India: Slumdog or Millionaire?

The latest video of Jai Ho by the Pussycat Dolls is the latest testimony in a string of appraisal for the Oscar winning film, Slumdog Millionaire. The movie won eight Oscars including two for music maestro A.R. Rehman. Although, the film was directed by an Englishman by the name of Danny Boyle, it featured a predominantly Indian cast that was set in India. So given all the publicity and hype that Slumdog has generated worldwide, especially in the USA, one wonders if the success of the movie is good for the nation’s image or does it show people how gruesome and miserable life can be in our country?


The Good…


The point of view that most Indians would like to take is that the movie did the image the country a lot of good. From a simplistic point of view, the fact that it featured Indian cast from Bollywood gave our actors and professionals a chance to showcase their talents and skills on the grandest stage of them all. From veterans like Anil Kapoor to debutante Frieda Pinto, the actors gained critical and public acclaim. This spells good news for our cinema industry that is trying hard to establish itself in foreign countries. Although, the movie starts off bad, it ends off on a positive note with Jamal winning twenty million rupees and also getting the love of his life. At heart, the story is deeply Indian, of a person who starts out humble but then emerges a winner defeating prejudice, poverty and overcoming all obstacles. Today, as the economies of the US and Europe seem to falter, the Indian economy is still going strong although it has lost steam. It reminds western audiences how India is going to be a major player in the world economy and international affairs in the coming years. The growth of India has indeed provided opportunities to the underprivileged and lifted many out of poverty.


The Bad…


Although, the movie has a happy ending one cannot help but notice how gruesome, inhuman and gross the beginning is. The slums are shown as havens of crime, communalism, violence, misery and poverty. Jamal’s mother is killed in a riot, forcing him to live on the streets and later he is abducted by people who make money out of child beggars. The atrocities are simply ghastly and one wonders what kind of impression all this leaves on the mind of the Westerner about India. The world has taken note of a rising India but paradoxes still exist and this movie brilliantly showcases how there is a dark side to the success story of India. While Infosys and Wipro mint money and the Ambanis and Mittal climb on the Forbes list of the richest people on the planet, millions are starving and dying each year in the country. There is mass poverty and degrading life standards in the slums and villages of India. The movie definitely forces a person who can relate to the India Shining story think about this nation again.


I feel that on the whole among the hype of Slumdog Millionaire, India emerges out a winner, just like Jamal does. Accepted that there are still pressing issues with our country like regional and communal divides, poverty, low quality of life, illiteracy and the ever-growing population but the movie definitely forces one to consider that there are always two sides of the coin. India has been a rich land since ancient times and it was the imperialistic exploitation of the British that turned the “Golden Sparrow” into a nation of the poor and uneducated. Now, with the economy steaming on, the film reminds the audience that despite the multitude of crippling problems that India faces, she will turn out to be a winner one day and take her rightful place on the world stage, be it destiny, if you will.


Sainyam Gautam


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