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”?


Saad

Also, I'm not sure the thinking behind them being Muslim, but it was a way to answer the quuestion, and to perhaps show the plight of Muslims in India, and as their a minority?

Gamesmaster G-9

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

The movie is a feel-good entertainer, but it is not even close to being good enough for a best-picture award. Sad to say, Americans have fallen hook, line and sinker for one of the oldest con jobs in the world.

Most well-regarded Indian critics agree with this - good, but definitely not great.

On the other hand, two groups of extreme reactions have emerged. Some, including Amitabh Bacchan (Bollywood's biggest star) have accused it of using India's poverty to earn credit from a predominantly white audience (poverty porn). On the other hand, some have gone to the other extreme. A columnist of Indian origin at the Guardian essentially said that any Indian who didn't like the movie was an elitist who wished that poor people didn't exist, and further that only white people can truly represent the truth about India.

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

There's a great deal of cinematic license, but the incidents shown - police brutality, communal riots, mutilated beggars - are commonplace.

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

They might get a chance, but they will never see it. The poverty dweller will only watch escapist Bollywood fare where everyone is unrealistically gorgeous, stinkinig rich and overly melodramatic. Cinema is a way for them to escape reality - why would you expect them to watch a movie that only underlines it.

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

Interestingly, the character in the novel was not Muslim, but multi-religious. It is true that Muslims face a great deal of discrimination in India, though, so that is a reasonable change.

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

Its a completely made up word. There is no word in common usage in any Indian language that translates into "slumdog".

Read more...

Debbie R.

I was very bothered by the opening scene of torture in the police station and am surprised no one has mentioned it.

For a great depiction of life in India, the documentary "Born into Brothels" is my first choice. There is a scene in a low level government office (not involving torture) that says everything. A great documentary with a moving message.

eizza

I am an indian and i LOVED THE MOVIE! By the way, I live in Virginia now. All of the things seen in the movie are true! i would see soo many child beggars without hands and arms and thought how could all these kids have lost their limbs? Then i would see in the newspapers about kids getting kidnapped and you know the rest...it breaks my heart.
Lets not forget that this movie is FICTION (although the slums are real). This movie is about two muslim brothers so lets not standardize that all kids living the slums are muslims and lose their mothers the way they did in the movie (The scene where Jamal's mother gets killed happened in 1992..this religious hatred still exists).
Do not analyze this movie too much after all its a MOVIE and almost all of them have the same story to it. This movie was actually a breath of fresh air because all the other hollywood movies started to look and sound the same.

Bollywood showcase the middle & high class so i don't see why hollywood can not showcase the lower one.

Read more...

eizza

I have to disagree with Gamesmaster G-9 on one particular comment.
There IS such a word as 'slumdog' i hear that word ALL the time in Bollywood films (the villian calls the hero 'gali ka koota' its hindi and it translates into 'dog of the slums') and it is still used to hurl insults at someone but RARELY.

Tom

People in India always like to stir up some controversey and create imagined problems because it gets them some free publicity, I dont know how they decided that slumdog was an insult just because it has the word "dog"in it. By that token is underdog an insult too?
The writer is referring to the names people call slum dwellers and they are routinely called much worse. Anybody who has seen the movie can see that no insult was meant.

-by Indian from Bangalore now in NJ.

GVS

Full Disclosure: I am an ABCD and while I never have lived in India, having visited both the villages and the cities over 10 times in the past 23 years i found the movie particularly accurate and hard hitting on some of the harder parts of Indian life.

Police/government corruption, racism, caste-ism, sexism and organized crime are all still major issues in India as in many parts of the world. However, Slumdog to me was less a story about the pitfalls of Indian society as it was one about the power of the human spirit - an international theme. So in response to the question, "did SM portray India accurately" I write: sure, to an extent. But it wasn't a documentary and so it wasn't the movies duty or goal to show all sides of the issue.

From a purely artistic point of view:
Cinematography was unbelievable = best shot movie of this year.

Action shots/tracking shots were VERY well done. Especially the scenes following kids through the slums.

Besides the kids, acting was OKAY at best from the main characters. But that's exactly why you don't see the film nominated for any acting awards. This movie wasn't driven by acting, rather by the story, music, and cinematography.

And I agree that the ending was cheesy. But it really didn't matter as at that point it felt like the entire theater was rooting for the underdog.

Read more...

Priya

I personally enjoyed the parts of the film with the little slum kids much more, as they spoke in Hindi, and it was the typical Mumbai slang, or 'tapori' which felt much more genuine than watching two adolescent boys speaking in English ( with hints of their British accent). If half the movie was done in Hindi, i'm sure they could have done the whole movie that way too. For me that part just jarred out.

Overall, the movie is definitely worth a watch, but I don't think it's Oscar worthy.

Ashutosh Sharma

http://www.dailypioneer.com/152164/Slumdog-is-about-defaming-Hindus.html

Nathan

I agree, slumdog was way overrated. But I may have gone in with high expectations.

GoBollywood!

Four sure-shot signs you didn't like a movie:
1. You had no idea until the very end of the movie that the heroine was actually in love with the hero.
2. When the hero crosses rail tracks, after winning a crore rupees, to meet his paramour, you were wishing a train would hit him -- just to make things more interesting.
3. You thought the children were the best actors.
4. There was a gratuitous reference to the Taj Mahal in a movie about India.

Realism is not what I ask from movies, but I do ask to be moved, to be made to care about the characters. There are Bollywood movies wth tons more heart ("Dil Chahta Hai", "Rang De Basanti", and even "Swades") and Danny Boyle movies with tons more heart ("Millions", "Trainspotting").

But I'll look on the bright side: if the "Kuch Kuch Hota Hai"s and "Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham"s were the first wave of Bollywood hitting western audiences, and "Slumdog ..." is part of the second, it's an improvement.

Read more...

Navaneethan

An entertaining movie, but hardly above average. I've never lived in a slum, thankfully, so I can't comment on the depiction of the conditions there.

Honestly, can anyone say that it was realistic to see two uneducated kids from a slum speaking perfect English to foreigners despite (in the film) having never given any evidence of knowing the language?

Let's leave that aside for a minute. When Salim and Jamal were reunited at the construction site, Salim called Jamal "brother". As they are brothers, this might not seem entirely unbelievable, but the fact that they used an English word for it seemed to me to be quite out of place.

Average Bollywood/Kollywood/Tollywood (Hindi/Tamil/Telegu) fare, in my opinion. These movies, for the most part, are fun to watch, but require a degree of suspension of disbelief.

Ramana Murthy

Sick. This is another nonsensical British crap about India. Westerners love to elevate India's poverty to chic. First it was Mother Teresa. Now Danny Boyle. Both played to western gallery who thrive on the edge of 'realism'. Whatever that means (or is a fad) at the moment.

India is the present fad. So is its poverty.

The not so subtle anti-Hindu vibes are present thru the movie. The movie portrays the victims of riots as Muslims (the riots, historically always began with Muslims throwing the first stone, followed by Hindus responding and so on). But then again Bollywood poverty isn't manufactured in India. It comes from Pakistan, Dubai and now London. Most Bollywood movies are financed by mafia sitting pretty as guests of Islamic nations of Pakistan and Dubai. Now London?

Tristan

Why is all the conversation about Slumdog Millionaire?

Frost Nixon, for me, was a terribly dissapointing film.

The idea of the film for me would be to build further on the characters motivations... the idea that Frost simply one day after recieving a call from Nixon (one of only 2 truly interesting part in the film) had a frantic change of pace and was able to save the interview is hollywood at it's worst.

Knowing a fair bit about these interviews I would have expected the movie to have expanded my knowledge or offered a greater insight. There was none of that.

AND THE WORST THING: in that in Australia the best bits of the flim WERE IN THE PREVIEW. ("I'm saying that when the president does it, it's not illegal!")

Did Americans really like this film?

Billie

As an South Asian American, I tend to be over critical of anything Bollywood-esque because it is usually an over dramatization. Who else does Thrillers, Suspense, Comedy, Musical, Romance and Action sequences all wrapped up in one film? Slumdog had hints of this weaved throughout the storyline...yet, it wasn't as cheesy as Bollywood flicks can be. There were some holes in the story line that bothered me...like how could the main character be beat to a pulp like that and then show up the next day to complete his quest for winning the game show without a hint of a bruise on him? Inconsistencies aside, I did enjoy the movie overall. I have to admit that part of the appeal is the exposure that India and Indian music are getting. It is allowing our people some mainstream exposure in the West, albeit not necessarily in the most positive light. Point is, I'll take it over no exposure at all.

Read more...

pratik

Unfortunately there is still a lot of super hyper-sensitvity about westerners making films about poor or disadvantaged parts of india. My impression about the movie is that its core is based on reality, in fact, as several observers wrote, is even based on a bunch of recent indian films. Now Danny Boyle is a smart-dude he certainly has oriented the film to situations westerners would recognize - taj mahal and so on. And so what???

So good for him and his team - best luck for the oscars and may there many more western directors filming in india, indian directors working in the west and so on...

Romit

I'm a Bombay resident and I loved the movie. I'd see it again.
It is pure and emotionally unabashed. I read to be intellectually stimulated, and look to cinema to tug my heart strings.

Karthick

It is good entertainer but not worth several nominations. If it wins even one award then i will be disappointed but if it doesnt win atleast one i will be surprised.
I always had this thought that West always likes to see India as a land of slums, snake charmers, elephants, etc.. and they celebrate India's poverty. This movie is no different. Well, anyone can argue that slums & poverty exists in India but time and again India is being projected as a slum country. What do you think of when i say Japan, LA, NYC. Now, India.

Tony

I strongly disagree. Instead of relying on good writing and acting to reveal internal conflict, Frost/Nixon used the cheap way - the interviews (I'm not talking about the interviews from the title, but when they would halt the story to talk to one of the secondary characters in an interview format, presumably years later). Tricks like that are resorted to when the 'talent' on the film lack the ability to expose these things by being creative.

Slumdog, on the other hand, uses an ingenious structure to reveal backstory - each question taking us to another part of his life. The juxtaposition of game-show sheen with the dirty, rough and tumble life of slum dwellers is montage at its best. Eisenstein would have been proud.

Feroz

I lived in Mumbai for 5 years. I went there to study from small town in south India and instantly stunned by the city's sea of humanity and its orderly chaos. I hung around the commuter trains and visited the slums a lot. A disproportionately larger population of the poorest of the poor are muslims and recent migrant workers (both hindu & muslim) from rural India. While you can see the non-muslim poor lifting themselves out of poverty within a generation or two, you don't see that happening with muslim families. Generation after generation many continue to live in the same slum and do the same low-paying menial jobs. I wouldn't attribute that to discrimination - after all everybody in the slum basically has (or more accurately does not have) the same set of opportunities. Perhaps its has got to do with family sizes, or the lack of realization on the importance of education among muslims.