Slumdog Millionaire

In: Uncategorized

20 Jan 2009

Just saw Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s film about an 18-year-old from the slums of Bombay who overcomes adversity to win the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? The film does not have a explicit political message but there is something unhealthy about its obsession with India’s urban squalor. The characters tend to be portrayed as either victims of terrible abuse or abusers themselves. A central character in the film moves from being one to the other. To be fair the ending is, on balance, happy but it is presented as thanks to fate and perhaps luck more than anything else.

I have not read it yet but the obsession with India’s squalid cities probably informs the popularity of White Tiger, Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker prize-winning novel (see post of 15 October 2008). A similar preoccupation is apparent in films on slum dwellers in other countries such as Circus of God (Brazil 2002) and Tsotsi (South Africa 2005).

The pedigree of those involved in making Slumdog Millionaire is also telling. Danny Boyle, its director, is best known for Trainspotting (1996), a tale of urban squalor and depravity in Edinburgh. Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the screenplay, made his name by writing The Full Monty (1997), a tale of former Sheffield steelworkers as laughable victims.

Something about urban squalor and violence seems to attract a particular kind of middle class imagination. I suspect if they saw urban dwellers as more of a political threat, rather than as simply decadent or pathetic, they might not be sympathetic.