Slumdog Millionaire -- Is it really poverty porn?

by meeta | 4,547 views | Add comment

Much has been said and written about Slumdog Millionaire’s depiction of India. Some insist it’s the real India while others think it’s a biased depiction of what the West sees India as. As a viewer and an Indian, I see merit in both arguments.

For long, the West has perceived India as a collection of slums. This movie will further this belief. To some extent, it seems like an extension of Salaam Bombay. But is it the real India? Definitely not the way we see it in 2009 (or 2008 when this was shot or 2006 where it was mostly set). And this does come through the movie. It’s unfortunate that the call centers have been brought in the movie as another stereotype of the growing or modern India. But it had to happen. It’s similar to the bias held about India being a collection of slums!

While Indian moviegoers - over the last few years - have been fed on the K-Jo, Yashraj formula of larger-than-life-beautiful-homes-perfect-families-foreign-settled people, this is far from reality. As we all can well attest to. So is that why this jarring reaction? Can we no longer tolerate the reality around us? It may not be our reality, but it is surely what is around us. Exploitation of orphans as beggars was also shown in Traffic Signal (albeit tackily) but that didn’t seem to jar us since the movie was made by an Indian. The real trouble here seems to be that a Britisher has shown us what’s around us. And honestly, that’s all he has done.

While I say that, I certainly won’t agree with those who argue that Indian film-makers cannot see the real India. How else would movies like Traffic Signal, Chandni Bar or even A Wednesday get made? If a foreign film-maker were to make something along the lines of Black Friday, will it make the incidents fictional?

Any angst about this movie (whether against the movie or against Indian film-makers) seems to be the fact that a stereotype has been breached. Certain crossover films and other disastrous collaborations (the kinds that brought us Marigold and even Bride and Prejudice) are not frowned upon because they extended the so-called values middle-class India extolls. And the moment the underbelly is exposed, everyone’s screaming. Well, keep your shirt on or you’re only going to show another underbelly - the hypocritical one!

When poor Mr Bachchan expressed his opinion, it got twisted and misinterpreted to such an extent that I can no longer remember what he actually meant! Why the defensiveness? Documentaries showing worse go unnoticed since they do not carry the weight of names like AR Rahman or Danny Boyle or Anil Kapoor with them. Is that why we don’t bother with them? The big difference between a documentary and Slumdog Millionaire could be that SM is a documentary with great entertainment value and a story told well.

Should we be getting upset about it? Heck no. Should we watch it? Hell, yea. But as what? A movie. That’s all it is. And a bloody good one at that.

- meeta, a part of the audience

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