[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/20/slumdog.cast.getty.art.jpg caption="The cast of 'Slumdog Millionaire,' lead actor Dev Patel (L), Freida Pinto (C), Anil Kapoor (R), Irrfan Khan (2nd R), and Madhur Mittal (2nd L) arrive at the 81st Academy Awards on February 22, 2009."]
By Vinita Singla, CNN
When I read yesterday that the "Slumdog Millionaire” team had donated money to impoverished kids in India, I was thrilled. I had been a part of it.
Trendy white leather sectionals, crystal chandeliers dangling from the high ceilings, beautiful lit candles and best of all the energy that exuded from the cast and crew of “Slumdog Millionaire.” Those are just some of my memories from the amazing Jan. 21 Plan charity event I attended in New Delhi. It was at an exquisite restaurant with a sprawling lounge area and a trendy top shelf bar. Ironically, the event took place two days before "Slumdog Millionaire" premiered in Mumbai.
I had been looking forward to the bash as soon as I heard about it. The thought of seeing Director Danny Boyle and Frieda Pinto in person was exciting especially because “Slumdog Millionaire” was the new craze in our American Morning newsroom. Even at 4 a.m., Executive Producer Janelle Rodriguez and co-anchor John Roberts didn’t hesitate to declare their love for the movie. “Oscar!”: Rodriguez called it.
It was a strange feeling being in India knowing I had already seen the romantic flick in NY and yet it was just being released where it was shot, in Hindustan. I was a little surprised that even some of my family members who lived in India, only heard about Danny Boyle’s award-winning sensation after receiving invitations from Plan. They didn’t really seem to realize the significance of the affair. They definitely were not as stoked as I was.
Though my biggest shock came on Jan. 23 when I read in The Times of India that the film’s title and imagery had stirred protests across Bharat. I didn’t expect that some Indians, including both the rich and the impoverished, would take the movie so personally. The name of the movie offended some slum dwellers. Don’t call us dogs, they said. Others, specifically the wealthy, were offended because they said that India, in its entirety, was not a slum. Some Hindus even rallied to get Slumdog censored. They said they felt denigrated because Lord Sree Ram was shown giving a blessing with his left hand instead of his right hand. They also felt they were wrongly shown attacking the Muslims in the scene in which Jamal’s mother was killed.
Protests aside, the Plan shindig was a success. Anil Kapoor led the auction that evening personally and later personally asked people to donate to Plan. Celebrities, including fashion designers, writers and producers, were quick to cast their bids. Freida Pinto modeled a beautiful diamond ring. Co-director Loveleen Tandan held up a painting. I remember Danny Boyle and Dev Patel, with his now famous grin, cheering on, while standing on the stage that was about three feet from me. My family went home with two paintings. I felt honored to be a part of the celebration which was for such an important cause.
So, I was ecstatic to hear that yesterday Plan received $747,500 from the makers of "Slumdog."
Where are these funds going? Mr. Boyle, after the Oscar's promised better housing and educational opportunities for the 2 youngest stars. I read in my local paper today that Rubina's father attempted to sell her for $300,000 to a News of the World reporter posing as a Sheik. Her father claimed that they made nothing from the film. Once again Hollywood exploits and walks away.
Regardless of one's personal opinion on the movie. Slumdog Millionaire has put India and most importantly the living conditions of the impoverished in the spotlight. Most North American movie fans received their first Indian cultural experience by watching the movie. This exposure has increased global awareness of the situation.
The slums themselves have been targeted for redevelopment in partnership with private corps and proposals must provide new housing to the existing dwellers:
Dharavi Redevelopment Project
Furthermore, many charities and children's relief organizations are using the movie as a platform the increase awareness of the plight of the children living in these slums.
Sure, Danny Boyle offended some people by puportedly "glamourizing" the poverty in India but in doing so he has raised awareness. The net effect for India is positive.
Note: For a movie that has grossed over $292 million worldwide, $747,500 is a paltry sum but a nice gesture 🙂
While I don't want to reiterate nor rehash some of the previous responses, I would like to belabor the point that anything and sometimes even everything can be taken out of context. And in this particular 'context,' somehow, the people of India (or rather those who have been mildly to acutely offended by the film), have managed to affix in their minds that 'Slumdog' is the only single representation of their beloved country. Before the opening credits started rolling, should a disclaimer have been shown stating 'Made by a white guy in India who may or may not understand your country and has affixed labels to certain socio-economic groups of people'? For those interested in these 'oh-so-overlooked' miniscule and inconsequential details, many of us tend to all forget that in our haste to disapprobate, this is one of the elements of the closing credits. But this really isn't the point, or is it? When did we all start interpreting things so literally? After all, if every Indian were to follow his or her respective holy book to the 'T', India would most surely halt to a standstill buckling under the pressure of purists fighting cynics all succumbing to the effects of hallucinogens. Take the hallucinogens out of the mix and you have the modern day 'interpretation of Islam' problem in the middle east. But that's another issue altogether which, in fairness to giving Indians the benefit of the doubt, isn't a fair parallel. But as a fair one, if the fairytale romances and meaningless plots of Bollywood films are so well embraced, why was 'Slumdog' so harshly criticized when there was a direct overlap of thematic and cultural elements? Ah yes, the western director came, conquered, and left–a reminder of the imperialist returning to steal the jewels, meddle with the local politics, breed with the locals, and incite problems. Or so it seems to the naysayer who thinks he or she has personally been done wrong by the creation of a decent film worthy of portraying what may be true about his or her country at one particular point in time devised with fictional characters in possibly a fictional setting. But I shouldn't need to remind anyone that the story has already been told; it's simply just a variation on a theme.
the worst of the worst i ever seen in my life, a real suppository of a film.
A delivery of disconnected thoughts:
1). In response to: "Though my biggest shock came on Jan. 23 when I read in The Times of India that the film’s title and imagery had stirred protests across Bharat. I didn’t expect that some Indians, including both the rich and the impoverished, would take the movie so personally."
"Shocking" because as North Americans, we have a tendency to not take macro/social events 'personally' (with the exception of, of course, the lionization of celebrities)? And rather, we prefer to parsimoniously cater to those banal incidents which solely penetrate our personal realms of individuality? *welcomes backlash*
2). As we all know, the slums of India are a reality but the question remains why do they continue to exist? Can we attribute their longevity to the commonplace explanation of "karma" as the political parties in India have successfully bolstered for so many years? Or perhaps, similar to the introduction of fast food and subsequent chronic illnesses in India, we can perpetuate an American perspective by attributing their existence to the slum dwellers themselves-i.e. "they should go find jobs." Or, perhaps, if we really wanted to reflect on today's global society, we could ask ourselves-in accordance with the previous commentator's request for a psychoanalytic perspective-why do these slums exist in the first place? Does the current 'democratic' system in India fall victim or bully to India's current economic system? Furthermore, can we attribute any responsibility to the harsh discrepancy between rich and poor in India? Perhaps the answer lies at our superficial stance in viewing the film: expressing heartfelt emotion (whether positive or negative) and quickly dismissing our individual responsibility in perpetuating the existence of slums worldwide. From a psychoanalytic perspective, the slums appears to symbolize and actualize our own wish fulfillment of a struggling power dynamic rampant in north america today-for evidence, visit your local airport.
3). Similar to the film itself, I appreciate the intercultural lens through which this blog is written. It appears to attempt to bridge the dissonance between the India's glorious kaleidoscope of culture and the mundane, global perspective that has been welcomed,embraced and heralded in 'modern' India today.
this section should have read like this:
even naipaul’s ‘india: a million mutinies now’ is painfully cognizant of its limitations, its title being indicative of its innumerable contradictions, upheavals and irreconcilable tensions. 'slumdog millionaire' is a focussed vision of a circumscribed reality, the slums of a certain area in india, and it sets its limits at the very beginning….in the title even! are movies not inherently this way? the camera lens can only capture so much, it has to fix its scope onto a specific object and zoom into it.
the popular reception of slumdog has been a very curious thing, largely because of its bipolarity. there are not very many sober critiques on the film, and it seems to me that most viewers align themselves on either end of two extremes.
some people are repulsed by its purported 'social realism', ergo the (slightly hysterical) backlash from moneyed and impoverished indians alike. this crowd contends, as you say, that 'india, in its entirety, is not a slum'. this, of course, begs the question- when did the movie claim otherwise? the petulance of such responses is both disturbing and risible. surely indians cannot deny the fact that india, like any sprawling, populous nation has slums? would they rather we made films about india's glorious outsourcing industry and how it has created greater upward mobility and an emergent middle-class? surely we can read about that every day in the financial times. danny boyle's film is not a tourism pamphlet about india, or a prospectus for investors.
i also doubt that it intends on providing a comprehensive assessment or indictment of present-day india, as if such an enterprise could be achieved, india being as dynamic and kaleidoscopic as it is! is rushdie's 'midnight children' not concerned with the very IMPOSSIBILITY of such a project? even naipaul's 'india: a million mutinies now' is painfully cognizant of its limitations, its title being indicative of its innumerable contradictions and it is a focussed vision of a circumscribed reality, the slums of a certain area in india, and it sets its limits at the very beginning....in the title even!
others-mostly uprooted americans who can afford to take such a perspective- tell us that its a parable with universal import, another spin on the rags to riches chestnut. by reducing it to a 'fable' or a 'fairy tale'- i have seen both words used to describe the film, they sublimate the force of its critique, diminishing both its specificity and its timeliness. like all art 'slumdog millionaire' is situated in a particular social-historical milieu, and is a calculated response to it. these viewers seem to believe that the geographical setting of the movie is largely irrelevant, that the indian setting is mere ornamentation atop a love story that could be transposed to other climes without alteration.
danny boyle must be rueing the day that he decided to orient this critique around a (rather mawkish) love story. it reminds me of the popular response to marquez' 'love in the time of cholera', another exquisitely subtle and pointedly ironic work of art that has generally been misunderstood by a public desirous of feel-good escapism.
both of these options are, i think, intrinsically dishonest. they are also extremely disrespectful towards the film as a singular work of art. one suppresses aesthetics in favor of ideology, the other wants to banish ideology from the equation altogether. sometimes, the criticism of a film is far more interesting than the film itself, revelatory as it is of popular desires and anxieties. this, in particular, should be a fascinating episode for the discerning observer and psychoanalyst.
It's a good effort from the "Slumdog" crew and glad you brought it to readers' attention. However, in a CNN blog, I hadn't expected to see Anil Kapoor's last name misspelled. No offense, but I just couldn't stop myself from commenting.