Slumdog Millionaire and the brouhaha

Posted by Anantha | Posted in , , , , , , | Posted on Friday, January 30, 2009

There has been plethora of debates, interviews, blog posts by celebs, comments and counter comments about the way Indian underbelly is depicted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.

Before jumping into the debate, let me give you a fictitious analogy. Assume an acquaintance of yours drops into your home unexpectedly. The moment he enters the house, he observes nook and corner of your house with sheer curiosity of a newly arrived guest. He notices a huge cobweb in the corner of walls underneath your attic. Then in few other corners of your house too. Not only he notices, but also utters a word about untidiness of the house. What would be your reaction?
  • A. “It is my house; I can keep however dirty I wish it to be. If you have a problem with it, GET LOST! ”
  • B. “Oh come on! You visitors always point out such things in the house. Do u ever see beautiful antique furniture, the exotic vase with fresh flowers on the teapoy etc..?”
  • C. “Aah.. I cud not clean it as I can not reach there”
  • D. “You are saying it as if cobwebs do not get formed in your house!”
I hope you got the relevance of the analogy (quite lame though). Our reactions to Slumdog Millionaire or to any foreign filmmaker making a movie on the hard realities of India (that we are not so proud of) would fall into at least one of options A, B, C or D, mentioned above. Certainly there is an element of embarrassment when an ‘outsider’ points at the filth in our house.

Would our reactions be different if the movie had been directed by our own desi filmmaker?
Would our reactions be different if the movie had not hogged the limelight as it has done now with winning 4 Golden globes and earning 10 Oscar nominations?
Are we expressing the anger only because we are worried about the projection of India to the so called First World?
Why don’t we talk about Smile Pinky or The Final Inch [which are Oscar nominations for this year’s best short documentary films], which deal with similar themes?

In my opinion, after all Slumdog Millionaire is a fiction movie which deals with the hard realities of India. The movie might have exaggerated the slums and poverty in few places, but we can not deny the fact that Dharavi is the 2nd biggest slum in Asia (after Orangi Town in Karachi, Pakistan) and close to 1 million poor people of India live there in Dharavi. There have been movies in the past by Indian film makers which have dealt with similar subjects. Why should we treat Danny Boyle differently from Madhur Bhandarkar, Govind Nihalani and Mira Nair? 

If our concern is projection of India and the notions First World derives out of this, I say it is also India but not India in its entirety. Also how just it is to set our notions about a country watching the movies made on it? Or does any one ever refer to the movies or television series of a country to study the geography or history or politics or progress of that country for that matter? If yes, then it is as fair as presuming US as a land of teenage pregnancies after watching Juno, calling it a land of troubled families and pervert fathers after seeing American Beauty, To presume China as a land only about Martial Arts after watching innumerable famous Chinese movies, to presume Iran as the country where children wear torn shoes after watching Children of Heaven, to presume Brazil as the land of drug dealers after watching City of God and at last UK as land of racists after watching Big Brother! When firangs called India is a country of snake charmers, I laughed at their ignorance. My reaction would be no different if they now think Dharavi is India. 

You can only capture or understand a zilch of India in a fiction movie or a documentary. India is not only culturally and demographically diverse but also economically diverse. 
Forbes lists 4 Indians in the roster of top 10 richest men on earth, at the same time 300 million people leave below poverty line in India.
India can design PSLVs to reach Moon indigenously, but in rural areas there is no adequate transportation for kids to go to their schools.
Indian Pharmaceutical industry is one of the biggest exporters in the world with US$ 7.2 Billion (in 2007-08) but India is also known as Diabetes capital of World, It has close to 2.5 million HIV infected people, a source says the estimate of new cancer cases every year is 8 millions in India, which is one of the highest in the world.
IITs and IIMs are one of the best educational institutes in the world but the same country has innumerous Govt schools with no teachers and no proper facilities for children.
India is estimated to surpass China in population in 2030, but also India accounts for more than 20% of the global maternal and child deaths.
India has a varied caste system from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and boasts of unity in diversity but also accounts to thousands of barbaric deaths in the caste riots every year.

These are just few examples depicting poles-apart facts coexisting in this glorious country. There are things to be really proud of, there are also things that make us Indians cringe. So when there is an honest attempt of making a movie on hard to chew facts of India, do not banish the director or the movie. But when First World thinks India is a nation of slums and poverty, just laugh at their ignorance.

TOI columnist Santhosh Desai says very rightly in his last column of ‘Citi Citi Bang Bang’, “It was perhaps more understandable why we were touchy about the representation of Indian poverty 20 years ago. At that time, we feared that to be our unchanging reality and it made us deeply ashamed. Today, when we believe that India is on its way up, why do we still respond negatively?” These lines quite sum up my thoughts too.

Comments (4)

Very well said!
Well, i had been wanting to write about this from the last 2 weeks, but after reading ur post i feel i'd not have written as good as u have! And i do agree with each and every point of yours.....
Good thoughts and good work!


Thx for the complements...

Very nice thoughts!

My instinctive reaction to such movies has always been "B" in your choices. But after reading your post fully, I have realized it is OUR thinking which is flawed rather than the ones who make movies.

I want to elaborate on these thoughts in a post of my own. Hope I will do it soon.


These were just my thoughts about it. Im glad if it made u think about it..

Waiting to see ur writeup about this...

Post a Comment