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Some Ramblings - Slumdog Millionaire
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
 Slumdog Millionaire

It is not about cashing on the poverty of the country. It is not about exploitation. But when, in "Salaam Bombay", as a train rushes through a Bombay tunnel screaming along its tracks, and a bunch of children who are playing nearby stand in attention and let the train pass by, and resume their play after the train roars past, and it is later revealed that those children weren't just playing close to danger, but they in fact live in the near by tarp covered huts just a few feet away from the tracks, and the rhythmic roar on the rails is as common in their lives as the crow of the rooster every morning, the situation is not about putting down the value system of the country. It is not a comment on the political, social or economic inequities of the same. The presentation is just the everyday reality in a country stuffed with people to the brim. To an unacquainted eye (read, western world) the poverty and the lack of care/respect for human life might be unsettling or shocking even. But to an average Indian, poverty is as much part of the scenery as plushness is. People have grown up (and continue to do so) with glaring contrasts all around. An awe-inspiring sight of the majestic Taj Mahal shares the space with industrial pollutants and sewage floating in the adjacent river running by. The crests of tall sky scrappers are balanced with troughs of shanty living areas. Imported automobiles try to make their way through the bullock carts, hand drawn carriage and peddle-style rickshaws. Walk out of the costliest restaurant in town, and a bunch of beggars who haven't had a full meal in days make their presence felt in no time. Just what reaction can a normal reaction, with enough empathy and sympathy, muster up when confronted with the wild vagaries of everyday life in India? Most of them, the spiritual, philosophical and the religious minded fall back on the most comforting argument of all - it is destiny, it is karma, it is fate, it is written. Swami Vivekananda's statement that in India within every lowly beggar lies a great philosopher is not too far-fetched, considering, optimism alone cannot provide all the answers to contradicting questions of life in the country. A dash of detachment, a touch of thick skin and a pound stone-heart are vital for getting through the everyday life. And add to that, a will to dream.

Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire" is a fantasy at its heart - a heady mix of danger, depression, oppression, optimism, chance and luck, all thrown together in a blender and spun at high speeds, without forgetting to add that essential ingredient of 'life in India', to bring out a rich flavor that is very unique to the land. And setting the story against the backdrop of the biggest slum in Asia - Dharavi - which is right in the middle of the richest city in the country - Mumbai - only compounds the contrasts. More than half a million people living in sub-standard (even, sub-human) conditions, right in the midst of the biggest urban sprawl, consisting of sky scrappers, malls, golf courses etc, remains one of the greatest paradoxes in the story of the economic success of the country. The road to riches has forked into three parallel paths, one each for each living class. The ultra-rich remain untouched by the day to day ups and downs; the middle class has just recently found a new spring in the step, and therefore, marching on its own road in its own stride; and the perpetual poor, who, like the rich in a way, are unaffected by the mainstream movements in the country, except when visited upon by the tragedies and calamities (riots, bomb blasts, gang wars and just stray accidents). Each section remains strongly and strangely oblivious of the ones a level below, to their joys and the sorrows, to their pleasures and the pains. And on those rare occasions, when the paths intersect, each group would treat the other with a sense of mistrust, disdain and disgust. Again, this is not a social commentary, just the status quo. What better could serve as the setting for a great human interest story that has everything in it - love, emotion, drama, sentiment, comedy and tragedy - the magic combination of every known human emotion, right in front of the eyes, served in a rich celluloid platter?

Here is the brilliance of the script. The movie is mixed with every little depressing aspect that plagues the lives of children in slums - lack of education (and therefore, denial of legitimate opportunities), poverty, constant risk of being exposed to every worse impulse of humanity - communal riots, forced induction into begging by mutilation (the more the handicap, the more the sympathy and the better the returns), child prostitution, early exposure to anti-social activities and many more. Yet, in spite of all this, "Slumdog..." is in fact one of the most heartfelt uplifting movies in recent times. A few years ago, Boyle tackled this "innocence in the face of cynicism" theme in "Millions", when a couple of kids find a bag load of money in their backyard. And as they try to spend it purposefully on charity, and providing for the less fortunate, and none on their personal needs, the theme emerges, how less complicated a child's view of the world is, both in prosperity and adversity, and that the instant dismissal of their simplistic (and often times, correct) view by the grown ups is simply the elders' reluctance to the acceptance of the issues on their face value. For example, why shouldn't a beggar be given any money? And the answer of the elder is, it promotes more begging - the old give the fish vs teach to fish argument. When the rejoinder comes, who teaches them to fish, who gives them a chance to stand on their own feet, and what until then, would that beggar eat, and the only response from the elder is, hushed silence. Similarly, the children in "Slumdog..." don't sit around blaming their fates, they accept their realities and look for survival in those wretched conditions. Everyday is just another opportunity to get to the next day. There are no villains here, just sad state of affairs. And the only way out of it is to dare to dream. If America is the land of opportunities, India is certainly the land of dreams. In this land of dreams, the willingness to dream and the hope that things will fall in their place at the right moment alone will propel the aspirations and fates, to the level above. Call it luck, right place at the right time or anything else. People here call it destiny - the only apt term that turns the dreary every day life into a fairy tale reality.

More Ramblings on films
Quantom of Solace
The Dark Knight
Wall - E
The incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones and the kingdom of crystal skull
Speed Racer
Iron Man
Jodha Akbar
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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