Why I feel Slumdog Millionaire is not deserving (An Indian Perspective?)


It seems that the West, and some Indians too, have fallen hook, line and sinker for Slumdog Millionaire, while I, and some other Indians find the film to be middling. Honestly, the only reason I forced myself to sit through the entire film was because of the acclaim its been getting abroad. This article is just a repost of what I posted on Rushmore's top 100 movies article. Note: I'm no movie critic, rather I'm quite unschooled when it comes to movies.

I’m Indian, and I don’t dislike SM, but I find it to be average. I’ve seen enough Bollywood films to be slightly jaded by the melodramatic, requiring-suspension-of-belief plot set midst the poverty and the gangsters. It simply adapts Bollywood formulas for a western audience. If you want to see a piece of true Indian genius, watch the Apu Trilogy by Satyajit Ray, the first movie especially. It easily surpasses SM in its eloquent depiction of poverty. SM has covered ground that has been covered before. Hasn’t the misery of India’s poor been talked about enough?

In SM we see Jamal being tortured by policemen and given shocks, his mother killed by Hindus in riots, him eking out an existence at a huge garbage dump living under a tent, gangsters masquerading as running an adoption center picking up vulnerable children and forcing them to beg, blinding them and selling them into prostitution, the elder brother getting into a life of crime, getting drunk on power….I find this potrayal of India rather negative and worn. Talking about poverty and India is old. I’m not “denying” the fact that India has another face to it, I’m saying that has been talked about enough.

Yeah, it sure does have some positive, fun parts like Jamal and Salim making money by being tour guides and this and that, and Jamal ends up being a chai-wallah and then he wins the game show. But is the story or even just the last bit plausible?

The film was melodramatic, and uses Bollywood formulas to tug at heart strings. Look at all these emotional, crazy twists and turns in the plot, like Jamal finding the love of his life, his brother Salim doing one last good deed, and her falling into his arms at the end of the film. The whole good things-bad things twists and turns is, atleast I feel, a sort of formula. Also, for Indians the slums and the life there is nothing new, but for the West its novel.

This is minor, but it feels rather weird, when the film suddenly shifts from Hindi to English. Hearing perfect English from Jamal and Salim feels odd. I also dislike the title. What has “slum” got to do with “dog”?

My point is, the film is ok, its average, but whatever it is, it definitely does not deserve the attention and awards it has garnered.

http://elekhni.com/2009/02/why-do-indians-hate-slumdog-millionaire/ - Blog with some intelligent discussion on the Indian point of view.



The blog post was quite insightful, but it seems to believe that the main reason why Indians don't like the film is that it focuses on the bitter realities of the slums, which (IMHO) isn't a flaw of the film, it's just what the film happens to be about.

Let me ask you actually, because I honestly haven't seen enough Bollywood films to speak to how Slumdog compares to typical Indian cinema. I have heard, though, that even if a Bollywood film features a rags-to-riches story, the films:

(a) very rarely show the brutal violence that Slumdog Millionaire does, and
(b) very rarely show the life in the slums with as much unflinching harshness as Slumdog Millionaire does.

Do you believe each of those statements is true, or have you actually seen plenty of Bollywood movies as raw and violent as Slumdog is (in parts)? I am curious because you say that talking about India's poverty has been done before, but I got the impression that it hasn't been done much before in Bollywood films. True or false?

Yup, I don't agree with the blog either, but I put up the link just to give another viewpoint on the film.

Bollywood cinema tend to be escapist. Indian audiences aren't interested in high brow, difficult to get into films. They want big stars, drama and twists and turns where they can loose themselves in the film. As a result, Bollywood seldom reflects reality, and the overwhelming majority of the movies are Indian-audience specific, which I suppose is why Indian films are not a huge hit abroad, except in countries that have cultural ties to India.

That is not to say that there are no insightful, well made Indian movies, but neither do they get the same amount of press nor do they come anywhere near the box office returns of the usual Bollywood release.

The violence depicted in Slumdog Millionaire is shown in a few Bollywood movies, but again, those movies would have an overhyped, escapist and unreal depiction of violence. As for slums, they're hardly ever shown in Bollywood movies, I agree. However, try Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay!.

Talking about India's poverty hasn't been done before in Bollywood movies, because the Bollywood audience is India's poor. Why would they be interested in a movie about what they see everyday? Even if you're middle or upper class, you can't be unaware of the poverty. We're used to it, maybe inured to it, thats why its hardly focused upon.

Answers to the questions :

(a) There are many films that show violence more grisly than shown on Slumdog. For starters, try "Parinda" if you can lay your hands on it.

(b) There ARE many films that are wholly and solely based on slums! And it wouldn't be wrong to say that Slumdog works because it glamourizes slums rather than making them an integral part of the film. Some films off the top of my head : "Company", "Salaam Bombay"

Poverty in India has been the subject of... let's see, most of the films in 70s and 80s. The point is, it has never been made as the USP of the film. It hasn't been shot so dynamically, with the 'wow' effect or rather the fascinating horror with which it has been done in SLumdog.

I'll tell you WHY Slumdog clicks with the Western audience - the poverty is captured from a Westerner's point of view, by a Westerner. That's it. I truly believe this film wouldn't have garnererd this amount of praise and adulation if it had been shot by an Indian.