What Do Our Indian Readers Think of Slumdog Millionaire?

INSERT DESCRIPTIONPhoto from Amazon.com

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.

and:

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”?


Brad

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.

Grant

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.

Doney

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!

Read more...

Sairam

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!

Read more...

Nicole

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.

Narinder Walia

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).

Read more...

DrS

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."

Billy

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.

Harrkar

what is your personal reaction, and the wider reaction you've heard about?

>> Happy about the movie and the awards its earned, first for India/Indians, but the title is controversial one and the theme is new from typical masala movies..i mean.a fresh one.Otherwise, i would agree with the points u had mentioned, if u expect to go for a thriller, but as a drama, it would pass.

How closely does the film portray reality, especially in the realms of poverty and class?

>> Very true.

How broadly is a film like this seen in India - i.e., will the typical poverty dweller ever get a chance to see it?

>> Yep. They would. Perhaps u should try a study on this. Most of the poor, go cinema often in India, and follow the cinema stars as real gods

How significant is it that the kids are Muslim, and indeed meet great misfortune because of that fact?

>>>> The gap between poor and rich is, pretty wide in India and its irrespective of religion. The highly paid super stars of indian cinema s are muslims. check any indian actor with khan. So religion doesnt play much role.

And how much of a pejorative, if at all, is "slumdog"?

>>> The film focuses on just one part of it. Just like how u would see...'Hell's kitchen' area and make a film about it..that doesnt mean the whole US is like that.. I would say..majority of India is moving towards Middle class. But people's urge towards cities make strong differences in metros, where u see very poor and very rich. In other places of India, the difference looks ok.

Read more...

CdrJameson

As a British reader I enjoyed Slumdog (Bollywood Trainspotting), but I have to say it's got to be better than Frost/Nixon simply because it's impossible to believe that anyone would make a movie hero out of David Frost.

Silvio

"I am hardly the only one to feel that it is way overrated."

Let's be honest. The source you referenced (and only one at that) hardly instills confidence in your negative judgment of fellow critics who you feel have overrated the film.

Arti

I'm Indian. Grew up in Bombay.

I loved it and felt inexplicably homesick after watching the movie.

I don't know why people find it offensive. Those slums are a reality - they are amongst the first things that one sees when landing at the Bombay airport.

If reality offends you, watch a Bollywood movie.
(I happen to love Bollywood movies & watch them regularly.)

Tree Frog

As a Nepali and regular consumer of Danny Boyle movies, I was surprised by the overwhelming feeling of reality coming from Slumdog's slums. My brother had similar feelings, but did not like the movie as much as I did.

My father, who saw the movie at a different time, came home slightly pissed off about being so vividly reminded of the slums' vicious nature (through Maman, Javed, Salim and so on).

All three of us agreed that though it had the vibrations and feelings of reality, it was by no means a documentary or a realistic portrayal. What Slumdog has is the essences of what it can be like to live in the slums and that is what comes across so powerfully real in the movie experience. I do not think the movie would have worked as well, or had the impact it had on us, if it had presented to us stark reality.

To Narinder: there was one "non-sequitur dance number" and that came in the ending credits. Are you conflating the montages set to thundering MIA tracks and that number here?

All of the Nepalis and Indians I know here in the United States like the movie, and a high percentage genuinely love it. I can't speak for those back in Nepal or in India though.

Read more...

Sri

I am Indian living in Australia now. As a movie it is Ok, worth watching once but not more. It is only heart warming in a schmaltzy way and the movie is largely aimed at western audience.
Most of the characterisation has as much depth as a card board cut out!
It might still win some Oscars, but that's only because Oscar is a celebration of mediocrity (remember Titanic won Oscars).
Vast majority (maybe 60%+) of Mumbaikars are slum dwellers and India has more poor people than China.
Indians simply dont want to accept reality and end up with doozies like "India Shining" campaign and such cinematic masterpieces like Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gum ( I retched when I saw that one). Amitabh Bachan himself was a typical escapist-fantasy hero, no wonder he objects to the film.

thawing out

Dear voyeuer;

Saw this great website awhile ago on the discovery of American Indians- by someone named Alfred Jones. Was I imagining things- but then could not find it again.

If anyone has the website- do let us know?

kunderemp

I'm an Indonesian muslim and I read the novel (Vikas Swarup's Q & A) two years ago and stand still in bookstore for four hours finishing the book and after that I recommend the book in an Indonesian forum and lot of my friends got interested on the book.

The story was a fantasy but the problem it address was real and happened in Indonesia. The child prostitution was happened although it disguised it practiced as contract-marriage. The Oliver-Twist's-Fagin-like mafia which used those poor kids to beg for them is existed in Indonesia and there are some kidnapping case.

My wife in asked me what "Slumdog" means and I explain to her it came from two word "slum" and "dog". When I said "slum" is a region that had a lot of "casas de carton", she laugh and said "Oh.. the movie is about me. I have to see it".

PS: "Casas de Carton" is a title of a song which I heard from movie "Innocent Voices". I love the song and the title of the song became my dictionary everytime I describe neighbourhood where my wife and a lot of my friends grew up.

Read more...

JorgeBurgos

Doesn't anyone feel that it was imperative for the movie to imitate the Bollywood genre, with all of its "suspension-of-disbelief, plot-holes, orphan brothers and non-sequitur dance numbers". The imitation is deliberate and essential to the artistic vision of the film. Its not only a parody, its also an irony that emphasises some of the key themes of the film (fame, culture, isolation etc). It seems a bit silly that people would criticise the film's Bollywood-style - kind of like they missed the point of the movie. Plus, if nothing else, it is exactly what makes the film unique.

spakle v hayter

I feel that Boyle has successfully and beautifully translated Indian film to an international audience that might be bewildered by a lot in a "pure" Bollywood film. A film like 'Baabul' for instance, which I admire, is baffling to a mainstream western audience. Why can't the widow marry, people ask? What''s the big deal? That;s just one example of cultural misunderstanding. Boyle tells an Indian story in a universal way, and by doing so, inspires millions and introduces some fine Indian talent to an audience unaware of these people before the film came out.

As for poverty, part of the problem, and this isn't explained in the movie, is that Mumbai's prosperity attracts thousands of people from villages who arrive seeking their fortunes. I live in bandra west, in a lovely old neighborhood, upper middle class. Whole families of villagers sleep on the streets outside my windows, mummy, daddy, two or three little children. They don't even have a slum house to live in. That said, Mumbai has plenty of its own homegrown poverty too. India has only recently emerged from centuries of colonialism/imperial looting followed by an overcontrolled economy. India's rise in the last ten years has been atmospheric but many people are still left behind.

I hope SM will open a lot of people to the kaleidoscope of Indian cinema. Perhaps we'll see a movie shot in kerala, which has a very high literacy rate, and very little poverty, or Chennai, one of the best-run cities in south asia. I also hope people will recognize how important Bollywood is to the world, not just for the sheer entertainment value, but for its message-laden movies. The US is no longer the world's laboratory of democracy. India now serves that role for the developing world. And Bollywood is its messenger.

Lastly, Danny Boyle admits being inspired by a number of wonderful films that come from the Hindi film industry, including Black Friday. This movie is a true co-production. Culturial imperialism is dead. Long live cultural free trade.

Read more...

Mithun

I am an Indian, and I find Slumdog merely entertaining, and hardly extraordinary.

The depictions of slums are very sanitized (starving and dirty yet smiling slum kids). Just meant to tickle the voyeuristic West without getting any genuinely shocking images involved (believe me, things are a lot worse in Indian slums than the movie shows). The story is a typical Bollywood entertainer (how come every single question on the movie is somehow related to a turning point in the kids life, did he set the questions himself? Hardly plausible.)

The music is mediocre (by Rahman standards, I must add. Pick any random Rahman soundtrack and chances are you'll find it to be better than this one.) Definitely not his best work.

I'll stop rambling, and say this, if someone says it was wrong for Boyle to depict slums, then I wouldn't agree. Slums form the major chunk of urban India, and are as good as any other location in India to base your Indian story on. My point is, with dozens, if not hundreds of well shot, well written, brilliantly directed Indian movies based on life in India being overlooked, it is just the "foreign director" factor that is responsible for any and all recognition that this movie is getting. Hate to bring race into this discussion, but the same movie by a local director would have bombed at the box office, leave alone receive critical acclaim.

Also, want to see the true Mumbai slums? Go watch Satya.

Read more...

Saad

As a Pakistani, I have seen similar things to that in Slumdog Millionaire in Pakistan, including slums, and professional begging. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but parts of it made me angry, especially the begging side, because I know it exists, and yet authorities cannot, or will not do a thing to stop it, because of corruption