Slumdog Millionaire and its Colonial Connections

Hit British film Slumdog Millionaire has won the top prize at the Academy Awards, winning eight Oscars including best director and best picture”. Headline, BBC News, 23rd Feb, 2009.

While the entire Los Angles was playing the tunes of Jai Ho, it was welcomed with mixed response and feelings of pride, joy, frustration, ego and identity crisis in India.

If writing the screenplay, directing and producing the movie by Britishers qualify enough to be called a British movie, then it is not appropriate. The movie is an adoption of the award-wining novel “Q & A” of Indian author and diplomat Vikas Swarup. Not only that, the heart of the movie is based on the slum life of Mumbai, the very own city of India. The crew, the cast and the location, the theme, the life… all are Indian. What else is needed to call this as an Indian movie then?

Whether you call it as Indian movie or British film, wining Oscars by the Indians or the Britishers for their talents is encouraging. For the Indian Cinema, wining Oscars will definitely add a new chapter to its success story. If you say that was the success of Indian art, then it was the success of the British business model too, which got clicked at the time of recession. They came, shot the people and their life with a limited budget, made huge money out of that and sold the “piece of art” to the world with an Indian tag. It was the conglomeration of the “piece of art” and the business model, which brought the glamour of red carpet for some thing made out of the story of a slum.

Many criticized the movie, saying that it portrayed the ugly side of Indian slums and sold the lives of the poor (garibi) to the rich. They are not completely wrong though. But then, showing poor (garibi) is not anything new. Many have done that in the past. Then, why should they be blamed only? When our very own people do not do any thing for the slums,  what do we expect from movie makers who are in a way “art capitalists”. In fact, these movie makers are at least contributing to the economy by giving jobs to the slum dwellers either as an actor/actress or part of the support system, while shooting the cinema in the slum locality. Making of such movies too create social awareness among the mass.

To be honest, Garibi Hatao, or Garibi Bhagao are phrases coined for the sake of ballot politics in the name of social equality, for the sake of discussions in political circles and for the sake of publishing research papers by scholars and intellectuals. These are age old practices in India. The word garibi is being exploited by the politicians, political thinkers, the intellectuals, the researchers and the cinematographers. But, do these people really want garibi bhagao? I doubt! Both garib and garibi exist in its complete essence.

Some argue that the film is just an art, and there is no relation between garibi and the movie. But, it is not true. The movie is of course mixed with the emotion and the identity of the mass. More over, garibi is not an Indian phenomenon only. It is there in every part of the world. Then, why do you exploit garibi with Indian tag at the international arena for the sake of art or money?

Through a different perspective, if you analyze the pre- and post-days of the release of the movie, then you can find some connections between the movie with the colonial world. Even though  colonialism in terms of British Empire had disappeared long back, a new form of colonialism has started in the form of social divisions of poor and rich, higher caste and loser caste. Be it showing the slums of Mumbai to the western world in the name of art, or making a movie on the life of slum dwellers, or adopting a novel written by a “post-colonial” writer, a link is present every where (directly or indirectly) with colonialism. The plot of the movie is also an out come of the social imbalance created by the colonial world.

In a literary perspective, this movie is just a show case of the “post- colonial”  life and era. It is  the story of the oppressed and the oppressor, the ruled and the ruler and the difference of the poor and the rich. In the name of art, culture and  literature, it is just an exploitation of the mass. Almost all Indians went crazy when the child-stars of Slumdog returned home from Oscar ceremonies. But like the hunch in the movie that how can a slum “dog” be a millionaire, in real life too the lives of little kids like Azhradduin (Jamal) and Rubina (Lathika) have changed forever, for good or worse only time can say. Azharuddin has been reportedly beaten up and manhandled by his father for the sake of money and glamour. These people are still staying in slums — but they no longer belong to their “origin” and neither are they accepted in the so called “glamour classes” of our society. They might be pitied upon, shown as “art-pieces” in more film festivals and treated as “museum-creatures”, but only few might think that they are “human-beings” having a right to lead “normal” lives. They are doubly colonized: (a) By their own society/country which only lives on “breaking news” ; (b) by the “art-connoisseurs” of the world ready to make business out of their plight.Unless this is understood and taken care of, many such Slumdog Millionaires will be re-produced in different parts of the world — in the name of showing  life, and art,   staking the identity of a nation, of a city and a section of people.

The question arises; do we want that to happen and to repeat? Do we want ever to see the slums? Or do we want to change the life of the underprivileged? The choice is yours, and you have to write your own fortune and create your own destiny, whether to be called as slumdogs or millionaires.

Aamjunta, just think over it.

Jai ho!

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