Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thoughts on Slumdog Millionaire's resonance

The one image from Slumdog Millionaire that painfully refuses to leave my memory is the long shot of the character, ‘Jamal’ as a boy, jumping into an excrement filled hole in the ground after deciding that he wasn’t going to miss his chance to greet the great Amitabh Bacchan and get his autograph. The crowd gathered around also move apart granting him access to the star who has just stepped off his helicopter – an irony seeing as how Jamal would probably never have gotten close to Bacchan unless he was actually covered in excrement. He is almost sub-human, covered in feces, a disgusting fetid blob on the landscape, from the terribly ignored strata of Mumbai society, from the slum…

Indian society has a lot to answer for – to have given rise to such a vast underclass of people living not far removed from a culture of luxury sedans, afternoon spas, fine dining and absolute apathy. The slum environs in the movie is as true a depiction as we will ever see, and more familiar to the population of India than the saturated colour schemes of our own cinematic depictions of the living conditions of the underclass in our cities. It wasn’t meant to be like this. Our freedom fighters did have dreams in 1947, they did have ideals and goals – India was going to be the guiding light, our ancient history and progressive intellectualism combining to morph into a shining beacon to a world of inequality.

To all those of you who are insulted by the ‘pornography of poverty’ in the movie, who say that using ‘Slum’ or ‘Dog’ in the title is disrespectful to the people who live in Dharavi, there is only one thing to say – you are the same people who periodically protest at the lack of regulation in allowing wretched migrants from the poverty-stricken villages to enter Mumbai. You are the same people who protest when there are riots and bombs interfering in your daily lackadaisical routines. You are those who have no concept of what it is to live without knowing for sure if you are going to get the three meals a day that prevents the hunger from assaulting you when you lay your head down at night.

We are culprits of the crime of inhumanity. We have to acknowledge what we have spawned, whether indirectly or in collusion with - a social system that allows you to hire or fire your maid or your servant on a whim, to throw rag-clad people off the first-class compartments of our suburban trains, to use physical or verbal violence on people whom we know are completely dependent on the hand-outs we deign to impart.

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