Posted on April 1, 2008
The most interesting aspect of this film has been its reception. While it has won the Oscars and lauded in the United States as one of the most upbeat films of the year, an embodiment of the human spirit it has had as many detractors being seen as part of the “poverty porn” tradition of films, with precedents in films such as City of Joy, Salaam Bombay, Born into a Brothel etc.
Slumdog makes for an interesting cross-over. On the one hand, it falls into a clear tradition of underdog American films such as Frank Capra‘s Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life with its quintessentially American myth of rapid success, and innocence triumphing over corruption. The latter particularly in the dismal political and socio-economic environment of corporate greed etc. makes for a welcome compensatory narrative. On the other hand, it contains sufficiently grim realism: maiming of beggar children, ethnic violence and the Dharavi slum projects.
For me it also remains a “city” film – one thinks of Suketu Mehta’s “Maximum City” and other fictions (L.A. Confidential, Hollywoodland, Precious closer to home) and others of that tradition. The global city with its first and third worlds within, with its slums and millionaires living side by side and its labyrinth connections makes for fascinating story telling. Umberto Eco once said about the film Casablanca that the reason for its everlasting appeal was due to the fact that the film contained a maximum number of narrative cliches: I think the much the same applies to Slumdog and its appeal. Added to that is the sheer fantasy world of Bollywood: the happy ending, the coincidences, the lyricism and the offering up of utopian spaces whether of being in love or being a millionaire in the slums of Mumbai.
Dr. Pravina Cooper
Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics