Again, my motherland lets me down. I do not know which shame is greater – the shame of the poverty and brutality on display in the movie Slumdog Millionaire or the jingoistic fact free diatribe from the chatterati in the Indian media.
I hear comments like , “When they come to India, all they can see is the poverty.” It is true that when visitors from the west visit India, they are in shock at the sheer scale of poverty and dirt that is in their faces. There is much else to appreciate in India, but it must be done through the haze of dust, dirt and hunger. We are hurt, for our nakedness has been exposed to the world, again. Yes, truth hurts.
I hear too that “the voyeuristic depiction of the poverty is only for their commercial gain”. And it is true, that at least this commercial movie is on target for great financial gain and does depict this poverty and trauma. But all great stories depict angst, pain and sorrow. All great stories are the telling of tribulations in the journey of human endeavor against great odds. All great cinema and art force us to explore our emotions when faced with the tale of this struggle. And if this story is close to reality, raw and gut wrenching, then we are also forced to examine our reaction to it – emotionally and socially.
We have even had a mega filmstar bemoaning the fact that poverty ridden art cinema has always been appreciated more than his genre of commercial cinema. I am an avid follower of masala commercial cinema – and I am pleased to say that it is not as elitist as the gentleman points it out to be. It depicts poverty by the bucketloads, albeit with lipstick. He probably forgot the various poor angry young man roles he played, which made him ‘the’ mega star of the seventies. I am happy to be corrected on this – but I would like to see a single movie that matches the sheer technical competence demonstrated in Slumdog Millionaire. Here I have a confession to make – I watch the bollywood stuff on the sly – it is great fun to watch but it would be deeply embarrassing to be caught watching something that is just of such poor logic and so completely intellectually dead. Yes sir, do tell me of a movie that I will not be ashamed to talk about, and I will proudly wear the badge.
And the chatter! How can there be so much chatter about something that has not even been seen. The movie releases in India day after tomorrow. How can so much fact free discussion be sustained? Should I be proud of the tradition of free speech and discussion, or should I allow myself to cringe at the fact that it is only so much hot air. Again.
Slumdog has been advertised as the feel good movie of the year. I must admit that I found nothing to feel good about. On the contrary, I was hurt, shocked and ashamed. Ashamed not only of the sheer poverty and filth depicted there. But ashamed that I could be a part of a system where I allow poverty to exist. Where I think it is allright to pay my driver, maid and chowkidar less than a living wage. Where I do not care whether their minimum standards for dignified living are met or not. Where human life and human dignity have value only beyond a certain wealth and power threshold. I am ashamed of the dirt. I am ashamed to be one of those that does not think twice before littering.
Above all I am ashamed of our achievers – the youth of the nation who seem to happily fritter away their spare cash in malls and discos, the new millionaires who build palaces for themselves, the young professionals who make sensible financial choices for themselves. For they have found the capacity to be blind. Blind to the lack of human dignity. Blind to the fact that they exploit the poor in the guise of employment. Blind to the fact that they have the potential to be the whole of the solution. Blind to the fact that they are sitting on a simmering pot, and it will blow up in their face.
And I am one of them….us.