We love to hate on Prem Kumar, the slimy host of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Prem appears suave and charismatic enough: he's the ideal game show host. Yet there's something strangely unsettling about him—there's something plastic in his grin and something artificial in his charm.
Just check out this awkward exchange:
PREM: It's getting hot in here!
JAMAL: Are you nervous?
PREM: What? Am I nervous? It's you who's in the hot seat, my friend.
JAMAL: Oh, yes, sorry!
Prem's clearly trying to make Jamal nervous… but Jamal is one cool customer.
Prem's true colors, however, aren't revealed until the final act of the film. In a commercial break, during the second to last question, the host drops in on Jamal in the bathroom. After Jamal reveals that he doesn't know the answer to this challenging question, Prem assures him that he will win; "maybe it's written, my friend," he smiles. Of course, as we know, Prem writes the wrong answer in steam on the bathroom mirror. Thankfully Jamal sees right through the two-faced host.
At this point we understand Prem to be an enemy to Jamal, conspiring to stop our hero in his quest. Prem's identity as a truly scummy dude, though, is sealed when he gets Jamal arrested on suspicion of cheating, a last ditch effort to bring down Jamal. And when Jamal returns to the show after proving his innocence to the police, Prem has to pretend like nothing happened—he's been beaten at his own game by this young upstart from Mumbai.
The Original Slumdog Millionaire
Of course, adding to Prem's complexity is the fact that he actually has a similar life story to Jamal. He reveals that like our hero, he too comes from poverty, like Jamal going from "slumdog" to millionaire over night. Prem has pulled himself up from nothing, achieving tremendous wealth, power, and influence. And in his attempts to take down Jamal, he makes it clear that he'll cling to this newfound status however he can.
In this sense, Prem can be seen as a foil to Jamal—the embodiment of the road Jamal chooses not to go down. As the game show host, Prem is the literal gatekeeper to the tremendous wealth Jamal could win.
But where Prem has been corrupted, Jamal, given his more noble intentions, won't succumb to the same temptations. The irony of course is that Jamal went on the show not to win 20 million rupees, but merely to find Latika. Though in the Indian public's complete and total support of Jamal, the message is clear; it's time for Prem to move aside, because there's a new sheriff in town.