“Slumdog Millionaire” may prove to be the surprise movie hit of the year.

With an unlikely title, no American celebrities and a setting foreign to most people, the film is a revelation of storytelling, with compelling mysteries, well-drawn characters and a dramatically workable mix of comedy and pathos.

This is, simply, a "must see" film for anyone who loves a great story.

The film uses the Indian version of the TV game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" as the device to explore the history of the show's most unlikely contestant, a poor chai wallah (tea server) named Jamal Malik (played extraordinarily by Dev Patel), whose answers to the show's questions were seared into his brain through pivotal life experiences, shared with us through flashbacks.

At first, you assume this poor kid is on the TV game show for the money. But it's not until late in the film that you find his much more compelling motivation.

Based on the novel "Q&A" by Vikras Swarup, an Indian Diplomat in the Ministry of External Affairs who witnessed firsthand the poor's struggles for survival, the film takes us on a tour of how poverty tests people, and it's not pretty.

Fortunately, the humor offsets the tragedy in fine proportion.

This is no Cinderella story. When we first meet the lead character, he is being tortured in jail. But while you may wince (or worse) at times, the film also tugs insistently at your heart, like a precocious child, and you find yourself thoroughly charmed by the winning (figuratively and literally) protagonist.

And we're not alone. A woman he saved in childhood also finds herself drawn to the protagonist. How could she not be? He's eminently lovable.

The best films educate as well as entertain, and at a time when many Americans are tightening their wallets, it's good to be reminded that no matter how poor we may seem, so many live in situations far more dire than our own.

The film, however, does not preach. It simply presents the world as it is, and any lessons learned will come from your own conscience.

The film is extremely well paced. There are dramatic action scenes that move at a breakneck pace, and slower moments that allow you a glimpse into the soul of key characters.

The cinematography adds to the gritty reality of the film, but there are some breathtakingly beautiful shots as well. The direction and acting are superb, and if you love travel, you'll appreciate the sense of 'being there' you get from this film.

But ultimately, the film's greatest strength is the story itself. Compelling and fascinating, moving and entertaining, it's everything you can wish for in the cinema.

During this holiday season, dare you spend your hard-won dollars on this film? Absolutely, you should, and that's my final answer.

Lisa Pease is a historian and movie lover.

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