SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (THE STRESS AND VIOLENCE OF LIFE IN INDIA) (Print Version)
by Jayant Bhandari*
Le Québécois Libre, January 15, 2009, No 263.
My body is so hardwired with the experience of living in India that it reacts automatically when I am reminded of the stress and violence of life there, as I was while watching the recent film, Slumdog Millionaire. In one scene, for example, a child from a so-called orphanage is anesthetised and then blinded in order to transform him into a beggar.
Had I been watching at home instead of in the theatre, I would certainly have fidgeted, or made myself a coffee, or found something else to do, anything to pause, to delay, to avoid. So often, in India, there is not much else one can do. The body reacts to helplessness.
Slumdog Millionaire, which was awarded four Golden Globes (including Best drama) by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on January 11, depicts the culture of the Mumbai slums, where about 40%-50% of the city lives. The story is centred on a tea-server, Jamal, who attempts to win 20 million rupees in the Indian version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" His real aspiration in participating in the program, however, is the possibility that by appearing on television, he might be located by his long-lost love, Latika, who earlier in the film, when they were both still in the orphanage, was sent out to be a prostitute.
Is Jamal destined to be a millionaire? Is he destined to be reunited with his true love? Can Latika be rescued from her sordid life?
Alas, a film has to supply the ingredients to satisfy
the audience's need for a pleasurable experience. If it's an Indian
film, that invariably means music and dancing. This film shows the tea-server,
Jamal, as a complete and utter gentleman, and Latika, the prostitute, as
a perfect lady. Viewers also must leave the theatre with hope and
positivity, and this is what this film provided. If I had to split hairs
and find a flaw, it is that this film must coat its harsh reality with
sugar to help the medicine to go down.
I have seen this dozens of times in India. It is
virtually impossible for people coming out of a certain section of the
society to emerge whole and sane. These people make so many compromises
in their lives just in order to survive that they no longer know the
difference between right and wrong. In a way, they have to switch off
their humanity to be able to carry on living. In real life, I would
expect Latika and Jamal to be as corrupt as anyone else in the film.