After many recommendations by friends, after an avalanche of good reviews, I saw Slumdog Millionaire. I didn’t know what it was about, and I had to look it up first. This is not a Hollywood Movie. A long time ago I read somewhere that India makes more movies than Hollywood, several times over. But I can’t remember seeing a good one.
If what I saw about India in this movie is true — and it claims as much — I am not sure I am interested in ever going to India. Then, on the other hand, there is a modern India and a desperate India. Here we mostly saw the desperate side, and the modern and wealthy side was portrayed as preying on the masses of the poor in every respect, physically, emotionally, financially, morally, forcing the poor into all manner of abuse and misery.
Children, four years old, orphaned by mobs, left fending for themselves for the rest of their lives. Heaps of garbage. Open sewers. Filth and crumbling buildings everywhere. Children forced into slavery, blinded brutally by acid so they are more successful as beggars, sent off as servants (the lucky ones). We don’t see sexual abuse, but we sense it everywhere.
One in six people in the world is Indian. How can a country, portrayed as such a miserable place, be so prolific in its procreation? How can such a disastrous place even exist? I have a hard time respecting a country and a religion that does to its people what I saw in this film. Am I being told a story to shock me? Is this the reality that I am conveniently sheltered from by never going to India? I have known people that went to India to find enlightenment. Enlightenment? So this is what an enlightened culture does to itself and its people, its children? No, thank you.
The story is about an orphan who grows up through his sheer resilience. He knows when to run, he knows when to be cunning, when to lie, steal and beg. He is smart and he lives by a set of principles, even when his friends get tortured and abused and his brother goes rogue.
Somehow he manages to get on the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Indian flavor, and is lucky enough to know all the answers. They come from stories in his life, which we witness as a series of flashbacks. The story moves forward through driving music and endless imagery of one shock after another, the camera work unusual and foreign. We see the story from the sidewalk, from the level of the garbage, from the tile floor after having been beaten, from the horror of backrooms where sadists mutilate children.
And after all this, we rejoice at the end and are actually inspired and motivated. Then we leave the theater and we are astonished that the tires are still on our cars in the parking lot, and that we can just go home and make dinner.
Why? Because we were born in a country unlike India. Are we enlightened?