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Video: Slumdog Millionaire and the Indian Slums

Categories: South Asia, India, Arts & Culture, Film, Media & Journalism, Travel

woman walking in Mumbai [1]With this post we would like to introduce our new volunteer author for video, Ruchika Muchhala, who writes in the Channel 19 [2] blog. Her recent post [2] is about Slumdog Millionaire, a film set and filmed in Mumbai, India, which recently won 5 out of 6 Critics Choice Awards and also won all four of the awards it was nominated for at the Golden Globe Awards. This film has sparked debates about how it shows life in India's slums, and the attraction it holds for foreigners.

Back in October we wrote about the work of Channel 19 [3] in promoting citizen journalism and empowering communities through video training and movie projections:

Video Volunteers is a non-profit organization of media producers from the villages and slums in India, creating content that is relevant to themselves and screening it inside the communities, reaching thousands of people a month with news and events that affect them and call them into action. Channel 19 [4] is the online video channel where this media, created by and for the communities is showcased for the rest of the population.

Ruchika writes:

I am truly surprised at the film that is on everyone’s mind right now and the fact that it happened to be shot just 30 minutes away from my home in Mumbai, India. Slumdog Millionaire is an energetic film with an interesting storyline and was shot entirely in two locations that are close to where I live – the world’s largest slum, Dharavi, and in slum areas of Juhu. These locations are also near the homes of many of Channel 19 community producers [5], and for some of them like Venkatesh [6], these locations are their home!

Ruchika also points out an interesting perspective on how her country is being portrayed on film:

…finally here’s a film which does not profile the villages of remote India exotifying ‘the east’ nor does it show-off the glitz and glam which only a small percentile of the upper-crust in India can relate to but everyone dreams of. Instead, this film shows the reality of modern India by portraying life in the slums and speaking with and working with slumdwellers rather than hiring actors and researchers.

Channel 19 has produced a video calling slumdwellers into action [7]:

Here’s an example of that in this video about slum conditions in Ahmedabad [8], another major city of India. The producers at Samvad CVU [9] have used this video to educate slumdwellers on how to ask the government for their basic amenities such as toilets!

However, it seems not everyone is satisfied with the portrayal of poverty in Slumdog Millionaire. In Patna, India, actor Anil Kapoor and music director A R Rahman have been sued [10] by the General Secretary of Slum Dwellers’ Joint Action Committee, Tapeshwar Vishwakarma. Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan on his blog [11]had a response towards naysayers of the movie:

On blog, comments for the film ‘SlumDog Millionaire’ and the anger by some on its contents, prompt me to say the above. If SM projects India as Third World dirty under belly developing nation and causes pain and disgust among nationalists and patriots, let it be known that a murky under belly exists and thrives even in the most developed nations. Its just that the SM idea authored by an Indian and conceived and cinematically put together by a Westerner, gets creative Globe recognition. The other would perhaps not.

This comment however, snowballed out of context into headlines stating that Bachchan was against the movie, and he has been trying to get the media to retract, clearing the misunderstanding on his blog [12] with a letter to a major newspaper where he states:

I was hoping to elicit the views of my readers, hoping to hear their debate, hoping to better inform myself in consequence. The articles published by the Guardian bear absolutely no relation to this endeavour.

Slum life holds a certain fascination with foreigners, who even pay to go tour Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, as we mentioned in India: Poorism, Tourism and the Western Tourist [13] back in 2006. The following video [14]by thegulab shows Dharavi during the Ganesha festival:

This video interview [15] by lpperkins63 [16] helps others understand why a family would choose to live in a slum, as they explain how in their village there was no paper money, and it was the search for a paying job and a better opportunity for their children that has led this family to Mumbai: