Danny Boyle’s movie Slumdog Millionaire is a hit across the world, but in India, protesters have taken to the streets to attack the film.
According to the New York Times, several Indians find the word Slumdog insulting to slum-dwellers. More generally, the rags-to-riches romance has been called “poverty porn” for the way it casts a glowing light on a very poor section of Mumbai society and promotes “slum tourism.”
Chitra Divakaruni, the author of The Palace of Illusions and a board member of Pratham, a non-profit literacy project for children living in slums in India, said: “People are accusing it of being poverty porn, or balking at the fact that Danny Boyle, who is British, has created a film about slum life that ignores India’s recent economic prosperity. One of the more outraged complaints has been that the title of the movie is derogatory to people living in the slums.”
Slum dwellers, organized by activists like Tapeshwar Vishwakarma, have led protests with placards that read: “Don’t call us dogs” and “I am not a slumdog.”
One can understand where the unhappiness over the title comes from. In Indian culture, dog — “kutte” in Hindi — has been deemed a derogatory appellation for centuries. It is often used in the excessive rants of Bollywood villains.
Clearly, the term “slumdog” is not the director’s evaluation of the main character — or anyone in the slums, claims Divakaruni.
“I have a feeling that the people protesting against the title either have not seen the movie, or have not understood the context in which the word was used. In the movie, the word “slumdog” is never used as a general description of the people of the slums,” the New York Times quotes her, as saying.
It is used in a very specific setting: the angry police inspector, when he is violently interrogating the hero, Jamal, whom he suspects of cheating on the Who Wants to be a Millionaire. By the end of the movie, the inspector has changed his attitude toward Jamal completely. He believes him, sets him free and roots for him to win.