Sunday, March 1, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire -Self congratulation and some truth too

I had last written on "Slumdog Millionaire" on Feb 9th ( ). Today, March 1st, I was reading Vinod Mehta's editorial in Outlook and was struck by the parallels and examples we both had picked. To amplify my self-congratulation I'd like to quote Khushwant Singh who said Vinod Mehta is one of the most erudite editors in India.

The most striking parallel was both of us picking Katherine Mayo's book "Mother India". Here is my blog "Katherine Mayo's book "Mother India" published in the early 30's evoked an angry response from none less than the Mahatma who decried it as "a drain inspector's report". Here is what Vinod wrote, "As far as exploitation of poverty goes, Danny Boyle is up there with Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, which Gandhiji dismissed as a "drain inspector’s report". To put it in context, Vinod cited that in the same vein as I did and goes on to say how Indians hate the portrayal of truth than truth itself.

More strikingly he then cites how,from Satyajit Ray to Aravind Adiga are seen as "showcasing poverty". I had picked on the same names too.

Now over to Vinod Mehta's remaining editorial:

We are told Dharavi is a slum of vibrancy, enterprise, the triumph of the human spirit and a model of inter-communal living. Another collateral boon: superpower India has at last come to terms with its penury. It is comfortable with its poverty. If you will pardon my French, that’s bullshit!

Slums, whatever artistic gloss you put on them, are ugly, dark, squalid, crime-infested locations—a sign of a failed state rather than a shining one. However many Oscars India might collect, we should never lend legitimacy and romance to scars which should make us hang our heads in shame. There is nothing nice about a slum, even a five-star one like Dharavi, and the Indian state must avoid flirting with the myth that a slum is a beautiful place, inhabited by beautiful people doing beautiful things—an example to the rest of the country of how hard work and honest toil can make the rags-to-riches story possible.

In fact, Slumdog Millionaire should remind us of what we try to obscure and sanitise with pretty words. Already, our rulers with votebanks in mind, have, to an extent succeeded in making us accept the existence of slums as an inevitable consequence of urbanisation and globalisation. Slumdog Millionaire could further tranquilise our sensibilities to the distress and despair right under our nose.

I too celebrate the success of Slumdog Millionaire. Pity about the slums.

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