Jamal Malik, an 18-year old Mumbai slum kid, get right through to the last question on ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ and the chance to win 20 million rupees. But straight after the show breaks for the night, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating. The show’s quizmaster Prem Kumar, himself a product of the slums, is unwilling to share the limelight with the young upstart.
A night of mistreatment and torture fails to elicit a confession, so in the morning the Inspector of Police changes tack and asks Jamal to explain how he knew the answers.
Question by question, Jamal relates the story of his life.
Growing up in the Juhu slum of Bombay, he is seven when he sees his mother killed in a religious riot. He and his older brother Salim, now orphans, are forced to live by their wits on the streets, with Latika, an orphaned girl Jamal comes to care for, and as they grow older to love.
Seemingly rescued by an orphanage, the children are put to work as beggars. But they are forced to escape when Salim sees Maman blind young Arvind and learns that he plans to blind Jamal so he can earn more. The boys manage to jump on a train but Salim deliberately leaves Latika behind.
The boys live on the trains for the next six years, until they fall off near the Taj Mahal. There Jamal works as an unofficial tour guide, while Salim steals shoes, car tyres and anything else available. But Jamal has not forgotten Latika and he and a reluctant Salim return to Bombay – now Mumbai – in search of her.
With the help of the blind Arvind, whom Jamal sees singing in a subway, they find Latika, who is being trained to be a dancer and prostitute. Before the three of them can get away, Maman and his henchmen arrive. Salim shoots Maman and they flee to an empty hotel. But Salim offers his services to the gangster Javed, and then claims Latika as his prize, threatening to shoot Jamal too.
Five years later Jamal is working as a...