What Do Our Indian Readers Think of Slumdog Millionaire?

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I rarely have occasion these days to see new movies in theaters, but I had the good fortune recently to see two of the Oscar-nominated best films, Frost/Nixon and Slumdog Millionaire, within 24 hours. It was a strange coincidence that both of them were time-jumping stories built around TV shows.

Not that my opinion counts for anything, but I thought Frost/Nixon was a far better film. It may have been that I simply cared more for the subject; but it struck me as exceedingly well-written and conceived, with all the dramatic payoffs and random brain-pleasers you can hope for in a movie. Slumdog Millionaire, meanwhile, felt forced and predictable with shallow characterizations and stock movie tricks. I am hardly the only one to feel that it is way overrated.

That said, Slumdog‘s depiction of Indian life, particularly the slum poverty, was incredibly interesting, at least to this American, even if only for its voyeurism.

Which makes me want to know what Indians make of the film. Articles like this one describe a stark split between those who feel the film is realistic and invaluable and those who feel it’s exaggerated and exploitive. There are a lot of interesting wrinkles behind the scenes as well. According to the film’s IMDb trivia page:

Mercedes-Benz asked that its logos be removed in scenes taking place in the slums. The company, according to [director] Danny Boyle, did not want to be associated with the poverty-stricken area, fearing that that might taint its image.


Danny Boyle placed the money to be paid to the three lead child actors in a trust that is to be released to them upon their completion of grade school at 16 years of age. The production company has set up for an autorickshaw driver to take the kids to school every day until they are 16 years old.

This blog has a lot of Indian readers, living both in India and abroad, many of whom are very outspoken — just check out the response to this recent post on autorickshaws — and I’m eager to hear your opinions of the film and learn how it’s being received in India.

So: what is your personal reaction, and the wider reaction you’ve heard about? How closely does the film portray reality, especially in the realms of poverty and class? How broadly is a film like this seen in India — i.e., will the typical poverty dweller ever get a chance to see it? How significant is it that the kids are Muslim, and indeed meet great misfortune because of that fact? And how much of a pejorative, if at all, is “slumdog”?

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  1. Brad says:

    I enjoyed Slumdog Millionaire more than Frost/Nixon, although I found both films to be thought-provoking. Sure, Slumdog’s plot was guessable, but the exposure it gave to the poverty in India and what it means to the hundreds of millions who live in it was worth it, at least to me. I’m hopeful that more Americans will see it and will be a bit more grateful for all we have here.

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  2. Grant says:

    A professor I had last semester who is from India (I don’t know which region/city) recommended the movie highly. She’s the main reason I bothered to see it, and I generally enjoyed it, despite its flaws.

    Not what you were looking for, but there it is.

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  3. Doney says:

    I think several factors might give a clue to why it is a success. Imagine this was a film Warner Independent Pictures(went belly up) didn’t know how to market it and gifted it to Fox Searchlight. Also, the film when it was released in India last week didn’t do exceptionally well like it has been doing in the West! The times we live in now with unprecedented gloom around us might be one factor for its success. Every award season an Independent darling shines through. This time it was the year of Slumdog!

    For me, this movie feels like Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay with melodrama and musical elements added to it. At several points I was not sure whether to react to the harsh reality of life there or the joie-de-vivre of the characters! Therefore, it didn’t resonate in the right emotional space.

    Anyway, it is far superior to the majority of junk peddled by Bollywood these days and the filmmakers there can learn a thing or two on how to make a decent melodrama!

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  4. Sairam says:

    As a regular viewer of Bollywood films, I felt the movie was way too predictable, everything that’s been depicted in Slumdog Millionaire (about the slums/poverty) has already been done…I certainly can see why Americans might be interested in the film but I don’t see why some Indians are ‘offended’ by the content in the film.

    People like Ram Gopal Varma (in movies like Satya and Company) and Mani Ratnam (in Nayakudu) have already showcased poverty in Mumbai and it’s connection to the underworld. In fact, Salim reminded me of the protagonist in RGV’s Satya. According to Wikipedia Boyle was “inspired” by Satya and Company.

    I hate the play the race card but I just don’t see what Slumdog Millionaire has that other Indian films like Nayakudu (Nayagan in the Tamil version), Satya and Company don’t have.

    People should certainly not be ‘fooled’ by the poverty depicted in the film as there’s an increasingly prosperous side to India as well, however at the same time, people shouldn’t be offended by the depiction of slums and realize that there’s more work to be done in India!

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  5. Nicole says:

    I also have a note about Mercedes. I am not Indian but I do work in PR and I’m sure that it was not the poverty that was an issue for the company but that the owner of the Mercedes in the movie is a violent gangster. Whoever posted that is probably ill informed or trying to be inflammatory.

    You are not the first person who has mentioned being affected the poverty in the movie and I guess I am still surprised. Perhaps it is because I have traveled in Mexico and South America but I definitely knew that most of India is very poor. Because there was such a huge urban population already and it was hard to erect new construction, they just don’t have the infrastructure for phones or good plumbing. People all over the world are living very different lives than we are but I don’t think that was the focus of the movie. The message was about fate, hope, and relationships.

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  6. Narinder Walia says:

    I have to confess that I have very mixed feelings towards Slumdog – it is undoubtedly thrilling to watch it garner all the awards – a big source of pride!

    BUT – It is primarily a film for western consumption (note the obligatory scenes at Taj Mahal and a Call center). The plot, once you cleave it from the very clever ‘millionaire-game-show’ wrapping paper, is the same as in a hundred other Bollywood movies, with the usual suspension-of-disbelief, plot-holes, orphan brothers and non-sequitur dance numbers. So, to me, a great work of cinema, it certainly is not.

    On the plus side:

    – The visual look is incredible – shot around real bombay including the venerable VT station (where I commuted from for two years). Some of the shots are breathtaking (the beginning chase around the slums being one of them). It really does capture Bombay/Mumbai.

    – The music is excellent – starts with A.R. Rahman (ARR)’s unique voice singing “O Saya” to a thundering beat and never lets up. Mind you, its not ARR’s best work, not even close (in just 2008 he had better CDs in Jodhaa Akbar and Jaane Tu…), but it makes a huge overall impact on the movie.

    – Irfan Khan, what a great actor – very small role, but he is always so good in everything. Anil Kapoor actually is pretty good too, in his own slimy way. The smallest kids (first third of the movie) are excellent – the rest of the cast is a huge letdown.

    Of course, I will be cheering wildly if it wins all those Oscars on Feb 22nd (esp. ARR)…. but it won’t be on its cinematic merits.

    PS – Danny Boyle has said that he watched Bollywood movies Black Friday, Company and Satya just before shooting SlumD – and it shows. Do yourself a favor and check these out (esp. Satya).

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  7. DrS says:

    The way India people respond to depictions of Indian poverty remind me of the way poor people in this country used to respond about gangsta rap.

    Some saying “This is offensive and does not represent us.”

    Others saying “You can’t find any of this offensive because they tell it like it is.”

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  8. Billy says:

    I think the whole point of this post was for Dubner to find out if “slumdog”, a term made up just for this movie, is offensive to Indians. Basically, I’m wondering the same thing? Is it? I wouldn’t think so.

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