I have a natural and somewhat inexplicable affinity for all things having to do with India. I’ve also liked British director Danny Boyle ever since he made zombie attacks (28 Days Later) and heroin addiction (Trainspotting) seem so aesthetically cool.
So, naturally, when my dad told me about a new Boyle movie called Slumdog Millionaire about a poor Indian kid who wins a million dollars, I was interested.
I wasn’t even deterred by my grandma, who warned me that it was the “worst movie of the year.”
Well, guess what, Grandma?
Slumdog won four Golden Globes, including one for best picture, and the Screen Actors Guild award for best ensemble cast. It has been nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture — proving that more than a few people disagree about it being the worst movie of the year.
My grandma’s complaint was that the movie showed her “more than she ever wanted to know” about poverty in India. This is exactly why I loved the movie, which is about a “slumdog” from the streets of Mumbai who ends up on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? — and why I think it deserves praise and recognition.
Last year’s Oscar nominations for best picture included America-centric films such as No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood and Juno. The inclusion of Slumdog, a partially subtitled film shot in India, in this year’s list of nominees is notable. The film comes at a time when international tensions are exploding and people need to know what’s going on.
Boyle isn’t afraid to realistically show the gritty underbelly of life in India. Almost one-third of the movie is in Hindi, and the children who play the younger versions of the main characters are actually from Indian slums.
The film was shot on location in Mumbai and its final scene takes place at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, a train station that received international recognition in November when “dozens of people were killed or injured … as part of several coordinated attacks throughout the city,” according to the Washington Post.
The images in Boyle’s film, both appalling and vibrant, bring to life issues and circumstances in other parts of the world that many Americans are unaware of. Though Slumdog’s look at the life of a poverty-stricken Indian orphan is fictional, the issues in the film are real and pressing.
For instance, the long-standing conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India has a devastating effect on the main character, Jamal. In one particularly jarring scene, Jamal, who is Muslim, watches his mother die at the hand of a Hindu mob. Tensions between these two groups have affected the country for decades, and international awareness of this conflict is important.
Another major theme in the movie is poverty in Mumbai and its effect on orphaned children. According to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, “more than 9 million (people in Mumbai) live in slums, raising families in shacks built from rubbish on top of open sewers.” The city is poor, overcrowded and dangerous for children on their own.
In the film, an orphaned Jamal and his brother are picked up by a man who runs an operation that turns homeless, parentless children into beggars. The man later pours hot liquid into the eyes of another orphan, blinding him before sending him out as a beggar.
Gangs and individuals deliberately cripple hundreds of Indian children so they can make more money begging, according to the Daily Mail. This is a real issue that deserves international attention.
The awards and recognition for Slumdog Millionaire are well deserved, and Boyle and the cast should be congratulated for not only creating a spectacular film, but promoting international awareness of places like India, where real slumdogs rarely get a chance at a million dollars.
Michelle Stark is a junior majoring in international relations and mass communications.