Poverty Porn and British Racism

Good review of “Slumdog Millionaire” by Saurav Basu:

Back in the good old days when Satyajit Ray often made the most sublime neo-realistic cinema, one Ms. Nargis Dutt caustically charged him with selling Indian poverty abroad. Yet, Satyajit Ray”s films did not feature Calcutta”s slums but the villages of Bengal. There was an undercurrent of poverty in his major films like Pather Panchali, Aparajito and Pratidwandhi but there was human irony. No romanticizing poverty yet ultimately a resounding affirmation of human dignity. Who can forget the immortal scene in Aparajito where a guilt ridden Apu, a poor Brahmana boy rejects his priestly duties towards his mother”s last rites and opts to pursue a modern education instead. Ray”s father was a Brahmo and he himself a recalcitrant Hindu, yet his cinema encompassed everything that represented the best and the worst of Indian civilization ethos.

Through the vicissitudes of times, India has emerged as a global economy shedding both its Nehruvian rate of growth and the associated stereotypes, although we are admittedly a third world country with sub Saharan level hunger and human development indices. Yet, a share of its misfortune may be attributed to being surrounded by two failed states whose burdens of jihadi terrorism and poverty India has to suffer. Even the slum is an artificial socio-political construct and misrepresents Indian poverty. Indian slums have unpaid electricity accounts yet even today thousands of Indian villages wait electrification; slums have NGOs operating in vain while villages still await their first permanent school buildings. Slums create and sustain criminals yet millions of Indian villages represent a morally and ethical superior way of life and hospitality. Slums in India are infested by some over 30-40 million illegal Bangladeshi migrants who constitute a sizable secular votebank.

But contemporary film making seems to have appreciated little of these ground realities; instead we find a rehash of the old and improbable rags to riches story in an ultra-regressive style. A magnificent Mumbai slum, two Muslim brothers, a Hindu mob killing innocent Muslim women, criminally amputated children singing Surdas”s songs, Hindu policemen torturing an innocent Muslim boy and a diabolic Hindu game-show host who hands his Muslim contestant to his Hindu police which hates the Amnesty international, and voila, you have all the ingredients for a “secular” potboiler which is on the road to the Oscars! You might argue that it”s not realistic but only fantasy since there is greater probability of winning the jackpot on a lottery ticket without being abused by the police than winning the top prize on a quiz show with 15 unique questions.

But then you can be kidding with the graphic depiction of blood curdling anti Muslim riot in which a Hindu mob slits the children”s mother, the Indian policeman electrocuting the Muslim suspect or the gory scene of the amputation of the street children by the mafia who are then forced to sing Surdas”s bhajans. The book by Vikas Swarup has the main protagonist named as Ram Mohammad Thomas who was conveniently transformed into a Muslim boy, Jamal Malik who lost his mother to a Hindu mob to make it sound in the author”s own confession more “politically correct.”

When was the last time in Indian History when an unprovoked Hindu population took to violence? For the record the Mumbai riots were incited by fanatical Muslim mobs in the face of the Baburi Masjid demolition. Moreover, it beats me how the consequent Mumbai bomb blasts triggered by local Muslim gangs can be disassociated from the Mumbai riots? And the much maligned Bombay Police recently lost sixteen of its bravest men while defending the city”s freedom of speech and expression against Islamist zealots who wanted to replicate in India, a 7th century Arabia.

More disturbingly, you have the depiction of the blue bodied Rama whom Hindus consider as Maryada Puroshottam [the best among men] threatening to terminate the existence of the innocent Muslim children. To a question on with which weapons is Lord Rama depicted with in popular iconography, Jamal Malik the protagonist does not remember the grand Ram Lilas which happen across the country or Ram Kathas on televisions. Instead, a Hindu kid dressed like immaculately like Lord Rama stand in the mid of a slum in a threatening pose. And one cannot miss the hatred being portrayed in the face and looks of that young Hindu kid, younger than even Jamaal. Even a 5 year old Hindu kid is a communal bigot and Rama is responsible for all the communal crap. Muslims are seculars and victims by definition. And we need one white director to tell these things to the whole world. Not only this we have forcibly amputated children singing Surdas”s bhajan pining for a glimpse of illusory Krishna?

This insensitive jaundiced anti Hindu view is reminiscent of Indian leftist cinema where Hindu male characters are black and Muslims white! Remember, Mr and Mrs Iyer where a Hindu mob was searching for circumcised dicks and didn”t even spare a Jew in true Nazi fashion! Never mind that in world history, Hindus are the only people who don”t carry an atom of anti-Semitism, but the director”s flight of “secularist” fancy won critical acclaim. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in his film Uttara shows a band of Hindu goons burning a Christian church made in service of the lord”s lepers and raping an orphan girl in the process. Expectedly, this rather original gruesome way of story-telling won him the national awards! In the Tamil hit, Dasavathaaram, we find an anti-historical situation fantasizing Shaivite intolerance against Vaishnavs where Ramanujam”s disciple is shown fighting Kulothunga Chola. Based on a solitary description of Chola antagonism in Ramanujam”s writings, we discover the Chola fanatic stealing the idol of Vishnu from Srirangam, ironically the same temple complex which was plundered at least five times by Islamic armies. Similarly, Kamal Hassan in his movie “Anbe Sivam”, shows a pious Shiva devotee injuring the hero who is rescued by a group of benevolent Christian nuns. Previously, in the 70s when anti-Brahmana movement in Tamil Nadu was at its peak, we had Brahmana priests routinely paraded as rascals in Tamil movies.

“Islamic” sensitivities have extracted book bans from both British and Congress governments. Girja Kumar in his “Book on Trial” has reproduced dozens of cases where Hindu books critical of Islam or the Prophet were banned, and the authors faced arrest or were killed. Salman Rushdie”s flight and Taslima Nasrin”s plight is well known. Lajja almost faced a ban because she had exposed the genocide against Hindus in Bangladesh. Movies on the state of Kashmiri pundits, victims of Islamic genocide against Hindus of Bangladeshis, the Hindu victims of the North East against Christian separatism and also the historical crimes by the armies of Islam and inquisitory Christianity are taboo in a “secular country” They cannot see the light of the day because they are inimical to communal harmony and hurt minority sentiments.

This ostentatious display of anti Hindu sentiment is of course lost on the jingoists or those ABCDs who go gaga over such pernicious cinema. Sincere critics questioning the dumb plot where a slum boy grows up into a sophisticated leftist JNU product with a flawless English accent are censured by appealing to the authority of the Golden globe awards. They keenly forget the film was precisely designed for that, appeal to the racial sensitivities of those who really matter! Therefore, even the liberation of Jamal is not through out of any indigenous worth, but through an internationally funded poverty alleviation game show [Kaun Banega Crorepati recedes into its international avatar, Who wants to become a millionaire].

Saurav Basu

For two thousand years, India was the richest country in the world, consistently accounting for 25 percent of the world’s GDP. The ancient Romans and Greeks called it the Golden Bird. Then the Brits captured it. When they left 200 years later, India had become the poorest country on earth.  The colonialists had sucked India dry and the land of milk and honey turned into a land of famines in which millions used to die. Just 50 years after Britishers captured Bengal (the richest province of India), over 1/3rd of the Bengali native population perished in a famine orchestrated by the colonial masters.

As one of the posters on Shantanu’s blog said, first the Whites raped us, then they filmed the rape, now they are showering awards on the film and they expect Indians to congratulate each other for the film getting their award. Yeah right!

Aother review, this time by a Westerner:

Like the bestselling novel by the Americanised Afghan Khaled Hosseini, A     Thousand Splendid Suns, Slumdog Millionaire is not a million miles away from     a form of pornographic voyeurism. A Thousand Splendid Suns is obsessed with rape and violence against women, the reader asked to pore over every last horrible detail. Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn. 

Here is the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) summary of the film. It judged it suitable for viewers aged 15 or over (I would add another ten to that): “Strong violence is seen in a scene where a group of Muslims are attacked and killed in the street – together with general chaos and beatings, there are some stronger and more explicit moments, such as the deliberate setting of a man on fire… We also later see strong violence that includes a knife held to a woman’s throat as she’s forcibly snatched off the street, an impressionistic blinding of a young beggar boy, and torture by electricity in a police station. The BBFC has placed this work in the COMEDY genre.” Comedy? So maybe that’s it: I just didn’t get the joke.

I wonder if India will, or whether, as with Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker prize-winning novel, The White Tiger, people will feel more ambivalent than in the West. An editorial in dnaindia.com, a Mumbai-based online newspaper, read: “The miserable existence of the average slum dweller, which we in India know so well, is novel to the Western viewer… The awarding of the Booker Prize to The White Tiger shows that the seamier side of the Indian dream continues to have a resonance in Western sensibilities. The White Tiger’s victory left many Indians underwhelmed; who is to say that when Indian audiences finally see Slumdog they will not be equally put off?”

As a review on the same website by Vrinda Nabar, an Indian professor at a US university, put it: “Slumdog’s eventual victory comes at a price. When the selective manipulation of Third World squalor can make for a feel-good movie in a dismal year, the global village has a long way to go.” Quite. The Mumbai Mirror dubbed it “Slum Chic”, and notes that the term “slumdog” is not widely recognised in India: “It appears to be a British invention to describe a poor Dharavi kid in a derogatory way.”

 …When we are suckered into enjoying scenes of absolute horror among children in slums on the other side of the world, even dubbing them comedy, we ought to question where our moral compass is pointing. Boyle’s most subversive achievement may lie not in revealing the dark underbelly of India – but in revealing ours.

I have heard the argument that “Slumdog Millionaire” should be appreciated because it is “realism.” Well, it is realism in as much as you poke someone’s arsehole and claim that in reality the person stinks. Is this “realism”?

There are gutters in every land. You cannot film the running sewage and showcase it to others in the world, claiming it represents the “reality” about its people. The racist Westerners have mocked our race again through this film. I pity the intelligence of Indians who are applauding its “achievement” of being awarded by the very same Westerners.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Poverty Porn and British Racism

  1. sheena singh

    fact of the matter is, im indian myself and the fact that one would choose not to accept the fact that what went on in the film doesnt really happen, open your eyes it does , there was nothing racial about the movie as affended you are about the divisions between the races in the movie, jamaal had said that rama and allah had save his life that day ..so in fact he was appreciative as all gods are the same your own opinions are a reflection of how you think, you need to change

  2. Suhas

    Why call the lovely kids Slumdogs. Dog is a colonial abuse term. Indians and Dogs not allowed is a colonial carryover. Must Indians inherit colonial abuse to eternity. The title could have been ” The Great Slum Hope” . When it is a “gora” it is Great White Hope”. When it is Indian it is kutta. Is this free India or colonial India?

    T N Sreenivasan’s review is spot on
    about Vikas Swarup. This man has allowed his Q & A to be mutated to a dog and this man is an ambassador. Spineless intellect and he is very happy the characters are called “dogs”

    “What kind of diplomat is he, who does the job of a drain inspector? Isn’t he supposed to project India in a positive light?” he said of my former colleague, Vikas Swarup ” TNP Sreenivasan.

    here you go once again the web site.
    TNP Sreenivasan;s write up.

    http://www.rediff.com/movies/2009/feb/16-slumdog-poverty-porn-at-its-worst.htm

  3. gajanan

    Surdas and the slimy world of globalization.

    This song was writen by Nepali and not Surdas. Vikas Swarup got his bucks and probably as somebody told TN Sreenivasan was busy inspecting the drains when Boyle’s law made Nepali into Surdas. See the clip here.

    See below.
    “more durable gains than those delivered through the present brutal and insensitive process of globalisation that is shaping so many aspects of how we live”.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/06/prince-charles-slum-comments.

    Now the film SDM is going to win Oscars!!!. The insensitive process of globalization is very much real in SDM. Vikas Swarup sits as Deputy High Commissioner in South Africa. Boyle makes his novel with screenplay into a movie in UK, by picking up young lovely slum children from Mumbai and calls them dogs and churns out a film.

    Prince Charles “This is brutal globalization, friends, Brits and countymen’ Please say it in Shakespearen style. .

    Now a Bhakti movement saint, Surdas, gets caught in this slimy whirlpool of globalization and is thrust credit for filmi lyrics of a 1957 film Narsi Mehta. There was a scientist called Boyle who had his famous law that pressure is inversely proportional to volume, which means more the volume less the pressure required. Well, this Boyle had stuff to make it a rational law in science.

    This cinematic Boyle, has no checks and counterchecks as to who really wrote the song. He mutates the mute. Instead he made a Nepali into Surdas. What dimension would you give to this careless , instant jump into metaphorical toilet of stardom. Yes , Prince Charles , globalization is dimensionless exploitation, with sense and sensiblity flushed into the slushy toilet of despair. Why did Vikas Swarup keep quiet on this. Insensitive globalization, Charlesji. He wanted to make money as an Indian diplomat who drains intellect.

    So , the hero is not a millionaire if he has anwered wrong. After all it is only a film would be a reply with a sheepish grin from the supporters. Imagination is greater than knowledge would email the script writer as well as the team. What , you mean Fake Knowledge is alright on screen and can be called “What imagination Yaar!!!” and give it awards. How right was Eric Ambler when he wrote in ” A Coffin for Democritus” ‘ In a dying civilization, political diagonistics is best known by the best bed side manners one has. Awards and rewards are decoration of mediocrity by ignorance.

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