Slumdog Millionaire (2008), written by Simon Beaufoy, won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 81st Academy Awards.
Let’s start with the concept: A man who grew up in Indian Slums goes on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The magic of the script is that this man’s life, and the whole story, is revealed when remembering the correct answer to each question. If there was ever an example of a concept holding up the rest of a script, this would be it. In other words, a good concept is like a strong foundation, and in this case, the foundation is bulletproof.
Earlier today I was listening to a screenwriting podcast that stressed the importance of the protagonist having a strong want or need. For example, in Saving Private Ryan (1998), the need is to find Private Ryan. In Nerve (2016), it’s to win the grand prize. In other words, things shouldn’t just happen to the main character, they need to make them happen. My first impression was that Slumdog Millionaire was an outlier. Everything seems to just happen to Amir (I believe later renamed Jamal in the film); he’s on the show, he gets the answers right, proceeds to be interrogated by the police, etc. But that’s not quite the whole plot.
In reality, this is a love story with a strong mythical element. Amir wants Latika and at multiple points, he says it’s his destiny. Through the screenplay, Amir is obsessed with finding and saving her. That’s the story. The rest, that’s just how he gets there.
In reality, it’s not a complicated plot. But plots with straightforward themes seem to do well (ex. EEAAO).
Amir is the kind boy in over his head. Latika is the beautiful girl that everyone fights over. Salim is the rebellious brother who teeters between heroic and evil. All three characters are well-thought out and all go through transformations during the climax. Together with the plot, this is a really strong script.
Dialogue & Pacing
Dialogue is probably the weakest part of the script. How many memorable lines can you remember from this movie? Case in point.
The story uses flashbacks to tell Amir’s life story up until the point of the game show. To increase the stakes toward the end there are a few subplots, such as the police chief deciding to arrest Amir for accessory to murder, that seem a bit out of place and end abruptly; but otherwise, the story follows a pretty clear three-act structure and builds to a big climax.
I remember watching this movie back when it came out. For me, the visuals, particularly of the slums and resourcefulness of the kids, had the most staying power. For others, the love story would probably be the most impactful. Either way, it’s a powerful film that came out at the right time.
Best Part of The Script
- The inciting incident is: when Amir’s mother is killed.
- The final question and climax (starts on page 120).