Slumdog Millionaire – III – Comments By A Reader in Mumbai

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to print the comments (with his permission) sent by a reader in Mumbai.  For inquiring minds who would like to know, the reader is a veteran Investment Banker who runs an Asset Management Company.  This is our third article on Slumdog Millionaire.*

Comments of a Reader from Mumbai
– January 26,2009

While agreeing with the author on Slumdog, I do believe that the author has tried to do a very apologetical criticism typical of Indians! As if, how can I trash a movie that has ten Oscar nominations and is being widely praised in the media. Its like the Emperor’s New Clothes! 

I saw the movie yesterday and I was sorely disappointed. There is nothing in the movie which reflects high artistic merit. Point out to me one superb moment of direction or acting, breathtaking photography, a memorable dialogue or a tune that comes automatically to ones lips after the movie. The only scenes that come to mind are because of disgust and shock value and which still make me vomit long after the movie has ended. 

I would like to point out the scene of Jamal as the young boy jumping into a pond of human faeces in the beginning of the film. I still cannot believe that any boy in any slum anywhere in the world would do it and not for trivial reason shown there. 

The circumstances shown in the film are not compelling and do not flow naturally. They are very contrived. Here I must state that I have not read the book and maybe thankfully so. If these events are taken from the book, the book must be as shallow as the film. 

I have nothing against depicting Indian poverty – the slums and the crimes that flow from it because it is being done in almost every Indian movie. I object to the manner in which it has been done. Here the negativity has been magnified deliberately either with prejudice or for the shock value.  Let me illustrate:

1) Let us begin with the shitty scene mentioned earlier. If the boy was staying near Mumbai airport, as shown (cricket on the runaway scene earlier and Helicopter landing nearby) – there would have been umpteen opportunities for the young boy to have seen celebrities and filmstars landing including Amitabh. There was no need for him to jump!

2) The ‘Satyamev Jayate’ question of the gameshow, in which Jamal asks for an audience poll. I mean how contrived is this? Let’s look at the options first – truth, lies(?), fashion and money! What are they trying to say – the Indian emblem is so shallow? And that a young boy who has been shown to be highly intelligent, alert, enterprising and with photographic memory (every little incident of childhood he remembers with clear detail. He even remembers all the training lessons given at the BPO where he works as a chaiwallah!) has never seen this symbol in all his highly eventful life in India? Not only that – he cannot even work it out! He can work out the host’s high subterfuge and deceit in the end, but he cannot work out this simple question! I will say it once again – how contrived is that?

3) Let’s now come to the question of the Bow in Ram’s hand. I mean, again – how difficult is it to come across this symbol in India? Let’s see – on countless temple walls (even if one didn’t go inside); in movies; on BJP / VHP posters during the Babri Masjid – Ram janmbhoomi movement! ( a pan India and highly visible movement during the time the hero is shown growing up. Incidentally the riot where his mother is shown being killed is being hinted as part of the same movement); hugely popular TV serial – Ramayana and the hoardings and posters accompanying it; Ram Lila celebrations – the street plays and the burning of the effigies of Ravana during Dusshera time (again hugely popular in North India and around Agra where he is shown as having stayed during the movie). No, they have to show the hideous caricature  of the young boy dressed up as Ram and looking at the hero hatefully during the riots. As far as I know, they did not show any context why the young boy would be dressed as Ram at that time except if he was participating in the riots – and I have really strong objections if that is the case. Never have I heard or read of young boys participating in riots in India. It hints at a deep rooted enmity between Hindus and Muslims in India and where one absorbs this enmity even as a young child. This is simply not the case. Most riots in India are the result of political maneuvering; instigated by politicians and other vested interests and led by the criminal and the goonda elements of society. 

This movie is being pandered to those westerners who still have the snake charmers or the thugee view of India. Why is under-development equated with all kinds of criminal activities and a mentality of cheating and stealing? India has only been shown in negative light. A positive image of India is completely absent throughout the movie! These kind of criminal activities exist in every country, every mega city and in every slum. Why is there an attempt to portray as if nothing else exists in Mumbai and in India? Maybe because it won’t sell or maybe because in these economically depressing times – it is better to see and deride India as a wretched place rather than a fast developing country. It is also being shamefully promoted by the hypocritical Indian middle and upper class intelligentsia, who time and time again have more comfort in trashing India and the Indian society. We have a tendency of loudly insisting on the negativity and the wretchedness as being all pervasive in India. All positive values and achievements are promptly dismissed as illusory, temporary or mere chance.

To summarise – I believe that this movie has no cinematic value and is a shameful commercialisation of slum life. Even Amitabh Bachchan dismissed the movie as having little cinematic value. Please also see an article by Arindam Chaudhuri on the movie who calls it “A phony poseur that has been made only to mock India for the viewing pleasure of the First World!”

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* Our earlier articles on Slumdog Millionaire:

“Slumdog Millionaire and The Merchant of Venice”January 17, 2009

“Slumdog Millioanire – II – Fact & Reader Comments About Our First Article”January 24, 2009–ii–facts–reader-comments-about-our-first-article.aspx