[Repeated image of Latika at the train station]
These shots anticipate the story's central relationship from the first moments of the film, even if this element of the plot is not explicitly revealed for a while. The striking image of Latika in yellow becomes a motif that repeats throughout the film at key moments.
JAMAL: She could be the third musketeer!
SALIM: I'm the elder in this family now, and I say she's not coming in, okay? In any case, we don't even know the name of the third bloody musketeer.
Early on we establish Jamal as the more compassionate of the two brothers, and his desire to welcome Latika into the fold is sincere. Salim, however, accepting the role as caretaker of his younger brother, prioritizes the survival of family first.
LATIKA: You're a sweet boy, Jamal.
The innocent sweetness of this moment shared between Latika and Jamal in the empty hotel is soon disrupted by Salim, who betrays their trust when he violently removes his brother from the room.
POLICE INSPECTOR: Money and women – the reasons to make the most mistakes in life. It looks like you are mixed up in both.
This quote sets up the parallel themes of love and money that dominate Slumdog Millionaire; indeed Jamal finds himself mixed up in a situation involving money and women. However the irony here is that Jamal has no interest in money: he goes on the show not to win, but to find Latika.
JAMAL: I will never forgive you.
SALIM: I know.
When the brothers finally meet again, it's clear that there has been some love lost. Yet we can see in this small moment of honest humanity that Salim recognizes the pain he has caused Jamal—a baby step towards healing the wounds he caused.
LATIKA: Why are you here?
JAMAL: To see you.
LATIKA: Well, you see me. Now what.
Jamal puts his life on the line to see Latika in this moment, driven by his unwavering love for her. However, in contrast to Jamal's naïve idealism, Latika has a much more pragmatic view of the odds they are up against, recognizing the danger he has put them both in. Out of her love for Jamal, Latika tells him he must leave and forget about her—his only chance for survival.
SALIM: Go. Just drive. There won't be another chance.
LATIKA: He will kill you.
SALIM: I'll take care of him.
This final exchange between Salim and Latika sets up Salim's final act of redemption; they both understand the gravity of this profound sacrifice. Yet Salim knows that in order to reaffirm his love for Jamal and Latika, reassuming his role as brother and protector, this is the only course of action.
JAMAL: Is that really you?
PREM: The question, Jamal, the question!
Once again, we're reminded why Jamal went on the show in the first place. It wasn't for money, glory, or fame, but for love—for Latika. In this instant, his priorities are clear, and the million-dollar question becomes irrelevant.
JAMAL: I knew you'd be watching.
LATIKA: I thought we'd be together only in death.
At last Jamal and Latika are safely reunited. Together, through their love for each other, they can begin to heal the trauma of their past.
PREM: And what does an assistant phone basher do exactly?
JAMAL: I get tea for people.
PREM: A chai wallah!
Given his profession, host and audience alike immediately assume Jamal to be unintelligent and uncultured. Needless to say, nobody expects much from our young hero.
INSPECTOR: What the hell can a slumdog possibly know?
It is from the police inspector that we first hear the titular term "slumdog" used disparagingly to describe Jamal. This word, however, is not Indian in origin, invented instead by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and director Danny Boyle for the film. But it does successfully communicate the disgust felt by certain members of the upper classes towards slum dwellers.
[The "O…Saya" montage]
This vibrant sequence follows Jamal and Salim as youngsters through the winding alleyways of Juhu, as they attempt to elude a couple of policemen. With R.A. Rahman's rhythmic soundtrack propelling the action forward, we begin to get a sense of the frenetic feel and immense scale of the slum.
INSPECTOR: My five-year-old daughter can answer this question. But you couldn't. That's strange for a millionaire genius.
Jamal likely does not know the seemingly obvious answer to this question because he never completed a formal education. However, Jamal's response—in which he notes the going rate for pani puri—reveals that like his fellow slum dwellers he isn't stupid, nor a genius, but rather has acquired a completely different set of skills and knowledge that helps him navigate life in the slums.
JAMAL: If it wasn't for Rama and Allah, I'd still have a mother.
Following the end of British colonial rule in 1947, the British Indian Empire was partitioned into three separate chunks: Pakistan in the west, East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in the east, with present day India in the center. This division, prompting likely the largest mass migration in history, was based primarily on religion, with the majority of Muslims winding up in East and West Pakistan, and the majority of Sikhs and Hindus landing in India. (Source)
However there has long been tension throughout the history of modern India between the majority Hindu population and remaining 170 million-plus Muslims, coming to a boiling point in the 1992-3 Bombay riots depicted in this film.
JAMAL: I just need Maman to like my singing, and we're in the money. Big money.
LATIKA: And then what? Can we stop begging?
JAMAL: Beg? Are you kidding? We'll live in a big house on Harbour Road.
From this young age, Jamal and Latika are dreaming of the rags to riches story that their life will eventually become; however, upward mobility in traditional Indian society is just that—a dream—for those on the bottom rung.
JAMAL: Bombay had turned into Mumbai.
In 1995, the largest Indian city of Bombay was renamed "Mumbai" by the newly elected government. This nominal change coincided with a massive push towards modernization, Mumbai abandoning its complicated colonial legacy for a new role as worldwide economic powerhouse going forward into the 21st century. (Source)
SALIM: That used to be our slum. Can you believe that, huh? We used to live right there, man. Now, it's all business. India is at the center of the world, bhai. And I am at the center of the center. This is all Javed-bhai's.
JAMAL: Javed Kahn. The gangster from our slum. You work for him?
In this exchange, Jamal discovers that Salim is now a henchman of slumlord Javed Kahn. Salim has ascended from homeless beggar to powerful mob enforcer, truly a remarkable feat. Jamal simply wonders at what cost.
PREM: A guy from the slums becomes a millionaire overnight. You know who is the only other person who's done that? Me.
Here we get a sense of Prem's story, as host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." His background is similar to that of Jamal, but it's clear his motivations could not be more different. Prem has achieved tremendous wealth and influence, and is desperate to hold onto his status through whatever means necessary. Yet despite his paranoia, Jamal is not there to steal his thunder. He is only there for the much more noble reason of finding Latika—the money would just be a bonus.
[On-screen text: Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?
A. He cheated
B. He's lucky
C. He's a genius
D. It is written]
From this text, one of the first things we see on screen in the film, the relationship between fate and free will is established. Has Jamal defied the odds and clawed his way to the million-dollar question through his own choices? Or are there larger forces at work, as implied by answer D? Perhaps it's a little bit of both.
JAMAL: The answers. I knew the answers.
Slumdog Millionaire takes us on a journey to discover just how Jamal, however improbably, knew these answers.
JAMAL: She could be our third musketeer!
SALIM: We don't even know the name of the third bloody musketeer.
The image of Jamal and Salim as Athos and Porthos, two of the three musketeers, appears frequently in the early stages of the film. Latika soon joins their crew as the third musketeer, whose name they never learned—an ironic twist that will reemerge at a pivotal moment at the climax.
LATIKA: You came back for me.
JAMAL: Of course.
LATIKA: I thought you'd forgotten.
JAMAL: I'd never forget. Not for one moment. I knew I'd find you in the end. It's our destiny.
From this young age, Jamal knows in his heart that it his destiny to be with Latika. He never forgets about her, doing everything in his power to find his loved one, even after their repeated separations.
PREM: Do the right thing in approximately three minutes, and you will be as famous as me. And as rich as me. Almost.
Though it is written, literally, in steam on the bathroom mirror, Jamal knows full well that Prem has fed him the wrong answer. Perhaps Prem's intervention here is fate, seeing as Prem inadvertently gave Jamal the answer to a question he otherwise might have missed.
PREM: Latika, what do you think?
LATIKA: I don't know. I've never known.
Here the imagery of the three musketeers is brought back in the million-dollar question. Yet in an ironic twist, Jamal, nor Latika, ever learned the name of Latika's third musketeer.
PREM: A, because?
JAMAL: Just because.
Jamal is completely unfazed by the fact that he doesn't know this answer, confidently guessing choice A. Perhaps in choosing this answer, however, Jamal trusting destiny—if he's supposed to win the money, he will win, and if he's supposed to lose, he will lose. "Maybe it is written, no?" he tells Prem before taking on the question. Apparently then he was supposed to win, because he chose right.
JAMAL: This is our destiny.
LATIKA: Kiss me.
[On-screen text: D. It is written]
So the ending to the film is a little sentimental. But as the answer to the multiple choice question from the beginning appears on screen, it becomes clear that Jamal and Latika have finally realized their destiny.
INSPECTOR: A little electricity will loosen his tongue.
It takes more than a little torture to shake Jamal, who's been to hell and back in order to get where he is. He's not about to fold now.
JAMAL: YAAAA! AMITABH!
Jamal's determination to meet his hero shows that even from a young age, Jamal has been relentless in achieving any goal to which he sets his mind.
SALIM: He offered a good price, so I sold it.
Salim, however, undermines Jamal's hard work by stealing the autographed picture and selling it for a few rupees for his own benefit. In this contrast between Jamal's principled perseverance, and Salim's more morally ambiguous opportunism, we can see as the two brothers embark down two different paths.
EUROPEAN TOURIST: It says nothing of this in the guidebook.
JAMAL: The guidebook was written by a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing Indian beggars.
Jamal is remarkably quick on his feet, and uses his wit and ingenuity to his advantage to carve out a niche as a tour guide for foreigners. These qualities continually help him survive when all the odds are stacked against him.
SALIM: Maman never forgets, isn't that right?
MAMAN: Maman can make an exception.
SALIM: I can't take that risk.
For the first half of the story, it appears that Salim is concerned above all else with self-preservation. Yet as protector and guardian of Jamal and Latika, he makes the decision to kill Maman in order to save not only himself, but his family as well.
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!
MALE PRODUCER: Well, he's got Prem on the run.
FEMALE PRODUCER: Finally!
As Jamal continues to defy the odds, answering question after question correctly, he has Prem against the ropes—and they both know it.
LATIKA: Jamal. Look at you.
JAMAL: I found you.
Through sheer force of will, Jamal has finally made it into Javed's compound to find Latika.
JAMAL: I'll wait, at V.T. station, every day until you come. I love you.
LATIKA: So what. It's too late, Jamal. Now go.
Even though Latika explains it is best for Jamal's safety, as well as her own, for him to leave and forget about her, Jamal simply won't take no for an answer. He knows she's in danger every day with Javed, and will not quit until she's free.
SALIM: That guy, he will never give up.
Salim certainly hits the nail on the head with this observation; Jamal is the definition of determination.
JAMAL: Where are you?
LATIKA: I'm safe.
We've spent much of this section discussing Jamal's perseverance, but we can't overlook Latika in this conversation. She too has been able to persevere, in her own way.