Slumdog Millionaire makes frequent shout-outs—or allusions, as we call them in the literary biz—to French writer Alexandre Dumas' classic story of The Three Musketeers.
Early on in the film, we see Jamal and Salim as youngsters arriving late to school, where their classmates are reading Three Musketeers. Their teacher admonishes the brothers for their tardiness, calling them "Athos" and "Porthos," "our very own musketeers."
Later on, following the riots and the death of their mother, Jamal and Salim meet Latika. Jamal suggests that Latika could become their "third musketeer," despite Salim's protests. Sure enough, Latika joins their team, and the three musketeers develop a strong bond… until Maman captures them, altering the course of their lives forever.
The Three Musketeers returns for one last encore in the movie's climax, in the form of Jamal's final question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. In a moment of irony, Jamal is asked the name of the third musketeer, after Athos and Porthos—a piece of information that Jamal never actually learned.
(We at Shmoop think the moral of this film is to read Dumas… but our Lit Nerd-itis could just be flaring up again.)
Jamal's able to speak with Latika, the third musketeer herself, via the phone-a-friend lifeline, but she doesn't know the answer either. (Again: if you get a literary nickname, learn the origin of your dang literary nickname. You'd want to know what was up if, for example, someone started calling you "The Prince of Denmark.")
But Latika's lack of lit knowledge doesn't faze Jamal. He's happy just knowing she's a-okay. Confident that his third musketeer is safely free, Jamal guesses the correct answer: Aramis.
In addition to being a clever motif that eventually brings us full circle in a serendipitous and satisfying resolution, the allusions to The Three Musketeers shows us the camaraderie shared between Jamal, Salim, and Latika—much like Athos, Porthos, and Aramis of Dumas' tale.
But because we can't just take an allusion to a great French novel without unpacking it, we're going to look at the characters of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.
We know that a parallel is drawn between Aramis and Latika—so who's this Aramis guy? Well, he's basically a charmed dude. Aramis, like Latika, is effortlessly good at most things. And, like Latika, he's portrayed as virtuous.
That brings us to Porthos, Salim's Dumasian counterpart. Porthos is a braggart. He's obsessed with status. He wants to be rich. Sounds like Salim, right? But when it comes right down to it, Porthos, like Salim, is a stand-up guy and willing to sacrifice a lot for his fellow Musketeers.
Finally, we have Athos… or, as we like to call him, Old French Jamal. Athos is wise, knowledgeable, and totally honorable. He's also hopelessly in love with a woman he's been parted from. A familiar character? We thought so, too.