So I watched the second half tonight, and it was considerably easier on me, emotionally. At least there weren't any raging Hindus setting innocent Muslims (including mothers and children) on fire in the streets. That was definitely the scene I found most upsetting.
I loved the narrative structure, how there were two stories being told, woven in and out of each other, but with one of the stories leading up to the other, so that the narratives eventually met. I think the reason I was particularly charmed by this structure was because the "past story" was leading toward the "present story," but the "present story" was at the same time all about looking into the past. It was like some kind of Moebius strip, which was a neat effect.
At the beginning, I was a bit impatient with the whole "every question on the game show pertains to his life in some crucial way" conceit ... but as the film went on, I accepted that this wasn't intended to be realistic. It took me a while to get that, because so much of the film -- especially the childhood scenes in the slums -- were presented in a hyper-realistic way, a sort of in-your-face grittiness. As a result, I didn't immediately catch on to the fact that the "present story" was actually a fairy tale frame, that the "present story" was a gilded, magic mirror, through which we were viewing that ugly, dirty, violent world of "reality." In a way, the fairy tale became more real than reality in the end, and I totally bought into the "It is written" premise, in the "destiny" the main character believed in so strongly. The questions he received on the game show were predestined, and he was always going to win. This was a story, in a very self-aware way, and it was leading to that final kiss in the train station the entire time. That kind of storytelling meta-element always interests me, that awareness of a story's storiness.
I very nearly ejected the disk before the end credits, but out of the corner of my eye I saw people jumping around and thought, "WTF?" The bizarre Bollywood dance number after the freeze-frame final kiss totally rocked. I especially liked that they cut occasionally to the two actors who played the leads when they were little kids, and the little kid versions of our hero and heroine were dancing on the train platform, too, though in a considerably less choreographed manner.
In short, great movie. Even if there were random people being set on fire and creepy old guys blinding defenseless children so they could earn more money with their begging.
My one significant criticism: I really hope our heroine becomes something more than a fairy princess who needs rescuing, now that the rescue has occurred. Maybe she could get a respectable job or something. Do something besides have sex with mobsters and watch game shows. Girl, don't just live off your rescuer and his new millions of rupees!
(Apparently, the 20,000,000 rupees Jamal won in the film only translates as $407,582. Not so impressive, but probably still pretty frickin' amazing to an 18-year-old chai wallah who grew up in the slums of Mumbai.)