I had no idea what to expect going into this movie, watching it with my mom. But I walked out amazed, having really gotten into the story and been taken on a rollercoaster ride through a very eventful life.
The movie is almost a fairytale portrayed with gritty realism. It hits many of the notes of a lot of fairytales: crappy childhood, cruel brother, life of poverty, life of slavery, disproportionate retribution, lovers seperated and then attempting to reunite, and, of course, a Rags To Riches
story. In India, it's viewed as a Cliche Storm
of Indian movies. It can also be called a Cliche Storm
of fairy tale conventions, if you think about it.
But to paraphrase Roger Ebert, the story itself is not as important as the telling. And what a telling!
Each phase of Jamal's life has its own hardships and positive points, and we get to empathize with him in each of them, something a mere quick fairytale story cannot do. It really gets you into Jamal's story and makes it easier to root for him as he tries to overcome his own past and become so much more. Take for example his life as a slave, begging random strangers for money to give back to his boss. We get plenty of insight into not only the kids' activities as "professional" beggars during that time, but also see their home life and how bad it is, as well as the moments of fun they have inbetween. Even during the worst of times, the characters still manage to find ways to have fun and laugh. Any one "chapter" of the movie's story could in fact be movie-length in itself, and there would be plenty of material for an interesting movie in that alone.
And speaking of laughing, there's plenty of natural humor to break up the mood. Jamal's quick visual fantasy of knocking his brother off a construction site in retaliation for everything that he'd done to him his whole life is both funny and, due to its meaning, sad. You almost wish he could do it for real. One of the better scenes, IMO, involves Jamal's temporary working of a phone at a call center. It's as awkward as you might think.
Bottom line: this is a great movie, and an "epic" in at least one literal sense of the word. It takes you on a journey through many scenes of an eventful life, while bringing you on a rollercoaster ride of different emotions. It's very much worth checking out.