India: Reactions to Slumdog Millionaire

If you have not heard about Slumdog Millionaire then you must have missed all the buzz and the word of mouth publicity the film has got over the past few weeks. This surprise “underdog” film that almost did not make it to the movie theaters has won 4 Golden Globe awards and 10 Oscar nominations. Made on a shoestring budget of $15 million by British director Danny Boyle the film is based on Q and A, a novel written by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. The film consists of new and unproven film stars except for a couple of well-known Indian stars like Anil Kapoor and Irfan Khan. The film (without giving away spoilers) is about Jamal, a poor, young man from the slums of Mumbai, who through a stroke of luck appears in the wildly popular TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.” What happens? Does he win or not?

Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle. Image by Flickr user stits and used under a creative commons license

The film was shot by a mix of British and Indian crew in Mumbai, India and released late last year in the US and Europe. Last week the film was released in India. While the film got fantastic write-ups and reviews in the US, the film has got mixed reviews in India. Unsurprisingly, the film's music track by AR Rahman has got a consistent thumbs-up in India. The reviews and feedback of Slumdog Millionarie cover a fascinating array of opinions. Perhaps, the one blog post that created a lot of buzz are the remarks of Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan. A prolific blogger, Mr. Bachchan had this to say about the movie in one of his earlier posts:

“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.”

Predictably, Mr. Bachchan's comments were subjected to intense scrutiny by the media and bloggers. Just Jo writes in his post You Have No Idea Sir jee that while he has not seen Slumdog Millionaire that the slums featured in the movie are a reality in Mumbai, India. He writes:

“And if you haven't noticed, Sirjee, Hollywood has time and again featured the bad and sad elements of their society in their movies. Going by your argument, after watching Hollywood movies the world should be thinking that America is a country that consists only of criminals, racists, rapists, pregnant teenagers, drug-peddlers, pedophiles etc etc. But is that the case? They used this wonderful medium of Cinema to fight against those evils, Sirjee. And you become angry when the same is done here. Oh, in the process, you were also angry at the legendary filmmaker Satyajit Ray too!”

Since that first post on Slumdog Millionaire Mr. Bachchan has written another post clarifying his statement and speaking to director Danny Boyle and Anil Kapoor, the actor.

Nandan Nilekani, co-founder and head of Infosys, India's largest IT services company has an very interesting post where he talks about how films in India are the “zeitgeist” of the generation. Nilekani draws a comparison between Indian movies of the 1970s and Slumdog Millionaire and notes the difference in the world views of the these two generations. He writes:

“The movie is at its heart, about aspiration, and about dreams coming true. This ‘common man’ Jamal, is not angry, like the Indian men of the 1970s. He is both hopeful and relentless, defiant and proud of his origins even as the people around him call him a ‘slumdog’. He knows better – that it doesn't matter where you come from, only where you are headed.”

But, what do the young Indians think about the film? Do they think it is a hopeful film about aspirations and dreams coming true? It appears that not every young Indian subscribes to the hopeful note in the film. PH of Desicritics writes that he did not find Slumdog Millionaire “engaging” and points out:

“Unlike his counterparts from the American South, Jamal never quite becomes the everyman's voice of his period in Indian history; we never hear him telling us other people's interesting stories from his vantage point as an ‘outsider’ …All this makes Slumdog a half-hearted, comme ci, comme ca endeavor that wants to both be a fairy-tale and capture urban poverty but falters on both counts.

PH concludes that:

“Slumdog, then, is at best an attempt to cook a saccharine dish in a bitter sauce.”

Meera Sinha, a young Indian American who is spending a year in India saw the film. She draws our attention to the reaction from from Mumbai slum dwellers, who have protested against the term “slumdog” to describe them. More importantly, Meera draws our attention to the debate the movie has generated and writes:

“This kind of healthy critique of popular culture will help us understand our relationship to the media and its representations of us.”

Whether people like the movie or not, the fact is that Slumdog Millionaire has started a conversation in India about poverty, entrepreneurship and Indian films. Hopefully that conversation will yield results.

Thumbnail images by Flickr users Richliu & dq, used under creative commons license.

51 comments

  • Ashok

    no doubt its a good film with lots of good motivations.the problem is with us as we are very reluctant to accept the thruth.

  • Tariq Shah

    I am a Pakistani, but I am incensed at the gratuitous scenes shown just to shock teh audience, as in when the little boy jumps into the big pile of human waste, what was teh point of that? I have noticed most if not all Westerners love to show the dirty side of Pakistan and India, they never show the good side of our people….why? We should be outraged.

    I wish someone like Amitabh or Sharukh make a movie about the slums of New York, or the meth infested ghettos and barrios of San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc etc.

    Lets show the west a dose of their own reality, Indians should not rejoice this movie, they are making fun of the misery in India and I find it deeply offensive as a South Asian.

  • Babyfishie

    Whether the movie’s portrayal of India’s reality is accurate or not, we all know that poverty is out there in the country. Therefore, to criticize the flick without looking back to the cause of the problem is just pointless.

  • Interesting debate going on here…
    KP and Tariq, who commented above, I’d like to note that though this film may be made by a British filmmaker and you call it another “povery stricken boy meets girl”, I disagree with this slam.

    Of course, its another commercial film with a basic plot line, and the truth is, this is what makes the film mainstream and hit screens around the world. The impact of this is huge – people from all over the world can see the underbelly of Mumbai slum life, and this will allow a space for the voices of the unheard to rise.

    I’d like to inform you that since this film has come out, the community media work that Video Volunteers NGO does has been noticed not just in India, but globally. The amount of hits our website has received, and the interest people are taking to Community-made media from our producers’, some who thrive from Dharavi slums, who are equipped with tools and knowledge, but have yet to reach out to mainstream audiences globally.

    Please realise this, even if the film was not your cup of tea, and praise it for the importance it has in putting India and unheard communities on a ‘global buzz’ (even if it is afterall, temporary hype).
    :)

  • You know I really even don’t know what the golden globe awards are for?
    What kind of award is it?
    Now since a Britisher made this film it is given such publicity. Had an Indian made similar it would not have “struck gold” likewise.

    And really I hate those slums of Mumbai. Those slum dwellers really have ruined our capital.
    Filth and disease.
    Who would want to rejoice a film made of that catagory.
    How disgusting a portrayal of theft and poverty is given so much attension.
    Just by looking at the trailers I’m disgusted and not even motivated to see it.

  • yogjs

    Sample the contrast / similarity between two —
    Audience outside India critically acclaims a Hollywood made film of mumbai or land of Bollywood showing realistic picture of slums and poverty mixed with romance and hopes even though end is quite unbelievable.
    Or Indian audience, liking part of their Hindi movies, made in Switzerland or such exotic country where our actors dance and sing to escape realities of our country which is also equally unbelievable. .

  • […] a comment » 印度:如何看待《貧民百萬富翁》India: Reactions to Slumdog Millionaire 這部電影就像想用苦澀醬汁煮出一道甜點。“Slumdog, then, is at best an attempt […]

  • Anagha, UK

    Hi

    I am Indian, specially from Mumbai, wking out of India and watched the Movie, with all other nationalities, Hope u all understand all others wr mking fun and clapping when the boys was stkng the paste on Bislery this is INDIA sheetttt…The fact is we are showing thr beauty to Bollywood 4 Filmfare award, whras Gora’s show the poverty of INDIA and getng Oscars… cool..

    Well If anybody can pls explain me In mumbai all Millionaire dogs are without brain or “It’s Written”

    Good Day

  • owais

    Movie is real picture of People Living in Slums and we should be thankful to white man who has make this film and Make Indian people understand there are people who lives under same shelter and they are in pain and trouble,these people are victum of Gangester ETC .My Outcome from movie is that it is time when people of India should comeup with betterment proposals for slumdogs—-

    Owais

  • flippet

    “And really I hate those slums of Mumbai. Those slum dwellers really have ruined our capital.”

    Do you really think they have much choice??? And you’re not in a position to criticize if you haven’t watched it.

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