Elevate Difference

Slumdog Millionaire (or I Want to Sue the Indian Government: Memories of Gods, Lovers, and Slumdogs)

An old Native American curse goes like this, “May all your dreams come true!”

For many years, I had a dream; I wanted very badly to visit mysterious India. Last month my wish unexpectedly came true. Forbidden Sun Dance, my most recent documentary, was selected to compete in the Tri-Continental Human Rights Film Festival in India. This was a great opportunity to discover the land of my dreams.

While on tour with the festival, I was invited to watch Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire in a fancy movie theatre in the dazzling and enormous city of Mumbai by a lovely Bollywood moviemaking couple.

I had never seen such a theatre anywhere in North America! For double the ticket price, you get a seat in which you can actually lie down! Superbly comfortable, they were a bit like those huge massage chairs that I had seen in shopping malls in Canada.

I felt very strange sitting in that chair, munching on popcorn and watching not a fantasy-filled Bollywood movie, but a somewhat more realistic portrayal of life in India...

Bollywood – My Childhood Love

As a little girl growing up in Iran, and like millions of others living in Eastern countries, I loved Bollywood movies. They were all colour and glamour and rosy pictures of India, that heaven on earth; the country of love and flowers.

In my childish imagination, Bollywood’s India was the best place on the planet to live and be in love. For hours, my cousins and I would sit watching Bollywood movies and later try to imitate those gorgeous Indian actresses.

We would draw moles between our eyebrows and put on lots of makeup stolen from our mothers. We would wrap Granny’s colourful hijab around our bodies and pretend it was a sari while dancing along with the actresses and lip syncing all the songs that we knew by heart without understanding more than few words!

We all wanted to steal the heart of the main actor, Amitabh Bachchan. He was the most gorgeous man ever: tall, handsome, and an amazing dancer, he was our superbly passionate romantic hero who would do anything for love and justice—at the same time! A true prince charming. I would have done anything (and I mean anything) to get his attention if he ever showed up in my neighbourhood in Tehran!

In that way, I was just like little Jamal in Slumdog Millionaire.

The end of happiness

Our happy days didn’t last long. The new Islamic regime in Iran robbed us of our childhood joys and fantasies. For girls to sing and dance became a crime against humanity, akin to adultery. Being seen to be in love, like those pretty Bollywood actresses, was to risk being stoned to death in the name of their angry and misogynist god.

Although owning a video player was a crime with a harsh punishment, we continued to keep our player and watch Bollywood movies in our basements. But this couldn’t help us to forget the cruel realities taking place outside our doors. Thousands of young Iranian revolutionaries were massacred by the new Islamic regime, which conducted a never-ending war with neighbouring Iraq, using the war as a tool to quell internal political dissent.

My childhood became nothing more than blood and hopelessness. Even Bollywood movies were powerless to bring the colour back to the dark reality that Iran had become.

I wanted a way out, something to offer the hope and fantasy that a lost teenager like me craved. Again India came through, this time with books not movies, and with a rational for what we went through. Apparently, this was our karma. We should not complain; we should accept the life that we had and be thankful in order to come back in a better situation, for instance in Switzerland or even the India as we pictured it from Bollywood movies.

I envied Indians, with their hundreds of gods. But they were more than happy to offer them to the world even a hopeless Iranian teenage girl like me. I could actually choose to believe or worship whatever god I wanted. To my surprise, the Indian gods could not change my life; they only could help me to live it more happily by changing my thoughts! In the darkness that was Iran, I was looking for a god who was less furious and violent than the one imposed on us by force after the 1979 revolution, the god of lashing, killing, stoning, war and absolute control over all, especially the guiltiest—women!

I longed to discover a happier god, a less harmful god, a god with more forgiveness and compassion. Above all, I longed for the god who would let us sing and dance—so I chose Krishna. After all, a god who would steal butter as a child couldn’t be so hard on others, right? So I chanted for Krishna: hare Krishna hare Krishna Krishna Krishna hare hare. Unfortunately our relationship didn’t last long; Krishna seemed simple to follow at first, but was too restrictive for women, even more restrict than the god at home to whom granny would pray three times a day.

As I flowered into a young woman, I found an Indian guru named Osho whose philosophies amazed me. The sexual liberty that he encouraged his followers to experience in the name of spirituality would attract any young woman living in a restricted Muslim country!

Then along came Buddha, a very popular figure with my generation. The Buddha’s philosophy was to meditate to find both internal and external peace, even while living in a violent society. My friends adored him, but I always had my reservations. Experiencing inner and outer peace in a country that hanged people in front of us on the way back from school simply wasn’t an option for me. Buddhism was too hard to understand or practice during the violent, horrifying times we were experiencing in Iran.

No, Buddha wouldn’t work for me. I couldn’t accept the misery that I had been living in for most of my life in exchange for the hope for a better life in my next body.

Losing Faith in All My Lovers

Sadly, I was losing my faith in the Indian gods. I felt like they were old lovers. I still liked to carry their pictures and had a wish to meet them in India one day, but I could not follow them anymore. We were too different, we had grown apart, and our paths were no longer the same.

I needed to get out, to have some space, to leave my childhood neighbourhood behind. The place that I had lived for so many years, the place where I had my dreams and thoughts about Amitabh Bachchan, Krishna, Osho, and Buddha for many nights, no longer felt like my home...

Finding Them in a New Home

I was surprised to find out how popular Eastern spirituality was among the middle- and upper classes in Western countries, including the country that I entered as a refugee: Canada. The lost generation found themselves in a modern, hectic world, and were critical of churches. This generation was looking towards the unknown for answers, looking for the devil they didn’t know to replace the one they knew. No doubt the countless Indian gods provided a rich buffet of choice for Westerners with wide-ranging appetites who loved to keep their "options open".

Most of my Canadian friends, and even some Iranian old leftists, would follow some new age spiritual path, god, guru or lama. They would always report a flawless image of their newfound system of old Eastern beliefs. Hundreds of dollars would be spent buying books, going to retreats and workshops, and attending the speeches of a guru or lama visiting from India who were willing to receive their offerings. Generous donations would be made for building a new ashram or temple under the names of their masters somewhere in their own city or back in the motherland. Of course, the structure had to be better and more glamorous than those consecrated to competing deities.

In all honesty, I have always been very impressed by Indians. Their brain really works in any area that they focus; perhaps it’s something in their tasty spicy food! What is clear is that they have succeeded well at selling their gods, gurus, and lamas to Westerners as they have been in selling Bollywood pictures to Easterners for generations. But I had my own confusions about India. Exposed for years to India through their successful movie marketing and convincing spirituality, I always thought that there must be more to the land of my dreams than that—a real India to discover with my own eyes.

Arriving in My Land of Dreams

Leaving the crowded Delhi airport, which had been placed on a high security alert after the terrorist attacks of a few days previously, the first thing which struck me was all the poverty that I saw. I couldn’t believe my eyes! Hundreds of people living on the streets of Delhi; babies crawling dusty roads, eating garbage alongside of dogs, cats, and cows, and ignored by ordinary people who would walk right by them pretending they didn’t exist.

No Escape from Reality

Delhi was nightmare become reality; there was no escape. Unlike many other countries where you would see poverty only in ghettos, the poor in India are everywhere. Slums full of people exist even within the wealthy neighbourhoods. There was not a moment I was able to pretend that the poor didn’t exist, except places like the unbelievably beautiful academic buildings built during British colonial era or the Western-style shopping malls and restaurants where the poor are not allowed to enter. Even there, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see them. The poor were with me and I couldn’t ignore their presence even for a moment.

It’s not that I was completely naive before going to India. Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy Trilogy had introduced me to the terrible poverty, the inhumane discrimination against women, the injustice, the hypocrisy, and the corruption. But what I encountered in person was beyond what I had seen in my wildest imaginings.

A sad smile would attract many children, each begging with those beautiful eyes for some mercy. I have never felt more hopeless, and in those moments I began to understand why tourists are advised to totally ignore the people on the street. But the warnings always said it was about safety—tourists needed to be ‘safe.’

Safe? These homeless children were the safest people I have ever known. They just seemed so dehumanised and hopeless, exactly like me standing before them. They were kind, harmless, and polite. They would see my camera and were more than happy to pose for a few meagre rupees without me even asking. Their lives seemed so totally integrated with Bollywood that their reality became shaped by it.

Feeding the Temple, Forgetting the Kids

I went to a small village in Rajasthan where they were building more than seven new ashrams a short distance from each other. I couldn’t imagine how much money would be spent on those gardens and buildings and on the enormous statutes of Buddha, Shiva, or any of the other Indian gods that would stand in the front of the buildings.

I asked, and received some answers. These temples were mostly being built and paid for by Indian spiritual leaders living in Western countries using donations from their follower’s pockets.

I visited Iskan, the Hare Krishna temple to see just a few aged Western devotees chanting. Apparently the Hare Krishnas are not as popular now as during their heyday in the '60s and '70s when The Beatles had turned to them. Buddha is all the rage now in the West. Krishna has become an old fashioned, hippie god.

Many poor Indians chanted—hare Krishna hare Krishna Krishna Krishna hare hare—outside the temple, hoping to attract some rich tourist’s sympathy—and perhaps a few spare rupees. It was hurtful and shameful to read the thoughts so clearly reflected in their eyes: “Yes, you are here on a pilgrimage to find your Indian god, but I also exist in India. Please make a donation here in my bowl, and I will promise to pray on behalf of you to any of my gods that you ask. Hare Krishna!”

I couldn’t understand why, in a country where thousands of temples already exist in all different sizes, shapes, and forms, there is need for Westerners to build more temples? Could these spiritual fanatics not see all this poverty? Did they believe that they could worship these new gods from within a safe Western bubble while ignoring the people on the streets who also believe in and worship the same god? What about building schools for the millions of street kids? Or how about providing shelters for the people who are born and die in the dirt of your newfound holy land?

I always knew there was poverty in India, but I naively thought that with the huge amount of money pouring in from all over the world through the spiritual tourist market and from Bollywood into a booming and wealthy city like Mumbai (which apparently has the most millionaires on the planet) more would have been done for the poor.

Ghandi vs. Mao?

I met an Indian businessman who had traveled all over the world, but was based in China. He strangely thought that Ghandi’s democracy had done more wrong that good for India.

I fought back. I think what Ghandi had done for this country no guru, lama, or contemporary communist dictator could do—so maybe India needs another Ghandi rather than a Chinese dictator. The businessman continued to compare his country to China and decided that the Chinese had dealt with poverty better than India ever had. He used the 2008 Olympics (China had put all the poor behind a wall), as an example.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! He was suggesting that the poor should be kept behind walls to protect tourists from exposure to the reality of misery. In a country with eighty percent its population in poverty, the government would have a hell of a job building enough walls to contain them all. Of course, this would have the benefit of leaving lots of space for the minority of privileged Indians, Bollywood stars, the wealthiest of the Zoroastrian Parsis, and of course, foreigners on spiritual pilgrimages or working for NGOs while living in five-star hotels.

I thought the only thing that India might learn from the Chinese would be to change their strict adoption laws so that the thousands of childless Westerners who are in line to receive a baby from China could adopt children from the streets of Delhi instead, and give them the love that they deserve.

I Want to Sue the Indian Government

Visiting the real India, not the one you see in tourist ads at your travel agency’s office, shattered my fantasies of the mysterious country I had always dreamed of one day visiting.

Who is responsible for the injustice that is India? Is it Bollywood, for producing distorted fantasy images for the world? India’s spiritual leaders who deceive millions of ingenuous westerners? Tourist agencies with their mind blowing exotic ads?

No, it is more likely the fault of the Indian government that tolerates savage injustice and disparity of wealth. Would it be possible, I fantasize, to sue the government of India on behalf of the millions of Indian street children who receive nothing from all the fame and wealth that India receives and enjoys? Could I seek a remedy before some court requiring those who control of the amazing, sacred land of India and who exploit it for their personal interest must share the wealth by actually contributing to India’s infrastructure and the health of its people? Surely, a country of such wealth and international fame can do something to address the abysmal poverty that surely has shocked more than one visitor into a helpless, suicidal funk.

India: the Beauty Within

I saw many beautiful things in India. I experienced real multiculturalism. Millions of different cultures and religions live and work together, while most countries in the region persecute minorities and permit no freedom of religion.

I witnessed democracy and freedom of speech at work when I saw a disabled person make a claim against the film festival in which I was participating for selecting a wheelchair unfriendly building in which to show the films. His claims caused the cancelation of the festival in the city of Goa, one of the five cities to which the festival would have traveled. It was somewhat ironic that in a country populated by millions of disabled poor living on the streets, one privileged and high-caste man could stop a highly organized human rights event.

I met some of the most amazing, generous, and peaceful people that I had ever met anywhere. I met hardworking, critical, but hopeful women activists and artists with a passion for justice that I rarely see. I met village women who would work hard on farms or in brick factories, while also making beautiful handicrafts in the hope that tourists would buy them.

There were the young, promising, intelligent Indian college students who harboured great dreams for their country and rest of the world. Some talked to me about their concerns about hostility with neighbouring Pakistan. They were worried about the possibility of war between people who one day could belong to the same land; they were disappointed with a corrupt government that is more concerned with building a war machine than with fighting poverty.

Seeing Forgotten Slum Children, But Not a Slumdog Millionaire

After a few days in India, I was sad to conclude that Slumdog Millionaire portrays an India much closer to the real thing than my childhood Bollywood movies represented. Even the theatre in which I watched Danny Boyle’s film seemed to exist in a surreal and glamorous Bollywood neighbourhood that was completely outside of the orbit of India’s reality. For me, although *Slumdog Millionaire's images were closer to reality, the rags-to-riches storyline was wildly improbable for any of the millions of India’s slum-dwelling girls and boys.

In a society of caste hierarchies that have deadly effect on the 'untouchables’—the absolute lowest caste who mostly live on the street—making a superstar out of a street urchin and providing him with a happy ending was copied from the Hollywood-Bollywood models, a fantasy provided by the same image-making machine that has always fed like a parasite on human hope for love, equality, and fairness. Yet I am still pleased with the film since it actually happened in a real Indian city and not in some surreal Bollywood set that most would think to be India.

Not-Happy-Ending to My Love Story

My best friend from Canada, who was visiting her parents in Mumbai, kindly took me around her childhood neighbourhood: the Juhu Beach areas of glamour and fame. We passed by Amitabh Bachchan’s house, the childhood favourite I shared with Slumdog Millionaire's main character. It was Republic Day and a big crowd waited anxiously for the moment when the big star would show up and give autographs to his fans.

I had no desire to meet him in person anymore, feeling I had been fooled enough by his movies as a child. Worse, huge images of him on commercial billboards all over India showed him using his fame to hawk everything from designer suits to Basmati rice, the luxuries that many of his poor fans could never hope to afford, in this life at least.

We have both changed. He is much older now—still handsome, but looking very conservative. There is no sign of the passionate man as I remember him from the old days, the man who would do anything for love and justice. I have also changed. I no longer believe in Prince Charming or the sweet fantasy of India that I used to know through his films.

Written by: Lila Ghobady, March 31st 2009

IMO, its a weird article from a confused person.

1) There is no growth of Hindu temples in India and the temples in India is not generally funded from abroad. However, the growth you see in India are the Church/cross plantings and the funding is heavily from abroad. Instead of using the funds for actual welfare of the poor, its used for conversion. She yet again missed reality

2) She says, the plush seats and exotic movie hall is surreal while the slums are real. This is perfect example of a person who seem to have a habit of viewing the world from her day to day selection of the narrow lens she decides to wear and dicard on a whim like her selection of Gods while blaming others for her choices. The reality is both are part of India. What she saw in slumdog millionare is also real India and so are all the richness there. The reality of India are the extremes. You will see bullock carts and rockets.

3) She wants to blame the Indian govt to the point of suing them. She doesn't seem to understand the basics. India's govt is the making of the vastly poor population in India. The vastly poor is who have been voting for the congress liberal govt 80% of the time since independence. The amazing and smart CM of Andhra lost the election after his contribution in building Hyderabad into an IT corridor because the poor mobilized against him and voted him off. Congress Sonia Govt came to power because of the numbers game. The poor and the backwarrd castes gets to vote and they are larger in numbers. Today, the same poor and castists with the support of Sonia's Congress party wants to break up Andhra on ethnic lines and create anarchy there. It is this govt that has been campaigning on the ground of wealth distribution from the time India had no wealth. Only the left is so capable of suing their own left ideology for its failure while touting the virtues of it. Ironically the vast leadership of the liberal left congress party are the forward caste Brahmins who strut around calling themselves the progressives. Yet, on closer scrutiny of these self appointed progressives personal lives they would not have any inter caste marriages for their ownselves or their family. Kind of like the Kenndy family here in the US or the many new Englanders and NY lilly white progressives. Ask around any Brahmins who consider themselves liberal left progressives, if they have any of their family members married to an untouchable caste, the answer would be with 99% certainty Negative!

  1. She seems to have been taken aback by all those feel good bollymovies. She is the sort who enjoys only the SRK types movies (K3G KNKH ) of yesteryears with Abitabh instead of all those realistic bollywood movies that may not have had the colorful sarees and dancing. How come she never saw APU's trilogy or Mother India? So she blames Bollywood for her choices yet again. Imagine someone who visits India after seeing only SRK movies and than putting him down in his later years for being had!

5). The businessman who does business in China is right. China seem to be doing right by their citizens in the last 20 years since they opened up to Capitalism. Yes. China seems to wave a big stick and does not give freedom to its vast population, but one has to grudgingly admit that they have managed to create wealth and are in a position where its whiny citizens can live on and become a healthier society. Also, the left govt of Obama in the US seems to approve and consider this govt the most important govt on the planet today.

Indian govt that keeps getting voted back into office by the same poor has failed its poor. That cycle needs to be broken. I agree. It needs to learn from China and wield some stick power to stop the anarchy in India and save the poor from themselves.

India and Iran are closely related because of the common Aryan ancestry. The old Parsi religion of fire worship and sun worship is much akin to the yajnas of Aryans who settled in India. But while Indian Aryans despise Asuras (call them demons etc.) and acclaim suras (call them gods), Iranians (Parsis) worship and follow Asuras. Ahura Mazda is their chief diety and Zend Avesta has many anecdotes resembling those in the Sanskrit Vedas. Then we should also note it is stated in Amarakosam that 'Asuras are adi-devas' (first gods). It is a pity that such an ancient civilization has been devasted by an intolerant medieval religion and the original fire worshippers had to flee to India for shelter and survival both of which they were given.

Thanks for this beautiful, fascinating and thought-provoking piece about my country. Though i live in California now i grew up and lived most of my life in India (Bangalore). Its amazing that we grew up wanting to visit Iran and thos fascinating, mysterious cities with such alluring names - Isfahan, Damqan, Kermanshah, Tabriz, Shiraz !! I grew up with Irani friends and fell in love with one of them !

India and Iran seem so deeply connected at some fundamental level and its such a pity that the revolution in Iran managed to reduce the relationship to a clinical, self-serving politcal entity.

You are so right about everything you said. Ive had so many arguments with fellow Indians (invariably well to do) who seem to admire China's developmental model, while completely ignoring the social impact.

I credit an Palestinian-Iranian friend of mine who was a fellow student at my school in instilling a revolutionary zeal in me. He went on to join the Intifada and we never heard from him again and it still haunts me now after 20 years. His depiction of Teheran during the revolution was at once breathtaking in its immediacy and hopeless in its inevitability.

Lila, just wanted to let you know that this post was chosen as the BlogHer of the Week post for last week. Congrats on writing such a thought-provoking piece!Elisa Camahort Page, BlogHer co-founder

Very poetic and moving Lila!Sorry to hear that your heart was broken in this way...Things are rarely what they seem!Hope you are doing well nonetheless.Love,Gilda

Hi Lila, My name is Alok and I am a blogger from India......with one uniqueness....I blog for my 5 month old daughter .....it is bit unique as I do that as her narrative.....everytime I have to write her post, I make a journey inside my daughter's mind and write...what comes out is this bloghttp://reveda.blogspot.com/And this is what made me connect to your blog. You know your post made me reproduce something that I had written on Macmillan's Chief executive post on 25/21/2007 - http://charkinblog.macmillan.com/CommentView,guid,4378f12b-5697-4b91-bfc3-ec634d28ab78.aspxAnd I think that that comment holds value in the context of your post- here is the comment being reproduced in full. But before that I would want to add- that yes India has poverty, India has all sort of problems but trust me a very high level of happiness,spirituality and peace index amongst so called poor people hits on everyone's face....yes you will find people with no clothes on roads, yes you will find them begging. And if you carefully observe their faces you will certainly find a look of smile and unexplained contentment and peace......I am not for the poverty and not at all justifying it. Yes as you correctly say, Indian government is to be blamed for most of the ills afflicting Indian society....but trust me what is remarkable amidst all this tragedy is the fact that concept which is India is still intact despite all those contradictions....it is not only intact but thriving despite all odds...a small achievement by a movie (why I call it small is that it is an annual event and is no rare) becomes a cause for so much celebration.....now that is the beauty of India......looking for hope then celebrate it once you manage to find it......again contradiction comes back but so does that wait for hope....circle continues....will forever till eternity....that is India.....introspect and you will know that that is why you love India and will forever......despite all its problems....back to that commentHi Richard, It would be interesting to read your views on India. To my mind, India is world's biggest laboratory in every sphere of human life. Consider this: A country of more than a billion people who speaks around 1200 languages and dialects & follows almost every religion of the world. Roughly 40% of population is illiterate, yet it produces world’s largest number of engineers and doctors every year. 30% population lives below the poverty line earning less than a dollar a day, yet the country has 200 million strong middle class. Roughly 70% of this mix of population caste their franchise to elect its government year after year in one of the biggest elections. The population that earns less than a dollar a day spends its life in those sorts of living conditions that can be rated as worse than one available to people of Sub-Saharan region. At the same time, you will find large number of people enjoying lifestyles that can be envy of anyone living in world's most modern societies. Millions of engineers are working on world’s latest technologies trying to bring efficiencies to world’s economies; yet a very large population does not even know what “TECH” word is all about.No country of the world has seen & experience this sort of digital divide. Amidst all this, one interesting piece of statistics is that India has the second largest pool of English speaking population outside United States. Thanks to Lord Thomas Macaulay! India continues to remain world’s enigma. Alok Bhatt

Apparently what I wrote struck a chord with you. I’m glad for that. And I think that we both have a desire for justice; we just have a different perspective on who is responsible for creating our vision of a just world and who is culpable for those visions being thwarted.It seems to me that you feel you like get to be the arbiter and spokesperson of what “reality” is for other people, particularly poor people in India. And you don’t. Neither of us gets to be that. The “truth” is that there is no one “reality” for poor people in India. It’s a county of over a billion people, and essentialism is bullshit.Be careful about mistaking opinions about the reception of Slumdog Millionaire for “fact”. A statement like “The overwhelming majority of slum residents and people from less advantaged parts of Indian society who have seen Slumdog have not only enjoyed it, they have attested to the accuracy with which it depicts the experiences of orphans and street children in Mumbai” is nothing but conjecture, as it can’t possibly have an empirical basis. Does SM reveal partial truths about India (communalism, corruption, etc)? Certainly it does. That’s not the issue though. The issue is whether the film itself is exploitative of these truths in utilizing them as a plot device. I think it is. At the end of the day, the poor in India are still poor, and this film isn’t changing that. Instead, it capitalizes on it to a large degree. Maybe I’d feel differently were I in a clean and comfy Western city. Maybe I’d be more shocked by what SM shows and feel like it should be lauded if I had more distance from what life is like for millions of people here, but I don’t have the luxury of distance. I live in Kolkata. I see the reality of poverty in India daily, and in every direction I look. And I’m both glad and saddened that I don’t have the privilege of feeling shocked by it.First, let’s make the distinction that Slumdog Millionaire is NOT Hindi cinema/Bollywood. It is a Western film. With that said, there is definitely an element of escapism in Bollywood, and my point is that one must have a particular income level in order to partake in it. I’m not opposed to cinema itself or the enjoyment people get from it. If that’s what you’re getting then you’re mistaking my words. What I’m opposed to is making excuses for those in the film industries (Hindi or Western films) when the product that they produce is exploitative.Business and government are intricately related, friend. (Just ask why Kaalbela, which profusely praises the Left Front, was released in West Bengal just before the elections.) Yes, Bollywood generates private capital. And then those with that capital build fancy shopping malls and restaurants and members-only clubs that don’t allow poor people on the premises. They literally have security guards at the entrances to keep them out. These are the kinds of choices that those with money make. They tend not to reinvest in the communities that need it most. They invest in maintaining and upgrading their own elite lifestyle. Shall we not be critical of them because they need their posh spaces as a means of escapism from the poor? How far do we slip down that slope of escapism before we excuse everything with that kind of thinking?I'd also be careful about not throwing out the importance of taking about religious identity, in an election year especially. it's completely connected to poverty, as religious discrimination is one reason why particular groups of people are poor.

What system is it that I am defending Mandy? Is it the one that makes me a cruel and horrible person defying the righteous truth that only you understand? It's a nice piece of ad hominem invective Mandy, congratulations, it is probably rhetorically satisfying, but it simply is not me.OK. First of all, there have been as many people in India celebrating Slumdog Millionaire as there have been berating it, and most of those berating it have been reactionaries, jingoists and nationalists who don’t like to see India’s dirty linen being washed in public, even though in reality the movie celebrates the spirit of life that enables many Indians living in deleterious conditions to overcome their adversity. You can take that narrative as you wish. It is a fairy tale, but it is a fairy tale rooted in many truths…..about violence and murder perpetrated by Hindu nationalist chauvinists on innocent Muslims in the aftermath of the destruction of the Babri Masjid, about the child-trafficking and sexual exploitation of children, about organized crime and violence in urban India. The overwhelming majority of slum residents and people from less advantaged parts of Indian society who have seen Slumdog have not only enjoyed it, they have attested to the accuracy with which it depicts the experiences of orphans and street children in Mumbai. Mandy, in answer to your second points, the poor certainly don’t need me to speak on their behalf any more than they need you to speak on their behalf. But take away the ad hominem assumptions and I'm sure we could come to much common ground on what can be suggested for the marginalised poor.I know the resonance that Hindi cinema has amongst disadvantaged people in India, because I am Indian myself, and my father was born in a chawl in Delhi, shitting in a collective herd every morning, washing himself in a trickle of water from an intermittent pipe jutting out from a wall, experiencing the indignities of poverty that I spend so much time thinking on and doing whatever I can as an individual to contribute to the alleviation of.And I have seen at first hand how Indian cinema does act as one of the few sources of escape for many, many poor people in India. You seem to be expressing a puritanical distaste for the role of cinema in the life of Indians, and have a basic misunderstanding of what the film industry can feasibly do in terms of building infrastructure to help combat poverty. To begin with, the money spent making movies is private capital and would not be spent on those programs if it was not being invested in ‘Bollywood’……the question of building infrastructure is an issue for the government of India, and that is a political issue, a governance issue. But the money that Bollywood generates is taxed, and this does contribute to the Indian exchequer. How it is then spent is a vital issue, but it is certainly a different issue to the Puritanism that emerges when one places escapist cinema in a continuum that actively oppresses the poor. I have much to criticize the Indian film industry for, not least of all for turning its gaze away from the poor since the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when poverty and social injustice were central to commercial Hindi cinema in the hands of filmmakers like Raj Kapoor and Salim / Javed. I simply don’t see how stigmatizing the most basic impulse of music and narrative art is anything but contemptuous of human instinct, and most of all, an utter waste of energy in terms of the places and targets upon which criticism should be focussed – the politicians and organized parties that in the year of an election would rather talk about things like religious identity than to collectively map out a 20 year plan to eradicate poverty from India.best wishes~ Jay from London ~

Jay from London - I can't disagree with you more. The story in Slumdog Millionaire does not resonate in a universal fashion. That's why there have been so many people, Indians particularly, who have been critical of the film and arguing that the film did a terrible job showing what life is really like for street kids in India. The film is actually quite exploitative of real street children and slum dwellers. The fact that you're saying there is beauty in the conditions that street children live in is a testament to how the film twists reality to make it palatable for a Western audience.To your second point about Bollywood, this is also a romantic falsehood that allows one to excuse the obscene amounts of money that the Hindi film industry spends each year cranking out these dazzling films for millions of dollars instead of spending that money to build an infrastructure that would support the millions who live in poverty in India. Do you honestly think the poor here can afford the money it costs to go to a cinema in India when they don't have enough to eat? Do you really believe that villages that barely have electricity are using that precious resource to watch Bollywood films? Even the cheaper cinemas in the outskirts of the cities are a huge luxury to those who don't have enough to eat or a place to sleep. You do realize that people sleep on the streets here, don't you? I've spoken to poor people here about just this issue, and I can assure you that the impoverished people here don't watch films as an escape from their struggles. They barely watch them at all. Many haven't seen a Bollywood film in decades, maybe their whole life. They struggle all day, every day. And they don't need people like you romanticizing what their lives are like and defending a system that ignores their suffering.

One other thing Lila. The Hindi film industry has always been a respite and a space in which people can forget their problems, and in which anyone can have a little bit of escapism. People in India, especially the poor of India, should not be chastised for that, for needing that, because it is so easy to deny them that. It is part of what gives them dignity, the impulse to dream and escape, for romance and music. Because at the end of the day, this escape into narrative and fiction is one of the most basic human impulses, and in a world in which many are denied dignity, to criticise the impulse to entertain and be entertained, is a flash of anger and cynicism too far. They struggle all day, the enter the cinema, they escape for two hours, then they return to the world and their struggle. ~ Jay from London ~

I have spent the last few minutes quiety absorbed in your deeply involving narrative review. It is a testament to Slumdog Millionaire that it seems capable of resonance across cultures and across the world. The obstacles and strictures and oppressions of poverty and society are shackles that millions of Indians struggle against every day, and this encapsulation in the story of Jamal, Salim and Latika resonates with people around the world in a universal fashion. This is where the beauty and energy of India resides, and I believe the spirit is found in people like yourself all over the world.best wishes~ Jay from London ~


Don't have anything specific to add except that much enjoyed reading. I had no clue that hindi movies were ever watched in Iran...

Lila,Amazing piece, well done! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.What did you mean by Krishna was 'too restrictive for women?'-thanks.