Monday, February 23, 2009

Clinching Evidence of Slumdog Malice

Here's the clincher that Slumdog Millionaire deliberately sets out to be poverty porn. The scene in which the kid dives into a pool of shit is not in the original book by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. it was invented for the film by the Brits who directed the movie and wrote its script.

In fact, the kid's early childhood is not spent in Mumbai at all but in a Delhi orphanage run by an English Catholic priest.

Some other interesting departures from the Indian story-line that indicates prime facie malice.

The children's "Muslim" mother is not killed by "Hindus" in a "communal riot." Her religion is unknown, and she abandons the newborn at a church.

Torturing Ram Mohammad Thomas (the name of the protagonist in the book), is not the idea of
the Indian talk-show host. The suggestion that the boy cheated comes first from an American representative of the game show, and that mainly because the Russian who owns the franchise does not have the prize money. (In real life the franchise owner is British, and he bankrolled the movie.)

The heart-rending scene of the three abandoned children in the pouring rain is also not in the book. In Swarup's story the hero and heroine do not meet till they are teenagers, and then they're not living in a slum but in a tenement.

The book does not have any of the gratuitous slanders laid on India in the film (eg: "This is the heart of the new India" says the gangster Salim surveying the high-rises that have replaced the slum of his boyhood; "and I am at its heart").

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

3 Reasons to Boo Slumdog at the Oscars

I hope Slumdog Millionaire gets booed at the Oscar ceremonies on 22 February. Here are three reasons why.

The movie is poverty porn, titillating affluent audiences with a bizarrely unrealistic presentation of the lives of the poor. The so-called "feel-good" element of the young hero winning out at the end is like dabbing on icing on a piece of shit (to use the movie's own idiom) and declaring it cake

The British producers of the movie have been overtly exploitative of the poor children they hired. The girl in the role of the young heroine was paid $500; the boy who takes the memorable dive into a pool of shit got $1500. The explanation for these miserable wages? "It's far more than adults in their neighborhood would make in an entire year." Sounds like something Mr. Krup might have said about slave labor his company used in Nazi concentration camps.

The movie is anti-Indian propaganda of a style the British perfected during a century of colonial rule to convince the world that the country needed civilizing European supervision. During the six+ decades of Indian independence the propaganda has continued unabated. As India surmounted unbelievable odds to maintain an open and free democracy, as it doubled life expectancy and halved the share of the population living in the worst poverty, the British have done everything possible to see that the world's view of the country remained dark.

Just one example of how this has been done: each of the four "Man Booker" prizes for literary excellence given to Indian authors -- an award that raises its recipients to global prominence -- has gone to deracinated individuals whose perspectives have been quintessentially British. Salman Rushdie (now "Sir"Salman), presented India as a huge and dissipated freak-show in Midnight's Children. Arundhati Roy set her affecting love story of characters disempowered by gender and caste in Kerala, the one part of India where advances on both fronts have been revolutionary. Kiran Desai's Remembrance of Loss told of post-colonial angst in the Darjeeling hills; every single character in it comes to a sad and dispiriting end. Arun Adiga's The White Tiger is an open and unmitigated assault on India's hard-earned image as a country undergoing rapid economic and social progress.

Slumdog continues that assault. Boo it.