Overall Impression –  A perfect example of how adhering to structure doesn’t hinder a story, but strengthens it.  


Who’s your main character? — Jamal

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: convince the authorities that he didn’t cheat on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, and get back on the show.  Personal: live happily ever after with his love, Latika.  Private: prove to himself that even a slumdog can achieve his wildest dreams.

Who’s trying to stop him? – Nearly everybody, throughout his entire life!  The gangster and the game show host are significant obstacles, but the real antagonist is Jamal’s brother Salim, who comes between him and Latika from beginning to end.

What happens if he fails? – Death threatens everybody Jamal knows, in one form or another.  Not only will he be imprisoned and likely killed, but any chance of a relationship with Latika will die, and she’ll fall into a world of prostitution and gangsters.


Orphan – As a child, Jamal becomes a true orphan when his mother is murdered.

Wanderer — As they struggle to survive the slums, Jamal and Salim negotiate trust, friendship and love when they meet Latika.  A gangster called Maman takes them in under false pretenses, and while Jamal and Salim escape, they lose Latika.  For the next few years, the brothers travel India, scamming and stealing for survival.

Warrior – Eventually, Jamal insists that they find Latika.  When they discover that Maman has raised her as a prostitute, they rescue her, but Salim kills Maman in the process.  He begins work for a rival gangster and takes Latika for himself, telling Jamal to leave, or he’ll kill him.  Jamal tracks them down years later, only to discover that Latika lives with Salim’s boss.  Jamal loses contact with her again, so he enters WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE, knowing that Latika will see him on television.  However, he’s arrested on suspicion of cheating and has to convince his interrogators that his incredible life provided him with the answers.  If he doesn’t get back on that show, he will never find Latika.

Martyr – Salim is a true martyr here, and a strong one at that.  Moved by his brother’s success on the show, he atones for his mistakes by dying so that Latika can escape Salim’s boss and be with Jamal.


This movie succeeded on a number of levels: a riveting and unpredictable story, great characters, many hilarious and touching moments… the list goes on.

Not only is the structure clean, but the FOUR QUESTIONS and FOUR ACHETYPES are clearly and effectively answered.  What this illustrates is that sticking to structure and answering the necessary stages above IN NO WAY hinders creativity, imagination and the telling of an incredible story.  

If anything, it illustrates how it can make it stronger.  For example, Jamal’s personal desire and his main antagonist (Salim) remain the same from childhood to adulthood.  He’s wanted to be with Latika his entire life, been fighting for it his entire life, and Salim’s been pulling her out of his reach HIS ENTIRE LIFE!   If that doesn’t make you want him to succeed, I dunno what would.

As a side note, the visuals alone are worth seeing the movie for, and the cast dance at the end rocks.

Dan Pilditch

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