February 26, 2009

From the land of elephants and snake charmers to the land of shit-swimming slumdogs... Indian media goes hysterical!

And Indian politicians remain as shameless as ever!

The Oscars have been won – as expected! And it sure was a pleasure to hear Resul Pookutty speak about the power of silence and Om, and give Hollywood a chalk-talk lesson or two about Indian philosophy. It was also a great feeling to see the Indian living legend – A R Rahman – get something he more than deserved (though he has done far better work as well). The Indian film fraternity has some amazing green thumb talent; and some of them surely are at par with the world’s best. Thus, although only these two (Rahman and Resul) got the Oscar, I am sure there are many more deserving Indians out there who are no inferior. The only unfortunate thing is that the Oscars for them were awarded for a film that has been made clearly with one callow intention in mind – to draw up a caricature of every possible negative side that is there to India, for the sole viewing pleasure of western audiences – as I wrote in my editorial on the same issue a few weeks back (to read the same, log on to http://arindamchaudhuri.blogspot.com/2009/01/dont-see-slumdog-millionaire-it-sucks.html). Having said most of all I wanted to say about the film the last time, this time there are two more aspects to the slumdog phenomenon I wish to highlight!

I really don’t want to take away from the happiness of the Indians who won the big awards; and surely they deserve all the accolades. And as I wrote earlier, it sure is a well made film with an interesting narrative style. However, I am quite shocked at the shameful euphoria created by the half educated Indian media that has unanimously termed the movie as an “Indian pride” and “the world taking note of India”. Neither could anything be further from the truth than this nor could anything stink more of a pathetic lack of intellect and understanding of reality. While a considerable number of people are saying that it (Slumdog Millionaire) is just a film and should be simply enjoyed as a creative process and left alone, the fact – as I wrote before – is that it also happens to be a film very evidently made to show ‘only’ everything that is possibly wrong with India (often, in a completely concocted manner) for the pure viewing pleasure of western audiences, because poverty-porn sells in the west. Yes, the movie has been marketed well... as the feel-good film of the year (for the western audiences most certainly)! To me, it surely is the most negative feel-good film I have seen! As a film, it works; but it really is then just a film... It has no commitment, for it delves on no issue and shows poverty in the most depoliticized manner. From the name of the film (Jhoparpatti Ke Kutte Bane Crorepati – if one were to translate the movie’s name into Hindi), to every scene in the film including Anil Kapoor’s completely unreal character, the movie has a clear dilettante attempt to show India in a deliberately abrogating manner. Leading NGOs working in Mumbai slums have vouched that they have never seen maiming of children for begging – in fact ask yourself, how many times have you ever seen a blind child beggar? All those who have read our cover story on the film (http://www.thesundayindian.com/08022009/default.asp) would know how at every stage, the flick has just played with reality to show India in a jaundiced light without any obvious commitment to showing the pains of poverty – apart from Danny Boyle’s surrogate post-film speeches of course! Far from it bringing any glory to India or Indians, Boyle’s caustic photoplay has only satisfied the western urge to look further down upon the ‘repugnant’ India, especially at a time when while they are reeling under depression, India is purposefully growing healthily. The evident western desperation to speciously paint India so vacuously couldn’t have been shallower. Globalization backfired on them and took away their jobs... So it obviously feels great to see this side to India and heartily award it as well!!

The west would have wanted to believe India still is a land of elephants and snake charmers; and therefore, were very uncomfortable thinking that perchance it no more seems to be so and was changing too fast for their comfort. Now they know India has changed indeed!!! It is no more the land of elephants and snake charmers... It is the land of shit-swimming slumdogs, who are turning millionaires... more by goddamned luck than by hard work. That’s their new view of India. That is the power of a well made and well marketed film and that is the new brand image of India that one film has been able to create. And that is why this film cannot be left alone by Indians as just a film. People have to realize its ramifications. Today, when you meet anyone who has seen the film abroad but has not been to India (well, most haven’t), amongst many other similar questions, you are faced with the question – do kids really swim in shitholes as shown in the film?

That, however, brings us to the second very important aspect. While what I wrote above is an undisputable fact, the fact also is that poverty and slums are the ugly reality of India. And yes, while the people living in slums are not dogs, this country unfortunately makes them live worse than the way western people could think of making their dogs live about five decades back! So India, this new image of India – of slumdog millionaires – was waiting to be created. It has been our own doing... or undoing. And as I sat watching this year’s budget in the midst of this new image of India, I was saddened that even this year nothing was done to try and remove these slums from India. What was most shocking is what happened the day after Slumdog Millionaire swept the Oscars. The next day, the big budget sops got announced – a whopping figure of Rs 30,000 crores for the Indian rich in the form of reduction of service taxes etc. it made me really sad to see that while the world has a new outlook for India, the fools in the Indian media failed to rub it into the minds of our people; and our politicians – visionless as ever – remained shamelessly uncommitted in the wake of this newfound status (read shameful status). A 300 square feet two-room flat with a dignified toilet and kitchen costs anything between Rs 65,000 to Rs 1,00,000 to construct in a basic manner. And given the fact that 25% out of the 30 crore people living in cities live in slums, India needs 1.5 crore such flats (assuming that, on an average, these 7.5 crore slum dwelling families have 5 members each) to become free of any slums and to give these people dignity of existence. This, in effect, means that all the government has to do is plan a Rs 1,50,000 crore budget for the same or Rs 30,000 crores per year for five years! Instead of giving away these meaningless and visionless sops, the government would have done well to declare that it would spend Rs 30,000 crores per year in the next five years to remove all slums from India so that there can no more be any new slumdog millionaires made on India. In fact, as an economist, I find the sops such a foolish act in the middle of this slowdown. At this time, we require jobs to be created, investments to be made; and these sops will do neither. A slum relocation programme would have meant investments to job creation to dignity to the people who we keep in slums like dogs.

Till the time we have a more committed, educated media and a political class, we will remain beach bum fools and fatuously gloat in our change of panhandler status... from that of the land of snake charmers and elephants to the land of shit-swimming slumdogs! Jai ho!!!



ZeroNode said...

Well, the Oscars came a bit too late for the Indian Music Fraternity..if all they have really cared about it. Maestros like Bismillah Khan to Bhimsen Joshi are too big in stature to be measured in Oscars.

As for Bollywood, it has no reason to be elated..Most of the guys in Hollywood still consider their Mumbai counterpart as a 'Song & Dance' counterpart. Anil, i could understand your excitement at the Golden Globe but not completely..

Its sad that a Brit / Yankee stamp still matters so much to most of the Indian...Listen to Baba Ramdeo for once.

Like your statement - "Half Educated media" -- You are spot on.

paul said...

Sir,I don't believe this,so much media attention for oscar awards that too for a movie like slumdog millionaire and our political leaders at the top showering appreciations.what is oscar? why should we give so much importance to that? is that the yardstick to measure indian movies?. Why should we expect recognition from the west for our work? Don't we have our own identity?. Indian media calling it as 'Indian pride'. what change has it brought to india socially,economically or politically. Only advantage is for the film fraternity,indian artists would get opportunities in hollywood for that too for small roles.

GetReal said...

Facts on India:
1. slums exist
2. child beggars exist
3. human trafficing in children exists
4. Politicians condone the above because they see it as a source of votes and revenues
5. India is labeled as a Socialist democracy and tries to project itself as an egalitarian society, yet, there is hardly any social responsibility adopted by the wealthy 1% who have gained their wealth ruling and exploiting the bottom of the heap. The concept of sharing of wealth does not exist.
5. Germany, Japan: completely devastated after the end of WW2, but have rebuilt themselves since then. When the brits left india in 1947, they left us with some degree of infrastructure, look at the state of those infrastructure now. Buildings, infrastructure, administrative processes, are in a state of gross neglect and disrepair. It is a national shame.
6. lack of civic sense manifests itself among the brightest in india. The same Indian, when travelling to other 'developed'parts of hte world, take extreme precaution not to sully the environment and are model environmental citizens, but they dont mind 'shitting'on their own backyard. Lack of civic sense gives way to unhygenic living conditions, which attract pathogens, diseases, as well as are an eyesore. the solution is actually quite simple. We need to start respecting our own surroundings and our land. Would we go and shit on our parents face? if no, why do we throw garbage on the streets?
8. Discriminatory practices against indians can be labeled as racism. In india, the discriminatory practices that Indians (and the broather south asian population) practice amongst ourselves - It exists - what can we call it? How can we condone it and yet cry foul when discriminated against by others, partially because of our own behavior against our neighbours, countrymen, and environment? How can we claim to be anti apartheid and pro freedom, when some of the main political stalwarts are openly preaching politics of hate using regional, religion and caste based polities for their own gain?

Slumdog millionaire maybe 'poverty porn', but it does highlight the real India. We can talk about all the progress that india has made over the last 10 years, but that only applies to a miniscule portion of the population, who by the way, havent changed their attitude towards their fellow countrymen, or gained any civic sense, but only gained wealth.

What we need is a sincere commitment to ourselves, our community, our environment and to make an honest effort to see it through.

manas said...

Hi Sir, i agree with your 2nd point but not with the first point, reason, the movie is based on the writer Vikas swaroop's book and he is an indian and also Mr. sanjay gupta of "Kaante" fame had shown intrest in making film on the same subject but the wrights were sold to the ":slumdog's" producers. My question to you what if this movie was produced by an Indian film maker and directed by an Indian, would you all film pundits have criticised the outcome of the movie in same way. I think we should take positives from this movie. This movie has open gates for Bollywood to shake hands with Hollywood and make good movies. I am sure all the actors, technicians will get noticed and more work will pour in India.

This is the time to enjoy and congratulate people who have been recognised by the world film fraternity. Jai ho!!!

DRJG said...

Re the idea about transforming the slums - perhaps Arindam Chaudhuri is too young to remember or was not in Mumbai at the time when not only it happened but was quite well known and what is more, a very expected joke amongst people at the expense of the government feel-good effort. What happened is that the people from slums who were alloted new flats in brand new buildings promptly sold the flats to those middle class who could only afford that much and those buyers were the ones that relocated to the faraway subarbs, and the slum people having sold the new flats (which were of course given them free by the government) returned to the convenient slum in the middle of the city as everyone knows Dharavi is.

The only way any such measure can be effective is by having laws strictly enforced, but what with bribes, and prompt allegations of communalism against anyone who might try, who would be fool enough to dare bell the wolf? Moreover there is the thorny issue of the land price, which amounts to this - any builder would be only too happy to grab the opportunity to be able to build in that place if only the residents of Dharavi would move; they know this too and want their piece of the pie, and why not! So any government that tries to move the residents to another, necessarily far away, locality is bound to lose in every way.

Easy sops won't do. You need someone like an Ambani to find a solution that might work for everyone. A creative financial wizard, in other words.

Chirag said...

a diiferent but realistic view

DRJG said...

P.S.:- It is high time India stopped taking "elephants and snake charmers" or "rope trick" as derogatory. Living in harmony with as many species of life as is known in India is not a small achievement, nor is a diet of artificially fattened steaks or a lifestyle of gas guzzlers superior to loving cattle that the nation depends on. Rope tricks are not a small matter, anyone thinking it is ought to try (vanishing after ascending one without any hidden wires, out on roads in open). Nor is having snakes move in rhythm to music you play rather than a relationship of kill or be killed with the other species a matter to feel less than nations that feed human food to pigs (corn, whey, ad infinitum) while a whole continent starves to death literally for the last two decades.

DRJG said...

Re some comment above - with all due respect for Germany or Japan, fact is they were offered (and accepted) Marshall aid, while the allies did not accept it, they refused to be obliged to a parner; consequently Germany and Japan achieved economic recovery far earlier than either France or UK, and of course Russia. India inherited the debts and had no compensation for the wealth taken away through the couple of centuries - one could go into further details but facts are there for everyone to see when bias glasses are taken off nose.

Hobo ........ ........ ........ said...

Tourism - An opportunity.

ambika said...

i am a student of iipm ,everyone is sitting back and enjoying the praise of slumdog millionaire,but actually they are enjoying the negative face of india which is shown in the movie.this itself is very sad that the media is also involved in the act of praising the movie.

SeRiOuS said...

I'd like to ask Mr. danny Boyle a question for Rs. 20 million,
Mr. Boyle why u made Slumdog Millionaire ??

A. You are Jealous that 2 of your biggest steelmaker are now Indians ??
B. British players are preferring 2 play in IndianPremierLeague rather than representing their country (jst cuz of lot of money involved in IPL) ??
C. Britain's so called pride Jaguar-Rover, is now owned by an Indian, & soon they'll become India's pride !!
D. All of the above (as it is going 2b your DESTINY ) ;-D

I am damn sure till the time Mr. Boyle read this and reply it, more & more names will come up (AXON Inc is latest addition), so answer it fast Mr. Director...

Sandeep said...

I just saw your comments and opinion on NDTV's The Big Fight. I live in the US and can tell you about the way people here have reacted to it, and it is not in the way you perceive it to be. The movie has been running in a theatre that only runs off-beat films for more than 4 months now and is still going strong. The day following the Oscars people were talking about an Indian film winning 8 Oscars, and that the movie showed how people can overcome every hardship they face and still stand erect. And this was not an American talking to an Indian, it was a group of Americans talking amongst themselves on a train station!

As per the film is concerned all you seem to notice is the shit swimming central protagonist or the police atrocities. Why does no one remember that the same policeman tells the boy that you may be anything but you are not a liar, and sends him over to the show? Why don't you see that with all the negative shades the older brother gives up his own life for his younger brother? Why don't you see that with all the hardships the kid grows into a fine man who has still not lost his conviction that there is a right way out of all this? Why don't you see that love means so much for people in India?

No one has ever claimed that the movie is India, but no one can deny that it is one aspect of India. If you think otherwise then you better open your eyes and start looking outside your air-conditioned homes, offices and cars.

nicole said...

mr. arindam,i had often wondered what exactly went on in those slums,where did they get drinking water from, where did all that human excreta go and all that.now i know through danny boyle.i don't have to visit that dirty place. i could watch it seated in an air conditioned room.we, not so poor indians, are hypocrite bastards.we want the world to believe we are on par with the u.s.a and europe with our nuclear weapons. we want the foreign tourists to see only tajmahal and few other handful such places.why, mr.boyle can make ten more movies, we have so much more filth in our country.we live like maggots inside a carcass.i hate myself and hate my country.

vishal said...


There is one thing which i have not understood is that...... what is wrong with people who are crying foul over slumdog millionaire winning oscars...and india being portrayed very badly.......

Was it mentioned anywhere in the film that it is a documentary on India or Indians...... Common... get real and get a life..... it is a work of fiction.... is an imagination of a person.... which can also be put forward as " Commercial peice of art.... what is wrong with that..... and Trust me Mister Chaudhuri it is anytime better than the films u make...Just because it has been made by a Brit does not mean everyone should go crying foul over it.... Use your common sense...
Secondly What is wrong with getting jubiliant when AR Rehman has won Oscars for this film....

Thirdly there is no award in India that carries any credibility... everyone knows the situation of Indian Film or even government awards.... do I need to mention why??

lahsiv inos said...

Well,we all have seen Godfather,does it make us think that every Italian in this world is a mafia.The answer is NO.

Same applies to Slumdog Millionaire also.And can any pseudo intellect name instances which were false.That shit swimming incident was a metaphor Chaudhuri saab abou the craziness with which we treat our super stars.

Bhagat R. S. said...

Sir, Slums are reality in India, we have worlds largest slums out here. I know what is ther in Mumbai slums and anybody who has atleast once in his life gone thru a Mumbai slum cannot agree a bit with you. Your might not have seem slums or child beggars, doesnt necessarily mean those do not exist. Get into any general compartment in local train in India and you will find a child beggar.

Bhagat R. S. said...

(@nicole and like minded) My country is fully of slum doesnt mean I should disown it. People like you live there also. Lets try to do something for them. Just because some people live in such conditions and foreigners know about it (thru this film or otherwise), the reality doesnt change.

Jai Ho!!

kiss of love said...

well....the easiest thing is to criticize others..and belive me, we indians are good at it.
So if you have forgot, let me remind you that you yourself had directed a film once.....so compare with it first and then with reality.

The One said...

Dear Aridnam i cant agree less with you after reading this article


It was plain poverty porn

nayan said...

look what slumdog has brought India:

"I am trying to raise a lot of money for either non-violence causes or trying to get a great deal of support for the poorest of India's poor, which of course, now with Slumdog Millionaire [Images] we've seen what India's slums look like that exist today "

Extracted from: http://www.rediff.com/news/2009/mar/03ready-to-withdraw-gandhis-items-from-auction.htm

AJai said...

I read your article in the paper yesterday. I can't help feeling that you are becoming a career critic. I wish a man of your talents would look at life a little more positively.
I understand the passion and anger in your words. But we fail to become a democratic society if we can't tolerate other opinions. Others' opinion of ourselves cannot and need not always be good. We need to learn to be more tolerant.
Let people make a living out of poverty porn as you call it. It may or may not be a true depiction of India. The power to decide that is with us Indians. Us and us only.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt- " No one can make you feel inferior without your own permission". We need to remember that.
It doesn't matter if some of our own get carried away with the hysteria. Here again we need to tolerate these people. Everyone has the freedom of speech and expression. To criticize that merely because it may or may not be the truth and affect our image is to understate the value of this fundamental right in our society. Our pride and self esteem needs to be self driven and not dependent on the rest of the world's awards and accolades.

ankitagrawal said...

When Madhur Bhandarkar makes movies depicting lives of beggars with some masala in Traffic Signal, people appreciate it. But when a British directors does the same, then we cry foul. Hypocrisy? An Indian writes a book and goes unnoticed. But when a British director makes a movie on it, how dare he? Hypocrisy? Mr. Arindham, even you have made a movie once (albeit a flop one) so you should know better. Every director has a style. See Trainspotting and you would come to know about DB's style. And remember it is a fiction? If you are so annoyed, why the hell can't you go ahead and make a movie on British and Americans showing incest, drugs, poverty. Simply because Americans have already made such movies and they know how to laugh at themselves unlike us who show patriotism at the wrong places.

DRJG said...

I am surprised at various people commenting about being from India, living in India, and not being aware of realities of India. And giving credit to this film for bringing it home. How divorced from reality does one have to be, how young, how insular, to not see something one passes by every day? How "foreign-fashion-loving" one has to be to not realise that a poor person's privacy is no less sacrosanct than that of someone from a gitterati palace? How unreal does the upbringing of a person have to be to not realise that it is only the elite and so on who are watching and praising this film, while real India has rejected it - the English version made money in India as in the world, the local language version did not in spite of far more prints, was the news. If anyone is surprised with that, they live in a pretense world, with attitude replacing reality, and glossies with imported lessons substituted for a look around.

As for the comments someone seems to have heard - do such comments make Jewel in the Crown dear to India, too? It was hugely popular in US, with perception there one was told being of how beastly the rulers were. India did not see it that way, and Oshin was far more popular in India. With good reason too.

sharad said...

why so many comments are deleted, including mine????


Manish Agarwal said...

The movie has tried to reveal a shameful fact that there are such anti social elements in the society who are using kids for their livings. Under the nose of governments and police they are functioning freely. This movie was not all about slums it has also showed us the growing India through dialogue to an extent.
We should accept one fact that we are least concerned with the fate and feelings of others till we can derive benefit from them.
Indians still prefers child labor as they are easy to use and can be monitored easily, above all if a family has a young lady then they will pay anything to have a kid as their servant rather than an adult.
Instead of appreciating the director who atleast dared to show the reality of Indian society we are protesting against it. Have you ever considered why western societies are interested in Indian stories? Just because to see what happening other side of the globe.
We say that we are growing and we surpass US (Goldman Sachs......who was unable to forecast there future)is such yardstick a measure of success. We have to think of building a safer and healthy society hen only we can think of success.
Its not me its you who wrote this in your think tank page that a happier society creates a healthy economy.

rightmallu said...

This article of Arindam is really the most sensible comment I have read on this reprehensible movie. Our focus, if we are so mcuh concerned about REALITY should be put an effort to change it for the better. Clapping your hands for the hyper-elitist tamsasha called Osacrs is not going to change reality. My dear desi REALITY lovers dont know the reality of India. The were waiting for a firang to show it to them. If you dont even know about the reality of India despite living here, sure you will love this grotesqe poverty porn show going on in the name of cinema. People who have grown with it, who dislike the Indian poverty and are desperate to get rid of this grim situation, just cant undestand why people are making movies and winning music awards and making careers out of it. Isnt it sick? Why your Frida Pinto is already shedding her colthes for Maxim, while the makers made millions. All this because you have poor children to shoot film on? How depraved, deranged and exploitative can you get? Many foreigners work in slums, they dont go around tom-tomming it. Have some dignity.

What is reality? Vikas Swarup has said the movie got an 'extreme makeover'. Who is Vikas Swarup anyway, and what is so great about what he wrote? Is he an Indian sociologist of repute? Is he writing for fun?Did he use to write soft porn before under pseudonyms?

Compared to Dharavi, this movie is soulless. This movie is soulless because Danny' soul is not Indian, though he know what sells abroad.

Ok, here is a plot of a new movie,a mix of fact and fiction a la 'slumdog'. Let me see how many takers it has. It is called 'Feces-eating president of the unites states'.

The story is of a boy who had the diseas of eating his own feces. (There are such abnoramalities. So this is REALITY). Because of this habit the boy gets many diseases. His mouth smells foul. Here, there is a twist of 'brillian fiction'. This boy become president of united states. He still eats feces and his mouth smells all day long of feces.

Any oscars? Oh let the white men decide first.

Gopala said...

With all due respect, I simply don't understand the fuss....

Slumdog Millionaire is a movie. The makers of the movie are completely within their rights to make it. Looks like they did a good job too, judging by the number of people who love it or hate it.

India is a desperately poor country and 85 percent of the population lives on less than 2 dollars a day. The living conditions for the vast majority of this country, urban as well as rural, is not much different from the reality of Ethiopia.

The middle class,if we define it as people earning more than (a ridiculously low) 10 dollars a day per capita, is less than 8% of the population. A very small minority at the top of the pyramid.

Why make excuses? We are very poor. Poverty is the mainstream reality and not the middle class. Destitution, lack of empowerment, lack of hygiene, disease, malnutrition, feudal society mores - this is the real, mainstream, India. Let the West see it, because it is reality. Let us not rant about it and instead, let us hang our heads in shame at this reality and do something about it.

DRJG said...

One comment above makes the psychological disease clear - measuring yourself by others' measuring rods, and insisting on your nation being ashamed for not being "like them", is the real disease. People who assume that anyone earning less than x dollars per day are poor, and concluding that they therefore are full of not only malnutrition but disease and furthermore have no hygiene, have not faced reality anywhere in the world, whether in India or elsewhere. Accusing poor of India of lack of hygiene, or even more insultingly calling them "unwashed millions" as someone did recently, is not only being out of touch with the nation you are speaking of but callous about insulting those that are just not in step with the "foreigners" with their "lifestyles" of gas guzzling, expensive pubs alcohol swilling and throwing things away after a short timespan of use due to "latest fashion" in clothes, games, what have you. Those things are what is causing the global warming crisis, not the middle class of India, much less the poor. And if you have any familiarity at all with the poor, poor of India are far more - and regularly too - washed than the "middle class" of most other, rich, western nations. Insulting them by questioning their hygiene (because they are not using the detergents that pollute the earth and the water tables) is completely callous to the society you were born into - whatever the deficiency in your education due to that being foreign oriented - as well as being mindless about the planet's concerns.

Wake up. And if you cannot see India yet for its reality and must refer to someone from elsewhere for a dose of reality, start with Orwell's Down And Out In Paris And London, for a good beginning.

" This blog is managed by The Sunday Indian. We heartily welcome comments on the articles.. However TSI will delete all those comments which are personal in nature and have the usage of unparliamentary language. "