Eyes are already rolling in India about the Golden Globe-winning Slumdog Millionaire depicting that old bugbear: Indian poverty. Danny Boyle’s cinematic take on Vikas Swarup’s roller coaster of a novel, Q &A, about a boy from a slum going on to winning a pile from a quiz show even has that embarrassing word stapled to its title. So is this once again a going back to the West’s voyeuristic obsession with joy amid poverty, vitality among the super-poor?
Before anyone cries out the word ‘Stereotype!, one question: is someone making a mountain out of a molehill about poverty in this country? The usual refrain is: ‘Why don’t we make films that also deal with the other Indian reality — prosperity?’. The question is a fair one, except for the fact that slums and poor people for a fictional depiction aren’t concocted out of thin air. Come to think of it, we are the ones who make a molehill out of a mountain.
Now I have my occasional Rs 5,000 meals out with friends. But that hardly means that a cracking tale must be made out of Indians with iPods just because things have changed since Nargis had a problem with Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali for — you guessed it — depicting poverty.
I suspect that what makes some of us flinch and cry out ‘Stereotyping!’ is that a movie like Slumdog Millionaire will willy-nilly showcase riches from rags, with the latter emphasised. So do we do something about making the rags disappear? Naa. It’s just that with all of us living away from the slums, why does the world have to be shown the slums? It makes us feel a bit bedraggled as a nation, doesn’t it?