Slumdog millionaire gets an indian release shortly. This is going to make many people angry. often people in India (and many Indians who have butted their head frustratingly against the rigidity of the Western upper class) are irritated when a foreigner with a different skin color has the audacity to comment about India’s poor(who are as numerous as any other, in a numerous country).
Part of the issue is the fact that people can’t “control” a white guy that sends messages from an Indian slum. You cant get his family to “put sense into him” you can’t starve his sources of finance… Part of this is that there is a whole Indian Poverty Industry (from United nations institutions to christian aid organizations to charities run by the queen of england) whose raison de itre is the fact that India does not have a social security net for its destitute, and this is a wedge with which to “enter” India .
With a Middle class the size of the US and with a goodish upper class, India should be in a position to take care of it’s own poor. The problem is that India is too big , and noone outside india is, in reality, committed to welfare of India as a nation. As a result, it is left to the government (both the central and state government) to take care of India’s poverty, and between corruption and selfish political bases based on people living in the slums, this Infrastructure is run down. The Indian Army does involve itself in welfare during emergencies, but its a bad idea to impose patriotism at the barrel of a gun.
As a result India’s poor exist. in pathetic conditions. For every tourist flying into sahar airport to see…and smell.
So can you blame a white guy (filmmaker or not) for trying to find a metaphor for disempowered people among the slums of dharavi? (Indian filmmakers have done this too, Dev benegal’s film Split wide open, from which Slumdog draws much uncredited inspiration is much starker and more honest than the glossy that slumdog is).
I see the issue breaking down into the following lines of offense:
1. Bollywood filmmakers object: their objections are twofold, they bristle under not enough recognition to the Industry from the “west” which gives an easy path to such films, that highlight India’s poverty. They see this as the “west”(hollywood) financing a fifth column in the entratainment industry in India, even as Major western studios take equity stakes in production and distribution In india.
Also they feel that the primarily entretainment nature of Bollywood films is being made light of, when people make films about India’s poor. “don’t we know we have poor people”? the argument goes . “stop lecturing us.”This is particularly irritating to bollywood when it comes from Britain(and the british intellectual/ filmmaker) because I mean have you BEEN to britain? The attitude the british have towards people from the subcontinent is Pathetic and offensive(to put it gently).
2. The Indian Middle class : and by this I mean the english speaking Upper caste middle class. This group feels something akin to what white americans who see themselves as liberal feel when their prejudices are pointed out. “Aren’t we much better than two generations ago?” the argument goes. “It’s not like we don’t face prejudice in thew western country we work in, so stop the sanctimony already” say their counterparts living and working abroad. The “cut” is more unkind for the “elites”(upper castes,) who have steadily lost political power since Independence in 1947, from government policies and demographic realities.
In other words, Danny Boyle has dropped the film into the thick of it. I think he did this deliberately. It’s a well thought out film in this respect that does address the friction between the salaried middle class In india and the poor and destitute. The salaried middle class have all the soccer mom values of the US republican voter, while the poor ,without a social safety net, are halfway between exploited and criminal.
The question to ask is : Is danny boyle entitled to making political statements about India? In an increasingly interconnected world, it is very difficult to see how he cannot. the difference between now and maybe 30 years ago, is that when someone makes a film like this, there is an equal platform for the people in India to talk back, about how the white british upper classes are the last ones that can take up on behalf of India’s poor.
The peacock throne and the Kohinoor diamond, Anyone?
added later: a crsory search for news articles in google reveals the poverty in india industry ‘s advocacy: