Study Guide

Slumdog Millionaire Themes

  • Love

    "India is desperately romantic," screenwriter Simon Beaufoy explains, "utterly unashamed of its sentimentality, its generosity, its fierce pride and massive heart. And of all things, only love can overwhelm the seductive narrative of money that threatens to swamp the story." (Source)

    As Beaufoy points out, Slumdog Millionaire is, at its core, a love story; it is the relationship between Jamal and Latika that is the pounding heartbeat of the film, the light in the darkness that remains when all hope appears lost. For, as the story shows, love conquers all.

    Questions About Love

    1. What might Slumdog Millionaire look like without the love element? Would the story be as effective? Why or why not?
    2. What is responsible for Salim's final act to save Jamal and Latika? Is it an act of love? Or are there other motivations?
    3. Is Slumdog Millionaire sentimental to the point of cheesiness? Or is this sentimentality intentional, and essential to the film's feel?

    Chew on This

    Slumdog Millionaire is a story about familial love as much as it is about romantic love; the fraternal bond that links Jamal and Salim is just as important to the narrative as Jamal's romance with Latika.

    The ending Bollywood-esque dance sequence shows that the greatest love story in this movie is between Jamal and his community.

  • Society and Class

    India is the world's second most populous nation, and an emerging powerhouse in the global economy. However, given its status as a newly-industrialized country, India remains one of the most unequal nations in the world, home both to staggering poverty and tremendous wealth.

    Through Jamal's story, we see both sides of this coin. As a so-called "slumdog," Jamal embodies the grit and vigor of the nation's poor, who, against all odds, find ways to survive and even thrive. But Slumdog Millionaire shows that even in the most challenging circumstances, and in the face of incredible hardship, there's always hope to dream big and achieve greatness.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. Why does Salim choose the life of a gangster? Can we sympathize with his decisions?
    2. Why does Prem, the game show host, attempt to take down Jamal?
    3. Why is the entire country practically rooting for Jamal on the game show?
    4. What does "success" mean for Jamal? How might his idea of success differ from that of Salim, Latika, Prem, or some of the other characters?

    Chew on This

    Slumdog Millionaire is nothing but a fairy tale; in reality, it would be impossible for someone like Jamal to escape poverty.

    The conflict between Jamal and Prem on the game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, emphasizes the seductive danger of money.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Fate plays a major role in Slumdog Millionaire—Jamal believes it's the guiding force in his life. He knows in his heart that his destiny is leading him back to Latika, and to a future with her.

    Sure enough, fueled by his deep conviction, he succeeds in finding his loved one and actualizing this fate. Indeed, his wholehearted belief in this quest gives him faith when all hope should be lost.

    Questions About Fate and Free Will

    1. Is it really fate that has determined Jamal's path? Or is Jamal in control, making the right choices to achieve his goal?
    2. Jamal is pretty sold on the idea that his destiny is to be with Latika, but is there any indication that she feels the same way?
    3. What is the meaning of the phrase "It is written?" and what does it suggest about the role of fate and free will in the film?

    Chew on This

    Winning 20 million rupees is an act of fate; it was Jamal's destiny.

    Jamal's Muslim upbringing influenced his strong belief in fate and destiny, even though he largely abandoned religion in a traditional sense following the death of his mother in the Hindu/Muslim riots.

  • Perseverance

    While there is certainly something to be said for the role of fate and destiny in Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal's perseverance in the face of incredible hardship can't be understated.

    He believes wholeheartedly in his mission to find and ultimately rescue Latika, and will do whatever it takes to succeed. To say that his road is rough is an understatement; Jamal must overcome the death of his mother, destitute poverty, the wrath of sadistic slumlords, and even torture at the hands of the police, to achieve his goal. Yet Jamal, our scrappy, resilient hero, just won't take no for an answer.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What unique character traits and qualities allow Jamal to persevere against all odds?
    2. Salim and Latika have no shortage of obstacles to overcome in their own lives—how do they persevere as well?
    3. What can we learn from the characters of Slumdog Millionaire about achieving our goals?

    Chew on This

    Jamal's success in reuniting with Latika has nothing to do with destiny or fate, and everything to do with his relentless devotion to this quest.

    Latika, too, has been able to persevere in her own way, doing whatever is in her power to survive in an extremely dangerous world.