Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy's adaptation of Vikas Swarup's novel Q&A is a Dickensian melodrama set in contemporary Mumbai where Jamal (Dev Patel), an uneducated "chaiwalla" (tea server) from the slums, has just made it to the final round of India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire... but the show's host, and the cops, think he's cheating. After being arrested and brutally interrogated, Jamal explains – question by question, flashback by flashback – how he arrived at the right answers, based on specific incidents in his rough and tumble life.
I can see why Slumdog Millionaire is a major crowdpleaser: it's suspenseful, the actors are appealing, and Boyle's gritty Indian spin lends a City of God-like urgency to a storyline that is a potential minefield of cliches: the damsel in distress, the ne'er-do-well brother, the cast of shady grifters straight out of Oliver Twist. But it works, and that is no doubt the result of the built-in tension of the internationally popular Who Wants to Be a Millionaire program, which figures prominently in the last act, as well as the exotic locales and fresh faces.
Sure, the film is calculated, and cheaply manipulative at times, but it's still a lively two hours, old-fashioned in (mostly) the best sense of the term.