One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Slumdog must just be too realistic…yes, that’s it

So the vastly overrated Slumdog Millionaire is flopping inspiring riots following its release in India.  I can’t say I’m surprised — the contrived, and entirely predictable, happy ending that enables Westerners’ decadent, guilt-free slum-gazing in the rest of the film does not appear to convince Indian audiences so unconcernedly — but this explanation in Time seems entirely to miss the mark.

“We see all this every day,” says Shikha Goyal, a Mumbai-based PR executive who left halfway through the film. “You can’t live in Mumbai without seeing children begging at traffic lights and passing by slums on your way to work. But I don’t want to be reminded of that on a Saturday evening.”

slumdog-millionaireSlumdog‘s problem is not that it is too real.  It is that it presents an entirely sensationalized depiction of these real-life slum scenes, flitting over them with bright shots for just enough time to provoke a reaction, but without any of the attendant thematic concerns.  Rather than a presentation of Mumbai’s everyday “real life,” Slumdog gives a caricature.  From a very worthy Slate review:

It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city. (The success of Slumdog has apparently given a boost to the dubious pastime of slum tourism—or “poorism,” as it’s also known.) And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.

And to indulge in it through the conceit of a gameshow once-popular in the United States — aww, look at those Indians, now they have their own “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”, too, how cute! — is to situate this “slum tourism” within a prism in which Americans can feel comfortable, and even, despite the plot’s painful predictability, experience some sort of dramatic tension.  The film, in other words, seems to offer the best of all possible worlds: abhorrent poverty, but a certain redemption; darkness and despair, but bright colors and a fast pace; the ostensible pursuit of love, but the undeniable allure of sex.  It is in the gaps between these crude tugs on the viewers’ sensibilities that the movie founders, and where this gaudily assembled pastiche ultimately comes completely undone.

(image from flickr user movies&movies2 under a Creative Commons license)


January 27, 2009 - Posted by | India/Pakistan, Movies | , ,


  1. tell us how you really feel… 😉

    Comment by anothergradstudentcliche | January 27, 2009 | Reply

  2. I agree with some of your points, although not all. In particular I disagree with the idea that if a movie doesn’t portray poverty in a super-realistic way than it is somehow illegitimate and bad. I don’t think Danny Boyle has an obligation to communicate the brutal realities of Mumbai slums in order to make a movie set in them. Not only that, I think there are good reasons not to. Portraying extreme poverty will necessarily dominate the entire movie, it is too powerful. Extreme poverty is so awful because it is dehumanizing. It would ruin any movies chances to be fun. As long as a movie doesn’t perpetuate negative stereotypes about groups of people I see nothing wrong with it trying to be fun. As far as I can tell, the criticism is essentially that the movie doesn’t make Westerners feel guilty enough, and if Danny Boyle wants to make a feel-good story he should set it in a location where a feel-good story has a realistic chance of happening. I would agree if the plotline made the appearance of being plausible, but it doesn’t. It does not leave Western viewers with the idea that it’s easy or even plausible for poor kids in Mumbai to become millionaires. The reason the movie feels good is that we know Jamal and Latika are avoiding a much worse and more realistic fate. But basically, I think all of this criticism is attacking Slumdog Millionaire for not being something it never intended to be. It’s a great story, the cinematography is great, the soundtrack is great, the actors and actresses are charming and Latika is really attractive, it’s a really enjoyable movie. It is not building awareness about the Mumbai slums. It’s not challenging cliches. It is what it is, and it’s very good.

    Comment by Tim | January 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. […] I think the worst M.I.A. can be accused of is riding on the trainwreck that was Slumdog Millionaire. But here’s this […]

    Pingback by If you play M.I.A.’s songs backwards, they reveal a secret terrorist plot! « Boondoggle | February 11, 2009 | Reply

  4. […] from last week, the fantastically-named Katherine Boo provides a great intellectual twist on the underlying hollowness of “Slumdog Millionaire.” Sunil [the subject of Boo’s piece] knew nothing of the movie […]

    Pingback by More anti-Slumdog analysis « Boondoggle | February 24, 2009 | Reply

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