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A Social Anatomy of Slumdog Millionaire

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I wonder why Slumdog Millionaire, a feel-good-Bollywood-meets-Hollywood flick, doesn’t give you a good feeling from beginning until the end. Well, let’s ditch the cinematic reviews to the pros; after all, the 8 Oscars are but enough to counter whatever plot and casting flaws that downright spoil the whole experience. What caught me though is the obvious embellishment of the twist that veers human complexity and made everything in it an obvious stereotype of the Third World’s filth and poverty.

From the polluted waters to the deficient educational system, vile police brutality and chronic crimes – social issues took control of the plot than what the characters managed to deliver. After the 2-hour experience enriched by kitschy Bollywood refrains, what is hammered in our recollection is not the Cinderella story of the scruffy son of the slum or the fun cheesy dance moves – but the ‘image’ of the coarse slum life that India finds so cliche yet the West grasps so little about.

The overwhelming display of violence, half-truths and gratuitous emotions generate a surge of pity and compassion towards the stratified slum rather than make the viewer actually ‘understand’ such a social class monstrosity. The concept was void of social positivism. There were no cause and effects. Everything was black and white, good and evil; the good being innately good and the bad being atrociously bad.

Save the significant nostalgia of Jamal Malik, the audience aren’t given the chance to ‘see’ what caused these characters’ enduring drive to keep going and survive. Even the wild energy of the slum could make you think that those slum children didn’t really feel the imprisoning effect of poverty or that it didn’t cripple their confidence to face their day-to-day life. The harsh reality exhibited in every angle, were not really caused by race or class conflict. The discrimination was shown as an individual judgment rather than a racial difference.

For instance, when Jamal posed as a tourist guide to an American couple whose car was robbed of all valuables, the cop’s reaction of beating Jamal showed that India is the one that marginalizes itself from the world and not the otherwise. Even when fellow Indians burned his village and slaughtered their family and friends while the police busied gaming, exhibited no social inequality. It only pushed the assumption that these conflicts are culture-driven and that they exist because in India – they simply do!

This is a clear contradiction to the theoretical orientation that culture although bounded, can change. In fact, the only notable change in the story is Malik’s change of heart by the end but even that seemed to be merely clipped to support the Jamal-Latika’s happily ever after. All the characters were stuck in their hopeless condition with the exception of Jamal who is endowed with a distinct characterization as if an alien in his own world.

Instead of establishing a depth in its characters and providing a substantial solution to the social conflicts excessively presented, the production spawned a tale half-devoid of social truth therefore validating our early hypothesis of it all being plainly – written. Slumdog Millionaire made a phenomenal success, thanks to the media hype. But what global recognition it gained, Indian society has lost. Thanks to the film, India would have to endure its criticisms until Bollywood hits the global market with maybe the ‘Tales of the Top Ten Indian Billionaires’. Until then, it has to embrace this repulsive stereotype for artistic gains.

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