Friday, 16 January 2009


The Golden Globe glory of Slumdog Millionaire seems to be raising questions regarding audiences (divided along national, religious, geographic, gender, class and countless other lines) all over again. I have been grappling with these questions regarding the Mehta trilogy, but the recent critical acclaim accrued to the Danny Boyle film, as well as Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning novel The White Tiger is literally pushing the Indian sublatern into the global spotlight. A review from The Australian refers to the gory yet life-affirming movie as 'poverty porn' and blames shallow western audiences rather than filmmakers for their tastes. It also raises the point that the Mumbai-based film has not even been released in India yet, which reminds me of the time Mehta's Water was nominated for an Oscar without having officially being screened in the country of origin. Perhaps critics who write such reviews need to consider the perfectly valid proposition that such films are specifically tailored for the western liberal (and occasionally mainstream) viewers. Maybe I'll revise that statement and say that such films are more likely to appeal to the cosmopolitan viewer, whether in India or overseas. While city-dwellers in India may be aware of the existence of slums, it is largely peripheral to their privileged lives. In other words, the film might be as shocking to a section of Indian viewers as it is to the western viewer. The purpose, then, may not be to reach the slum-dwellers themselves, but shake the rest of us out of our consumerist oblivion. Will the so-called slumdogs object to their onscreen portrayal? David Stratton called in Dickensian, and I think he might be right. The poor are not without agency in this film, so why cast them as victims?

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