A Year in India


Slumdog Millionaire Thoughts
January 26, 2009, 4:16 pm
Filed under: Culture | Tags: , ,

“In the end, what gives me reluctant pause about this bright,
cheery, hard-to-resist movie is that its joyfulness feels more
like a filmmaker’s calculation than an honest cry from the
heart about the human spirit (or, better yet, a moral tale).”
-New York Times movie reviewer Manohla Dargis

Mumbai slum residents protesting against "Slumdog Millionaire"

Mumbai slum residents protesting against "Slumdog Millionaire"

Slumdog Millionaire buzz has been in the air for the past few weeks, both in the US and here in India.  I found the film’s storyline entertaining (if a bit cheesy), its cinematography energetic, its actors solid, and its soundtrack innovative.

Overall, though, I didn’t think the film was as phenomenal as its hype promised.  Does the movie represent a surface-level American fascination with Indian poverty?  Will Americans now take its neat packaging as their central window into a far more complex country?  What is the point of glamorizing slum life to this extent?  Does the film misrepresent slum dwellers’ lives in other ways?  Would it have been a very different movie had it been made by an Indian?  (It says something that director Danny Boyle had never been to India prior to shooting the film.)

These nagging questions caution me against calling Slumdog Millionaire a defining film about Indian slum culture.  Mumbai slum dwellers themselves have taken issue with the film, protesting its derogatory title: “I am poor, but don’t call me a slumdog,” said one such slum resident.  A couple social activists are even going so far as to file a lawsuit against the film, citing its overly negative depiction of slum life.

I actually find these protestors’ concerns refreshing.  Far too often, I notice Indian film audiences brushing off offensive film content.  (Not once have I heard debate over the portrayal of women in Bollywood films, for example.)  This kind of healthy critique of popular culture will help us understand our relationship to the media and its representations of us.

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6 Comments so far
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Oh boy, I can’t wait to see this one. Too bad that I haven’t got the tickets for the movie yet. Thanks for the review!

Comment by TheVolts

[…] 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.” […]

Pingback by Global Voices Online » India: Reactions to Slumdog Millionaire

[…] 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.” […]

Pingback by Kamla Bhatt Blog » Books, Movies, Music, Televison Bollywood Bombay/Mumbai Books and Authors Global Voices India People » Slumdog Millionaire: To See Or Not To See?

[…] Meera Sinha [en], een jonge Indiase-Amerikaanse die een jaar in India woont, heeft de film gezien. Ze wijst ons op de reacties van bewoners van de sloppenwijken van Mumbai, die hebben geprotesteerd tegen de term “slumdog” waarmee ze worden omschreven. Belangrijker nog, Meera wijst ons op de discussie die de film heeft veroorzaakt. Ze schrijft: “Dit soort gezonde kritiek op populaire cultuur helpt ons om onze relatie met de media en de manier waarop zij ons afschilderen, te begrijpen.” […]

Pingback by Global Voices in het Nederlands » India: Reacties op Slumdog Millionaire

[…] Ninashawishika kuandika zaidi, lakini ni budi niingie kwenye chereko na kuepuka kuandika zaidi kero zangu zinazoihusu filamu […]

Pingback by Global Voices in Swahili » India: Filamu ya Slumdog Millionaire Yanyakua Tuzo za Oscar

hey Meera-

I totally agree with your somewhat conflicted review of slumdog. while it was excited to see a film set in India completely dominate the oscars (and much of the press), the movie itself left me slightly uncomfortable. yes it is an engaging story, with great music and cinematography. the actors are convincing, and bring a difficult story to life. but i feel the movie sells out a little to the “hollywood ending,” which undermines the realness the movie tries to portray. I also worry that the entertaining, somewhat uni-dimentional portrait of the “slumdog” protagonist leaves americans/non-Indian viewers with an subjective understanding of Indian cities that they will carry forward as Truth— caring little to investigate further, or worse: writing the whole issue off as a helpless case. but to be fair, aren’t many hollywood movies guilty of this- creating half-truths that are transformed into static historical representations in the viewers’ eyes? –

Comment by sophie




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