from catastrophe.

Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight

The odds are always stacked against even the smartest contestants on a TV game show, but the odds against 18-year-old Jamal Malik — the Mumbai-born "slumdog" of the title — are reeeeally steep.

This is a kid with no education. He was orphaned at 7, grew up in the endless shantytowns around India's commercial capital, and now serves tea as a profession.

None of this has prepared him for the sort of questions they ask on the Indian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire:

"In Alexander Dumas' book The Three Musketeers, two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What was the name of the third Musketeer?"

The likelihood that Jamal, or for that matter any friend he might conceivably phone, will be able to answer such a question is so slim — and he has done so well at the game — that the show calls in the police to find out what his scam is. Between his TV appearances, they try to beat a confession out of him. All he can tell them is, "I knew the answers."

The camera, though, whooshes back to how he knew them — life lessons from a childhood almost Dickensian in its deprivation and excess. There were manipulative adults, brutal authority figures and a brother who went as wrong as Jamal went right.

Also wild good times and a girl named Latika, to whom Jamal has been devoted, and whom he's been trying to rescue from various calamities since he was 7 years old.

It would be hard to overstate how gloriously frenetic Slumdog Millionaire gets as its story leaps from fistfights atop luxury high-rises to the harrowing anti-Muslim riots that kill Jamal's mother to the playfully raucous tourist scams he and his brother run at the Taj Mahal.

The film was shot not on sets like some Bollywood romance, but in the real, teeming, boisterous Mumbai. It has a cleverly intricate screenplay by the writer of The Full Monty and direction by Trainspotting's Danny Boyle, who almost seems to be remaking that earlier movie, only with lots more romance and a plot hopped up on subcontinental steroids.

Young Dev Patel, who plays Jamal, races through eye-popping, music-fueled action sequences like some latter-day D'Artagnan, always intent — even when he's appearing on TV — on finding and rescuing the love of his life, who forever seems to be just out of reach.

Romantic, action-packed and always held together by an intriguing social conscience, Slumdog Millionaire is a rapturous crowd pleaser. I realize it's also a tad foreign to be mainstream movie fare in America — but if there's any justice, it's going to be a huge hit.

Ours is, after all, an age when cross-cultural impulses inflect everything from music to presidential elections. And Slumdog could hardly be more cross-cultural: a romantic adventure set in India, financed in Europe, made by English filmmakers, featuring Muslim characters speaking Hindi, with a climax hinging on the answer to a question about a French novel. And it's a blast. (Recommended)

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