Slumdog Millionaire has been collecting a lot of awards and gathering much attention lately, with some likelihood that it might win an Oscar for best picture as well as for several other categories. Somewhat surprising has been the movie’s quick rise to fame, which is fitting given the movie itself is about an underdog succeeding in life against improbable odds and circumstances. I’m really interested in seeing it from what I’ve seen and read of it.
Anyways what strikes me about Slumdog Millionaire is the similarities of its fortunes with the success of The White Tiger, an Indian novel which won the Booker Prize in 2008. Obviously the starting point is that they’re both Indian works, based in India and about India (their cities do differ but that is negligible).
The other thing is both their storylines are about underdog characters from miserable backgrounds and childhoods rising in an unlikely manner to achieve success in life.
The main thing is that both feature an India in which injustice, suffering and poverty are significant and abundant in society, which sharply contrasts with the view by some of a rising India becoming a future global power.
This display of visible poverty has disturbed some people, with some alleging that Slumdog stereotypes India or that it’s a type of poverty pornography, making an exotic spectacle of poverty. Others however say that the movie showcases reality for many Indians and that the negative situations portrayed are indeed issues that need to be displayed as opposed to downplayed. Personally, I agree with the latter viewpoint, because social problems like poverty or crime shouldn’t be covered up or ignored, assuming the way it’s portrayed isn’t too gratuitious and made to seem like entertainment or pointless. The mere portrayal of these in Slumdog and White Tiger, doesn’t mean that they can be solved right away but at the least they show something realistic about life. Of course, the main plot focus between the two differs markedly in that with White Tiger, the portrayal of social problems is a main theme while Slumdog has a romantic element as its central part of its storyline with poverty and crime as significant but accompanying.
I do think that there was probably a hint of exoticism in terms of seeing poverty on a vivid and apparent scale in an attractive foreign locale which helped sway the various prize judges and critics for Slumdog. But again, the poverty and other social problems are a vital part of India and the more attention that the movie gets, the more people will see it. Not to mention, the storyline of the movie seems to be quite fascinating and appealing, with its themes of love, hardship, perseverance and chance all happening in unique circumstances.
The movie has attracted a heap of controversy over other issues ranging from being pejorative to poor people to exploitation. In a very extreme reaction, a protest broke out in Mumbai when some slum dwellers objected to being referred to as dogs from the movie’s english name. Incidentally the name was coined by the screenwriter and was not a part of the original novel’s name (Q and A) that the movie is based on.
Whatever the possible drawbacks or injustices committed by Slumdog regarding the above accusations, it has shined a good amount of international attention on India and its chaotic, vivid, bustling and yes, exotic, and tragic natures. Just like White Tiger, Slumdog has achieved a lot of success for its gritty portrayal of social problems which strongly add to the enjoyment and fascination of viewing it.
I haven’t seen the movie yet but I hope and trust that if I do, I won’t find that what I wrote here is bs.
One more link: this article from India’s Economic Times talks about Slumdog’s success and then introduces its cynical and interesting “Golden garbagecan” concept about developing metropolises who catch the West’s attention because of their mix of tragedies, culture and progress.