29 January 2009

Slumgods ?

I have passed by slums ever since I was born. The hired help who came from the nearby slum massaged me when I was an infant. Shantabai as she was called also moped the floor, washed the vessels and clothes. On Christmas and diwali my mother gave her bakshish -“extra” wages along with her regular ones. She came 6 days a week, 365 days of the year barring the usual vacation when she wanted to go to the village. She didn’t have young ones and she rarely fell sick. She was lean and healthy. When my mother gave her the extra rotis (flat bread ) or chawal ( cooked rice ) that was made for the day shantabai would ask it to be packed up for her son . Shantabai didn’t live in a slum all her life. She came from a family of modest means in the village and was married to a rich landlord.

Shantabai was the second wife of this rich landlord. In addition to renting out shops and some residences ( read
chawls ) they also owned a roadside temple and celebrated ganesh ustav with pomp. When the landlord decided to take the third wife, Shantabai was thrown out with her 15 year old son on the streets. No alimony and no children expenses. And no place to rest her head. Shantabai now turned to a slumdweller who was paying rents to her husband landlord. When they were hesitant she took her bundle of clothes and borrowed some vessels to cook in an open playground at night. At night she slept under the skies and in the morning she sat around. Initially everybody in the neighborhood was afraid to offer her work because she was a rich landlord’s wife who also had a political clout in the area.

Few months later a woman was courageous enough to offer her work – washing, cleaning etc. After that she got steady work – at least she cleaned and moped 4-6 houses and had enough money to rent a place in the slum. Yes, she was paying money to her husband for her dwelling in the slum. She had money to pay for groceries and that was it. But it was not sufficient to keep her son in school. He dropped out. Walked around the streets, befriended the boys in the slum and turned to ways that bought an extra income through any means possible. He landed in jail a few times , but his father did not bail him out. The mother would take advance from her employers and go to the police station to pay bail once she collected sufficient amounts.
Shantabai never dreamt that she would live in a slum one day. She did not even think that her son will turn to wrong ways because they lived very well by all means ( not American of course).

The people living in the slums in Bombay are people who cannot afford even the modest means of dwelling in one of the priciest real estate places in the world. They are peons, household help, vendors, cooks, construction laborers, janitors, and tailors. They are the waiters that you see in the five star hotel working as waiters and sous chefs, They are also cooks in the glamorous houses in the sky scrapers of South Bombay. They polish your shoes and wash your clothes and also take care of your children when you are dressed in a suit and a tie and go to make business deals.

Many did not choose to be in the Slums. They live in a slum because they were forced out by adversities of life from their villages, forced out by the unemployment in small towns and even mid size towns .
They are the majority of the population of Bombay – resilient by force, and not by choice. They are the reason why there are chauffeur driven cars and south Bombay employs them for cheap. Ever wonder why the imports from India that you buy at
Banana Republic and Anthropologie and Ann Taylor is cheap ? Because these exploited tailors do not get sufficient wages to get out of the slums and move into a decent place try hard they might.

The money they earn are shared with the extended family members in the village they migrated from years ago escaping hunger. They have a sense of community than you and me. Infuriate one and you infuriate many. Successes, joys and pains are shared. And festivals celebrated amidst with the little that they have. Some become like Shantabai’s son but not all. Some go on to become doctors and engineers and one whom I personally know even studied at
IIT for his master’s program. But these are exceptions and eventually get out of the slum while many others continue to stay in the slum generations after generations. slum dogs are not the term for them, not even slum gods. The society has lost a sense of respect for fellow human beings if they have started to name people by the kind of dwelling they live in. it is a movie, but it is also a reflection of society. Doesn't artists express and expose society in their art? Yes, but they also edit it and the audience is left with what they have not "Cut".

A Quick Note to Mr Boyle, the director of the movie
Slum dog millionaire.

Mr Boyle, As for the title “slum dog millionaire” your artistic mind copied the hindi translation of the phrase “gali ka kutta ( street dog , when literally translated and is used as a curse word in India.) metaphorically meant as a scum dog into a movie calling out for many discussions and accolades. Cheers to poverty as a source of inspiration, is it ?

Your kaleidoscopic western lens has brought tales of poverty to the living rooms of Hollywood and for those who wonder if such conditions really exist. This movie has brought a buzz to evening cocktail parties where wall street conversations leave a sour taste. Will you title a movie a foul prince- Prince charles. Run before the palace dogs hounds you.It is disdain to feel entitled to name the lesser known with an abusive catchy title. The people who live in the slums are not proud of their state.


manju said...

Anrosh- Well said! This is exactly what I feel. Many people have resented the glorification of the reality of slum life in an Indian city. I think it was handled in this manner specifically keeping the Oscars and other movie awards in mind.

The director has given the movie-goers what they want to see. And they in turn feel that they have done something positive just by going to see the movie.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

@ manju
can you tthink of a manner of depicting the slum that wont invite similar critiquing?
the only way i see it can be done is by giving a cameral to a slum residents with no schooling whatsoever in film making to capture the reality of the slum.

even then, it'll be his perception.

there is no truth independent of human perception.

Indyeah said...

Yes,Anrosh..the movie was quite grim in places...the title itself as you said is quite demeaning....But as Manju says Boyle kept the awards in mind...he deliberately set out to make a movie of the sort that we see today.

However,at the end of the day,this is just a movie.Why just a?Because poverty and slums do exist,these conditions do exist..Granted ,Boyle went overboard in showing Jamaal wading into shit to get just an autograph...
Did the 'western 'audience cringe?Did they have this topic as ' party conversations' ?
Who knows and who cares?
We have so much more to worry about than thinking about how the 'west' percieves us.

Vikram writes very aptly that ,’’ But Slumdog is itself unjust to the people it claims to represent. It denies them their dignity, the same thing India’s upper castes have denied them for centuries.’’ http://vikramvgarg.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/swades-vs-slumdog-millionaire/

‘’The society has lost a sense of respect for fellow human beings if they have started to name people by the kind of dwelling they live in. it is a movie, but it is also a reflection of society. Doesn't artists express and expose society in their art? Yes, but they also edit it and the audience is left with what they have not "Cut".’’

True Anrosh.Very true.One feels an anger if one thinks about it.But in the same breath I think that there are so many Indian movies that seek to do the same.
This movie has won international acclaim (precisely because of the poverty depiction ,something that Boyle must have had in mind all along) and hence the searching scrutiny and minute criticism.Also, it will create a picture of India in some western minds which is true too.
However,I really do believe that we take ourselves as too serious a country,specially when it comes to ‘foreign’ portrayals.
I have rambled on and on , on a topic that wasn’t even here..:)
I do agree that what you and Vikram say is right as far as the name goes and the portrayals…..Dignity is the most important of all….for any human being...
But at the end of the day this is just a movie.A movie that certainly wasn't meant for India.One that was meant to please the 'western' audience.
We just happened to be caught up in our own euphoria.This movie is just that,a movie,one which tells the story of a human life.

Indyeah said...

Sorry about the ramble above.:)I know you were trying to raise a valid question.and that you too enjoyed the movie and the music..
Danny Boyle...well he had his own profit margins to look at ,not to mention the awards too...
here's a post that I think summarises how I too feel about the movie..http://apusworld.com/blog/2009/01/slumdog-millionaire/

Anrosh said...

Hi All,
Perception varies so does perspectives. there is no right or wrong.

indyeah - comments are for writing whatever you want, long, short, right, wrong any combination - so do not apologize.

regarading the post -
My guess is that people whose lives have been exhibited might say, " paise wale log toh kuch bhi karega " - translated as people with deep pockets have no boundaries and they will do what they feel like ..

Most average american folk has not seen salaam bombay or the city of joy. it does not come in american movie theatres.(except in say NY, NJ or sanfrancisco or chicago - the major cosmpolitan cities) so for them this could be the first one, and may be their wondering mind is at rest?

They go on to ask - "why doesn't the government do something about it ? Why can't they offer public housing, public schools ..the list of questions just keeps getting longer. for a brief second they feel guilty of their "have all" state, but that's only for a second.

As for the movie, I haven't seen it yet. the trailers have not piqued my curiosity and many blogs and many newspapers gave away the plots. I will wait for my nearest Redbox DVD vending maching to stock them, after a period of 90 days or so.

i am sure i will be fast forwarding many scenes..

corine said...

I spent half my life in France and the other half in the United States and I had no idea of what is depicted in the movie. I thought I was witnessing the 'real thing.' The movie makes it look kinda terrifying and wonderful at the same time. Does it bring awareness to the suffering of people living in the slums, or does it glamorize it? I think both.

Anrosh said...

yes corine - it was the "real poverty" turned reel with a little of a song and dance- bollywood style

L. Venkata Subramaniam said...

I think slumdog has also given rise to the guiltydog. Many Indians like AB are apalled that poverty is shown in the movie. The truth is India is poor. Now looking from outside no one will be able to see the rich class of Indians because they are a minority. But this minority class of rich Indians feels guilty everytime someone points to the poor, because they should have done something to raise the standard of living in India.

Anrosh said...

Venkata - AB is appalled because he wanted anil kapoor's place on the oscar red carpet. it is a matter of an ego distress having received the demi god status he seems to have wilted that the oscar camera moved away from him..
so there are many in the likes of amitabh bacchan.

No rich ever feels guilty of the poor. they became rich because they squished and squashed and elbowed because they feel they are entitled to do it. shoot anybody who stands before them. freakeconomics is a good book ( it explains how executives became executives ) the same theory applies.

Mavin said...

If you have seen the movie, the slum-dirt-squalor stuff is only for some time.

Essentially, it is a film on an individual who makes it despite all adversities and odds.

We typically always over react but at the same time it is true that Indian films which show the slums, poverty and the like always get critical acclaim and applause and awards.

Commercially this film is rubbish and a flop.

I understand that both AB and SRK were asked to do the role that Anil Kapoor did and both declined....I have never seen these two gentlemen be sarcastic and insulting as is depicted in the movie.

At the end of it like Indyeah says.....it is a movie and we should move on.

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