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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. The new film "Slumdog Millionaire" is based on an Indian novel called "Q&A". It's about a TV quiz show contestant from the slums of Mumbai. The film has been winning awards at festivals and inspiring reviews that mention the possibility of Oscar nominations. And our critic, Bob Mondello, thinks the Oscar talk is justified.

BOB MONDELLO: 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 "slumdog" of the title, are really steep. This is a kid with no education. He was orphaned at seven, grew up in the endless shantytowns around Mumbai, and now serves tea as a profession, which has not prepared him for the sort of questions they ask on the Indian version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

Mr. ANIL KAPOOR (As Prem Kumar): In Alexander Dumas' book, "The Three Musketeers," two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What was the name of the third Musketeer?

Mr. DEV PATEL (As Jamal Malik): I'd like to phone a friend.

Mr. KAPOOR (As Prem Kumar): Here we go.

(Soundbite of phone dialing)

MONDELLO: The likelihood of Jamal - or for that matter, anyone he might conceivably call - being able to answer this sort of question is so slim, and he has done so well, 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. But 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 depravation 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 who he's been trying to rescue from various calamities since he was seven-years-old.

(Soundbite of movie "Slumdog Millionaire")

Mr. PATEL (As Jamal Malik): Latika! Latika!

MONDELLO: It would be hard to overstate how gloriously frenetic "Slumdog Millionaire" gets as its story leaps from the harrowing anti-Muslim riot that kills Jamal's mother, to the playfully raucous tourist scams that he and his brother run at the Taj Mahal, to fistfights atop luxury high-rises. 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" director Danny Boyle, who almost seems to be remaking that earlier movie, but with a plot hopped up on Indian steroids and lots more romance. Dev Patel, who plays Jamal, races through eye-popping, music-fueled action sequences like some latter-day D'Artagnan, always intent, even when appearing on TV, on finding and rescuing the love of his life, who forever seems to be just out of reach.

(Soundbite of "Slumdog Millionaire")

Mr. KAPOOR (As Prem Kumar): You are on your own, Jamal.

(Soundbite of phone ringing)

Ms. FREIDA PINTO (As Latika): Hello.

(Soundbite of crowd gasping)

Ms. PINTO (As Latika): Hello, Jamal.

MONDELLO: Romantic, action-packed, and with a fervent social conscience holding it all together, "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 Millionaire" 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. I'm Bob Mondello.

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