I Love My Slumdog

Dharavi -- The slum of 'Slumdog Millionaire'

As Oscar night draws near, Indian furor over Danny Boyle’s acclaimed film, Slumdog Millionaire, reaches a fevered pitch. India is being shown in a bad light! cry Indians who have never set foot in Dharavi or any other slum.

Indeed, they need not be familiar with the slum environment to mount their charge. Their complaint is fundamentally divorced from the question of the accuracy or fairness of Mr. Boyles’s depictions of the lives of slum-dwellers; it is about whether a foreign filmmaker is entitled to tell any story other than “India Shining”. This is a fable last told by the BJP in the 2004 elections. The Indian public didn’t buy it for a minute and, as a result, the BJP was able to snatch a stunning defeat from the jaws of victory. Congress has been running the government ever since.

Which aspect of India is shining at the moment? Politics are hopelessly corrupt and dysfunctional. The environment and cultural heritage are taking severe beatings. A vast number of Indians do not share in India’s recent economic successes; and those who have become affluent typically engage in patterns of consumption so thoughtless and aesthetically offensive as to rival Americans.

None of this is to say that India is not wonderful in many important ways or that it is not brimming with potential. I don’t need to be convinced. I live there half of each year – by choice, not compulsion.

In any event, the current furor has nothing much to do with the merits of the situation.

The heart of the Slumdog protest lies in a deep-rooted post-colonial chauvinism. The national vibe is a virulent, hypocritical jingoism in which no one really believes, but from which no one would dare back down. Indians take criticism about India poorly from each other and not-at-all from foreigners. Many Indians will go well out-of-their-way to parse an insult from the innocuous, so long as outsider criticism can plausibly be gleaned. It is as though there were pleasure to be derived from whipping oneself into outrage, no matter how tenuous or foolish.

I love my India!

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11 Responses to “I Love My Slumdog”


  1. 1 naren 21 February 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Beautifully written! i couldn’t help nodding in acquiesence at every sentence.

  2. 2 kavi 21 February 2009 at 8:40 pm

    I went ofcourse ! Ofcourse ! as i read this post.

    This is true. Very true. I think we need to be able to hold on to our growth without losing touch of whats happening at the ground level !

    Slumdog ‘reminds’ India about a world that we would like to forget. But lives next door !! How long can you move around pretending you cant see..!!

    And its time we take multiple points of view in our stride. Its high time !

    Well written !

  3. 3 Siddharth Singh 22 February 2009 at 6:24 am

    So very true!

    I wrote about this in my blog too, only from an Indian’s perspective. The link to “Is SM Obscene?” is given in the ‘Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)’ section. Cheers.

  4. 4 Siddharth Singh 22 February 2009 at 9:49 am

    I once read a Russian newspaper where a communist commentator had written an essay on 10 myths about capitalism. One of them was about the relation between consumption and happiness. Contermporary economics tells us “individuals desire to maximise consumption” to maximise happiness. He wrote that the USA has the maximum per-capita consumption in the world, and yet, in many so-called “Happiness Indices” compiled by different organisations, put the USA somewhere in between all nations, and not on top as should have been expected. Clearly then, “desire” must play a role in determining contentment. Desire itself is fueled by popular culture (though it remains a natural human characteristic).

    In the USA, and now even in India, people are exposed to incessent consumeristic hedonism right since birth via movies, advertisements, programmes like “Fabulous Lives” etc. I suppose it constantly reminds people what they don’t have (and might probably never).

    Materialism that arises from unregulated markets is being systematically welcomed by the government and elite Indian media. One major newspaper now holds an annual “Luxury Conference”. Today, its front page welcomed the arrival of a $1 million car to the Indian markets.

  5. 5 peddlarofdreams 23 February 2009 at 6:51 am

    Excellent post! I agree completely, as you would already have noticed from my Slumdog post! Your observations on Suketu Mehta’s book are also spot-on. And now that Slumdog has won Best Film at the Oscars, apart from 6 other awards, I think (?), all I can say is Jai Ho!

  6. 7 Magezi 2 March 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Just dropping by. Btw, your website has great content!

  7. 8 Sonali 15 March 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I believe the narrow minded blind one size fits all opinion is a two way highway. I loved Slumdog millioniare. Moreso after the oscars, for before that it was seen as a fairy tale but after the two slum kids got to be on the red carpet, it did seem like a possibility.

    However, much like the author in soulcast who made some seriously ignorant rants about India from watching a documentary( and from whose blog I came to know about yours), many people judge the whole country by just one movie or documentary and I do believe that that is what the outcry was really about. It isn’t blind chauvinism alone but a need to make people believe that things have gotten better for many if not all the people in the country. Seeing the country as one lacking potential or a hell on earth isn’t anything new to the locals. They have been doing it for quite some time. That is evident with the brain drain from India to western countries. People need to believe that they can change their fates, that they can change their surroundings. And we need people to invest in us so that we can make things better. That wont happen if people thought we were hopeless.

    India’s problem isn’t her corruption, her filth or her superstitions. It’s her lack of faith amongst the people that they can change things and that things may get better. I felt that Danny Boyle understood it.

    I have lived in India for most of my life and I have lived in the west. The faith in one’s country and its people is the biggest challenge that India faces. The India shining campaign was about that really.

  8. 9 AV 14 April 2009 at 1:48 pm

    “None of this is to say that India is not wonderful in many important ways or that it is not brimming with potential. I don’t need to be convinced. I live there half of each year – by choice, not compulsion.”

    And what of it? Is it possible that you live in India because of “white man’s burden” complex? Were you raised as a Christian, by any chance? You should write a post on what exactly do you find wonderful and important about India. Reading your posts doesn’t quite give a clear idea as you seem to be filled only with vinegar.

    BTW, what does BJP have to do with the film? If there’s so much poverty in India today, it’s Congress and its policies that are responsible since they’ve been in power for ~48 of 61 years post 1947. I guess everyone needs a whipping boy to make them happy (in your case, it’s BJP?), and why bother with inconvenient facts.

  9. 10 mbjesq 17 April 2009 at 12:26 am

    AV:

    If I may paraphrase from your post:

    Is it possible that you are a racist? Were you raised as a moron, by any chance? You should tell us what exactly we should find so wonderful and important about India. Reading your comment doesn’t give a fucking clue, since your criticism is bereft of analytic rigor and doesn’t intelligently support your implication that India is beyond reproach.

    If you find only “vinegar” in my writings about India, you’ve either not read very deeply in these essays (which can, incidentally, be found by clicking on the “India” label in the “Categories” drop-down menu in the column to the right) or read very carefully. Likely both.

    What, indeed, does the BJP have to do with the film? I certainly never stated — or even implied — a connection. And what, exactly, makes you think I am an apologist for Congress, a political party as corrupt, pandering, ineffectual, and disgraceful to its historical antecedents as any on the planet?

    Your comments are foolish to the point cringeworthiness. Even I, a man of little compassion or understanding when it comes to willful displays of stupidity, am slightly mortified for you. On the other hand, I am also grateful that you took the time to express your outrage that someone like me (or whomever it is you presume me to be) would dare to criticize India. For in so doing, you have neatly illustrated the very point of my essay.

    I love my Indians!

    MBJ

  10. 11 Niki 21 December 2009 at 3:11 pm

    What you (the author) say is true. And as another person pointed out we do like to forget that the problem exists.

    In spite of that I would still not “buy” the whole idea and I believe I have a reason- The movie shows only one part of India. The part that is ugly, unmanaged, poor and the like.

    But then again I get to thinking that its a damn movie, what’s the big deal. I guess the movie shows that face because lets ‘face’ it, would you go watch a movie which shows the “trendy” side? Which is more “western anyway”. Probably not. Would a story of a poor Indian boy from the slums interest you? Would it count as an awesome attempt at movie making? Probably. Personally I wouldn’t watch the movie, but I definitely won’t go crying foul and try to shut it down or something. Everyone has their freedom. Don’t like it? Ignore it.

    I believe what makes the whole nation cry out is because Indians live as one. They take their image very seriously. In the west nations comprise of individuals, citizens, humans. In India, they comprise of Indians, if you get my drift. Which I think is great, but it needs to be tuned a bit to know where to put all of your strength into. I’d rather put it into holding the local government responsible for issues like pollution from the public transports. Those damn buses pollute a hundred times more than “the rich freaks with their imported BMWs”.


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