Poverty Pornography

The release of SlumDog Millionaire (or should I say Mansion-Lion Millionaire, to escape the wrath of some obscure organisation in Bihar) has sparked a new debate about whether the West only appreciates works depicting India in a bad light. This year’s Booker prize winner ‘The White Tiger’ also portrays India in a shady light, taking off the garb of India Shining and exposing the darkness gnawing at the Indian hinterland. Salaam Bombay and City of Joy are two other names that come to my mind. So, does the Academy feel that only the movies showing “third-world countries” as poor and riot-affected with a teeming population of slum-dwelling, malnutritioned beggars deserve an Oscar nomination, whether such movies/novels help the west to mentally reinforce its superiority over the emerging economies or just as the title suggests, they are a bunch of perverse morons who get a sadist satisfaction seeing all this misery in the world. Though everything points in only one direction, I beg to differ. The Academy has always recognized movies with an underdog theme, movies depicting the victory of human spirit in the face of adversity (Million Dollar Baby-OSCAR, Best Picture….Cinderella Man-BAFTA, Best Original Screenplay, Lagaan, eh?) and so is the case with SDM-the story of how even a slum-dweller can aspire to win a quiz show. To paraphrase Obama, “Yes, he Can….and so CAN WE”….

Yes, India is not just about the slums, poverty and communal riots. but it being just a minor part of the big picture doesn’t make it any less real. Its just that people are more interested in seeing this minor part(which we Indians want to brush away under the carpet as just another insignificant detail). But isn’t that natural? We appreciate movies like No Man’s Land, Cidade de Deus, Freedom writers, or for that matter any Holocaust movie more than a normal drama or romcom. Everyone wants to see something different and I don’t see anything wrong in that. And as for those who say that this sends a wrong message to people about our country, I don’t think the opinion of a person changes just on the basis of one movie and if it does, then the opinion of such a credulous and impressionable person wouldn’t matter much anyways.

P.S. Quite a few examples and ideas have been contributed by Rahul and Smit.

4 responses to “Poverty Pornography

  1. Good yaar.. I mean it was very nice.. Really its been the topic of debate since a month or so, & I had got fed up listening to d diverse opinions of different ppl, bt here’s a critical analysis, highlighting both d pros n cons of d debate, plus d personal opinion backed by reasoning. Excellent work!!!

  2. Ok…this is extremely random, just came across your blog “randomly”. Well written…
    Iv always been a staunch proponent of understand the two (or more) sides to everything and you’ve bought it out very aptly in your post.
    Just one thing that still makes me believe that showcasing this side of india on the international platform is wrong is the recent fact exposed by media…
    the 2 kids from the slums who apparently worked in the movie have been paid a mere 35K for their work-while i’m sure the least significant of the movie crew were paid more than that…
    no one can have any justification for that?
    It’s just sad that behind that wonderful idea of showing human spirit in its highest forms (a person from the slum aspiring for a big win), some basic norms of what i’d call humanity were forgotten.

    me: Humanity….Let’s do some calculations….suppose the two kids worked for a total of 50 days (which I feel is a decent guess…), 35K means 700 bucks a day…They weren’t big stars when the shooting started, so I think 700 is much more than expected. Yes, now that the movie has become a super success, the producers may give them a little more but even if they don’t, they are justified……it’s all business…….the kids knew what they would be getting when they “signed” the film……anyways, keep visiting!!!!

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