We received several comments about our January 17 article titled “Slumdog Millionaire and The Merchant of Venice” http://www.cinemarasik.com/2009/01/16/slumdog-millionaire-and-the-merchant-of-venice.aspx
In that article, we stated our case that “Slumdog Millionaire, like The Merchant of Venice, embodies a deeply hateful and utterly false characterization of an entire religion.”
Clearly this was a unique viewpoint and one that readers could not find in mainstream news media. So, we received more than the usual number of comments that gave us a key fact and reader views. We share both in this article with our response.
Factual Evidence and Our Interpretation of the motives of the film
The hero in the film “Slumdog Millionaire” is shown to be a Muslim boy and the movie goes out of its way to gratuitously portray his mother’s murder by Hindu fanatics.
A reader pointed out to us that the hero in the original novel was named Ram Mohammad Thomas (http://www.shelfari.com/books/4113084/Slumdog-Millionaire/editorialreviews).
Note the full name – it has one name each from 3 religions, Hindu, Muslim and Christian. Clearly the author of the novel wanted the story to be about a poor kid growing in a slum and not about any one religion. Being an Indian writer, he used the customary Indian method – he eliminated any religious targeting by using a name like Ram Mohammad Thomas.
Given this background, the decision of the movie’s English brain-trust to give the hero a Muslim name (minority in Mumbai and India) seems deliberate and points to a agenda. They did not stop there but they deliberately showed Hindu mobs murdering the hero’s mother. Even that was not enough; they had to demonize the entire Hindu religion by showing a hideous caricature of Shri Ram, the single most revered figure in the Indian Culture.
To us, this clearly demonstrates the inherent anti-Hindu prejudice of the film Slumdog Millionaires and its filmmakers.
Most Incisive and Direct Reader Comment
The most incisive and direct comment we received was about the sentence by the hero in the game show “If it were not for Ram and Allah, I would still have my mother”. A reader argued that this sentence is a balanced statement that proves that the Muslim hero was equally against the Hindu and Muslim extremists; that he blamed both sides for the murder of his mother.
We were aware of this angle when we wrote our original article and seriously considered bringing it up ourselves. But, the article was getting too long and we skipped it. Now, we are glad we did, because we can address this point in more detail here:
- The film only shows Hindu mobs running rampant and killing the hero’s mother as they passed her by. It does NOT show any Muslim mobs or rioters.
- It would have been very easy for the filmmakers to show an actual street battle between Muslims & Hindus and then show the hero’s mother getting killed in the crossfire. Innocent civilian bystanders often get killed in riots and battles. This would have enabled the filmmakers to show the scene without blaming either religion. But, the movie Slumdog Millionaire did NOT do so. Instead, they made it a point to only display Hindu rioters and they did it, we believe, deliberately and as a clear part of their agenda.
- The film does NOT show even a solitary scene of Muslim Extremists or Christian Extremists. Only Hindu mobs are shown in the film. This is NOT accidental.
- When the hero utters the above sentence in the game show, the movie again shows the hideous caricature of Shri Ram. The movie does NOT show a single picture of Allah, Mohammad, Koran, Islamic Crescent, Mosque or a Muslim Mullah. The only religious icon ever shown in the film is the hideous caricature of Shri Ram. Again, this is NOT accidental.
- The game show host asks a question about the weapons used by Shri Ram. But, the game show host does NOT ask a single question about any Muslim icon. To us, the film intended to send an explicit and vivid message to its western audience about Shri Ram and the Hindu religion.
- Finally, the statement by the hero is NOT as balanced as it initially sounds. A more balanced statement would have used a generic term like Dev or Bhagwan (synonyms for God and comparable to Allah). Or the film could have combined the use of Ram, the Hindu icon, with the use of Mohammad, the Muslim icon. In that case, the statement would have read “If it were not for Ram and Mohammad, I would still have my mother”. Now, that might have been a more balanced statement. But that would have defeated their goal of demonizing Shri Ram.
- Also, who are we kidding? Any mention of Mohammad would have resulted in riots in India and other Muslim countries. So would use of any hideous caricature of any Muslim icon like the film’s hideous caricature of Shri Ram.
Many readers wrote to us that they liked the movie. One of these readers was brave enough to post his comment publicly (you can read it in the comments section on the right). That is fine. We liked the movie too. Mr. Boyle has done a good job. But, that does NOT mean we should accept the deliberate demonization of our religion (which has proved itself to be the most tolerant religion for 5,000 years).
This reader’s view is classically Hindu. He is willing to ignore the bad = demonization of Hindu Religion and focus on the good = the beauty of the film. We commend the reader for this virtue.
For ourselves, we are NOT willing to condone what we perceive to be a deliberate and wanton act of anti-Hindu prejudice. This is because we believe it is high time that Indian society begins to protest gratuitous attacks against it, whether they be carried out via filmmaking, terrorist bombings or direct military attacks like the Mumbai attack.
The other common comment was that the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and its win at Golden Globe was an “Indian Success”; that India is now in the limelight because of this film and by writing our article, we might be spoiling the moment and hurting India’s success.
We understand this reasoning and know where it is coming from. The global Indian community deeply yearns for public recognition of India, its culture and its successes. In recent years, this yearning has become almost desperate. As a result, every positive recognition of India is celebrated as India’s success and every negative as India’s shame.
To them, we say grow up. India is a country of a billion people. In a few years, it will become one of the 5 largest economies in the world with the world’s largest number of consumers. India wants to be a super power and Indians are desperate to gain that status.
Success of such a large country has to be measured by achievements and events that impact the world and India. India going nuclear was an Indian success. India building the largest global Tele-IT industry is an Indian success. The Indian Film industry becoming the largest film industry in the world is an Indian success. The Indian mission to the moon, Chandrayan, is an Indian success. The transformation of Dharavi, the largest Mumbai slum into a modern business & housing society would be an Indian success. Destruction of terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan by the Indian Military would be an Indian success.
But, to call one movie about an Indian slum as India’s success is a sad reflection on the global Indian society. It seems plaintive and almost beggarly. The fact that one movie can be so idolized by the global Indian community and the Indian English Media mainly because of its western popularity can be more appropriately called India’s shame.
All but one reader comments were private. This is totally in keeping with the global Indian Society. Indians, especially Hindus, are embarrassed and afraid to express their negative comments in public. They feel embarrassed about how they, their society or their religion is being treated and they feel a sense of shame. This embarrassment makes them keep quiet in the hope that it will go away. They are also afraid that some how their public comments might end up hurting them or their family.
This is why, Indians around the world tend to express their anger and frustration in private at home, with close friends or usually at Saturday night dinner parties within their usual friend circle. Even there, the general refrain is “someone should do something about it”.
If you don’t believe us, ask any US Congressman or Senator. Ask them how many Indian constituents have called them to lodge protests about the Mumbai attacks. We bet the percentage of such callers is very small. We know that the private reaction of the Indian American community to the Mumbai attack was white hot anger. But that anger remained private and not public. That is why that anger is totally ineffective.
Until the global Indian community begins to express its outrage in a vocal public manner and demands resolution, it will continue to be attacked either physically through terrorism or though media coverage and films like Slumdog Millionaire.
Finally we would like our readers to know that we did contact a film reviewer (who had written a very positive review of Slumdog Millionaire) at a very prestigious American newspaper and asked him to forward our first article to the people who made Slumdog Millionaire. We have no reason to believe that he did not do so. As of writing this article, we have not heard from the makers of the film. If we hear from them, we shall publish their response verbatim.
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