A personal response to Slumdog Millionare

slumdog(this post is adapted from a facebook comment that I wrote in a friend’s note. So it may feel a little disjointed)

Sitting currently in a western world (Montreal) and lapping up any Hindi movie that is released in the only theatre that shows Hindi movies, I realise that the “image” of India being portrayed is already gross/uncreative/garish/insensitive/poverty-hating/celebrity(glamour)-striken/pseudo-religious/womanising/violence-glorifying/non-sensical and insensible.

This is true even for our CURRENT hits like Rab ne bana di jodi, or Gajini, or even Luck by chance, (considered good/positive examples of recent Hindi films).

I invited a ‘western’ (Indian-exposed – he’s lived in Nepal for a while) friend to watch Billu Barbar with me, and he said that he didn’t want to watch without reading the review because he’s been “burned” by Hindi films too often. In contrast, I watched Luck by chance, by another western friend of mine (he was french) and he said that it was the best movie he’s seen in recent times…

Both reactions, are understandable.

Personally, I found that compared to these two friends, I looked a Hindi movie completely differently, identified with different things, and found completely different things enjoyable… or different things critique-worthy. I did not look for sense, but I did look for sensibility.

I was not too enamoured by the colour and dance, but I noted the way it moved or did not move me.

…now all this to say… and yes, I am getting to Slumdog… I entered the screening of Slumdog Millionare… foolishly expecting (because I hadn’t read any review)… that it was a comedy!!! And in a sense I entered the theatre thinking I was going to have a Hindi movie experience.

How rudely my pre-concieved notions were shaken! And I suddenly became an outsider… seeing India (my India… because Mumbai is very close to my heart and context)… being represented by an outsider… in a medium (western cinema) that was also alien.

While watching I suddenly had to shift gears… and watch differently, and suddenly I felt I was watching a poor movie… because it seemed so FAKE because they missed so much of the real-sensibility of India (I mean who the heck can get close to Bachchan in real life!!! Do these film-makers even know who Bachchan really is??? and what’s with Anil Kapoor ‘english’ accent!!! or even Police interrogation using electricity for television “fraud”… please!!!… such a pseudo attempt at unique narrative)

And at the same time I was reminded of the terrible REALITY that I had/have witnessed in real India. Despite the medium and presentation I was emotionally struck by the plight of the children/context, I felt I had left behind… (Salaam Bombay is another movie that comes to mind, that achieves a similar remembrance)… I was reminded of the pain of India that I cared deeply about but felt so incapable of doing anything about it…

In each scene, whether communal riots, or forced poverty… I had a real story to remember, a real experience to share (within)… and a real-connection.

And instead of allowing me to dwell on any of this reality… I was taken from scene to scene towards a fake (aka Mahesh Bhatt) climax and happy ending.

The final song at the station was the bitter-icing on a terrible cake. I was left with a feeling that a westerner had made a fake movie about reality (and perhaps that’s what outsiders think about hindi movies).

Anyway… I realised that the portrayal of India… as poor… was a natural (western) vision… I mean what else can they see here expect gods, dirt, crowds, and poverty?

But I was left offended by how poverty, violence, were used for a forced narrative that I never could accept as authentic. The ending was not happy, and the movie left me feeling angry and sad.

While I do regret the portrayal of India as negative, I think our own movies do a pretty good job in portraying India negatively (especially when seen outside the context of regular Hindi movie culture). So I don’t begrudge Danny Boyle for making a poverty-movie of India. Because our stereotypes (in popular cinema) are not much better.

But I am surprised by how people are affected by the movie in a limited sense. They are able to feel the pain, and yet move on quite quickly, to become insensitive to the pain.

It is perhaps not surprising in view of the movie’s episodic engagement with the suffering of people, that people are able to TALK about the issues, and give the movie that encourages such talk ACCOLADES and even LOCALISE the problem of how 3 children are treated (after the movie)… while missing the entire pathos that merits the situation at all.

Conclusion? The movie is not so bad, but I hated watching it.


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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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