India Insight

Is ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ poverty porn?

January 28, 2009

“As the film revels in the violence, degradation and horror, it invites you, the Westerner, to enjoy it, too…Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn,” wrote London Times’ columnist Alice Miles.

The phrase “poverty porn” spread across the Indian media as commentators nodded in agreement or shook their heads even before the film premiered in its native Mumbai and India could (legally) watch it.

A group of the city’s slum dwellers, including children, protested against the word “dog”. A social activist filed a defamation case in Patna. And this week, hundreds of slum dwellers in Bihar’s capital ransacked a movie theatre demanding the title be changed.

So, is it really “poverty porn” for the Westerner’s delectation? Are beatings, torture, and the maiming of street beggars a sick form of adult exotica?

Perhaps the question can be rephrased: does a morbid fascination with the suffering of others find a place in art and is “Slumdog” are a striking example of this?

Be it a film on the Nazi holocaust, or based on crime, or a painful examination of the horrors of drug abuse (Trainspotting?), viewers can gawk at the world’s dirty underbelly whether or not they would describe themselves as pain perverts.

But the film has caused real offense in some parts.

“‘Slumdog’ is just every scrap of dirt picked up from every corner and piled up together to try and hit back at the growing might of India. And the awards almost seem like a sadistic effort to show the world — look we knew that this was India, and these are the slumdogs we are outsourcing our jobs to,” wrote management consultant and film producer Arindam Chaudhuri on his blog.

Chaudhuri and others say the film crosses the line into stereotype in a way that “stinks of racial arrogance” and is designed to undermine India’s inevitable rise on the world stage.

According to Chaudhuri, the film serves up “India as the accidental millionaire, which in fact happens to be a slumdog”.

But take the critically acclaimed movie “La Haine” (Hate), about life in the grim suburbs of Paris. Riots, needless bloodshed, police’ brutal treatment of immigrants and monotonous poverty are its subject matter and there is no happy ending.

Should France have rushed to the city’s defence and said the (French) director wallowed in the city’s troubles when Paris has so much more to offer? Could he not have made a film set in the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the world-famous catwalks?

Should “City of God” have apologised for being set in the troubled slums of Rio and because it didn’t address Brazil’s own emergence on the world stage?

The director of “Slumdog”, Danny Boyle, is up for an Academy Award. But some panned the film on its own perceived demerits and said it does not deserve 10 Oscar nominations — three for music director A.R. Rahman will do. The three people I went to see it with were underwhelmed.

Some saw the film as trite and inconsistent. For example, the hero’s sudden knowledge of English after his stint as a guide at the Taj Mahal came under scrutiny, especially since it allowed Boyle to shoot large chunks of the film in his native tongue.

Whether or not a moviegoer wants to spend his money on a film set in slums seems a matter of taste, but with more expected protests in India, the controversy has not died down.

Comments
51 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

I really dont find the movie offending in any way. The only things that i agree with is that its a bit odd that Jamal speaks perfect english, but that happens in many many other movies too.

Posted by F3lix | Report as abusive
 

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