Saturday, April 11, 2009

Slumdog and Perception

If you saw the Academy Award winning movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you, like many others, including myself, truly found it an entertaining movie. I knew it was a controversial film here in India, primarily because it depicted a part of India that is not very flattering, the slums in the big cities of Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and many more. Being here in the country over the past week and hearing my friend’s different reactions to the movie, I can see their point.

I remember many years ago when I lived in Kenya how that visitors always wanted to take pictures of the poor tribal’s. In all the years I was in Africa I never had one person say, “Hey, I’d like to get a picture of the rich Kenyans in Nairobi.” I guess it’s normal, but a Kenyan friend asked me why Americans only take pictures of the slums?

In a recent episode of a popular TV series the Amazing Race, one destination the team went to was Jaipur, India. The TV produces thought it was necessary to show the poor kids in the city eating from the trash bins and a close up of one of the contestants in tears, obviously distraught over the plight of poor children.

To be sure, there are many poor people in India and around the world and, for good and bad, many people exploit the images of the downtrodden for many things, including food relief, medical services, and schools and building their own non-profit coffers. The easiest ministry in the world to raise funds for is social work. Westerner’s fall all over themselves to help the poor (at a cost of $2500 for a two week excursion), to hand out rice and, of course, take lots of pictures of those they helped. (Interesting, they don’t often show the hotels or food they eat after they feed the poor in the slums).

Nevertheless, I still liked the movie. It had a good story line, well produced with great acting (at least from a layman’s point of view).

There is a bit of hypocrisy in Bollywood as many of their movies show a side of India that is out of reach for the masses. While not everyone in India lives in the slums, and even greater number will never reach middle class and, living like the super wealthy will only be attained, perhaps, in their next life or in another 100 reincarnations.

Movies, no matter the setting, are usually more fantasy than fact. Slumdog’s controversy was due to national pride and I get it. Reality doesn’t make for good movies so we are left with the polar opposites of the rich and famous and the poor slumdog’s. The happy middle of authenticity is somewhere tourists and movie produces don’t go.