Ten Oscar nominations, but does this film reflect life in India’s slums?
Reviewed by Senan and Sarah, from The Socialist newspaper, UK.
You would expect a film that has won five Critics’ Choice Awards, four Golden Globes and seven Bafta Awards, and has been nominated for ten Academy Awards to be outstanding, or at least have some qualities that can inspire.
But Slumdog Millionaire, despite the hype, failed to transcend the parameters of the average expectations of a quality film.
It also failed to impress Indian audiences. In fact Time magazine reported that when it opened in India only 25% of the seats were full. The masses of India are always suspicious of large scale ‘art productions’. They know through experience that the main aim of these projects is to make profits by selling their poor conditions.
This was reflected in the slogans such as “Poverty for sale” on the placards during protests at the home of Anil Kapoor, the lead actor in the movie. The protests were ignited by the anger of slum inhabitants at the way the film deals with life in the slums and the use of ‘dog’ in the title.
Slumdog Millionaire is written and directed with one eye on the western markets and the other eye on the easy cash that can be made from exploiting the massive film market in India and among Indians around the world.
People looking to make profit in the film industry have noted that some non-English language Bollywood movies make more money in Britain than popular English-language movies produced in Europe. The Indian film industry is very attractive for investors, particularly those from Britain which has a significant Indian population.
British script writers and investors have been looking for the magic formula to produce a commercial movie in English that would be popular in both India and Britain, thus taking a share in the millions made by the Indian film industry.
But Slumdog Millionaire fails to capture the popular imagination of the average Indian and of course the people of the ‘slums’. However, the movie attempts to grab the western mind with some shocking imagery.
In a world where the poor are repeatedly told that getting rich is the only way to end their misery, many dream of being a millionaire. But Slumdog Millionaire only glances across the surface of that question before quickly moving on to the cheap love story.
The boy from the slums gets on to the Indian version of Who wants to be a millionaire and wins the 20 million rupees maximum prize. His life story is told through an interrogation of how he knows all the answers.
Slumdog is a very average story made exotic by its setting in India. The extremes of poverty and violence graphically portrayed are not novel but they will be new in the context of a blockbuster for a European audience.
The movie has a very promising start with fast camera action following the boys running through the slums. The children played their characters very well but then the screenplay settles on a patronising middle-class tourist’s perspective of the slum, where even the toilet’s contents are made to look beautiful on the screen!
Maybe it was this prettifying of the deep and horrific poverty endemic in India, this so-called ’emerging’ power, that led Prince Charles to recently recommend the architectural form of the slums as a design model for meeting the residential needs of today.
If anyone is keen to watch this film to find out about life in the Indian slum they will be disappointed. Salaam Bombay!, directed by Mira Nair in 1988, gives a far deeper insight.