Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slum Dog Again - An American Point of View

This is a comment from a regular visitor (an American girl) to my blogs who rarely posts comments. This time she chose to do it . I thought I'll post it as a blog instead of a comment. It gives a fresh point of view. I think being too close to the scene, we tend to get sensitive to the point of losing our objectivity. This comment was quite an eye opener for me.
I was waiting for the slum dog millionaire blog. I had two thoughts from the "westerner" perspective.
But first of all, I absolutely loved this movie. I felt like I'd been through the entire gambit of human emotion by the end. I cried, I almost threw up, I shrieked in horror, I cried and cried some more. An Indian friend remarked to the effect that there was my two hours of social awareness. Was it my favorite Indian movie? No. But, one of my top 10 movies of all time? Yes. Anyway, I think the reason it was so popular is not bc it was a look at "India's dirty backyard" or a reality TV show of India. But, for the same reason that many of these films /novels/stories are famous. For the same reason we love Odysseus, Edmond Dante, Jean Val jean, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela etc. etc. This movie captures the true human spirit. The ability to overcome the most dire circumstances and rise above it all. Not to mention that the sound track was great!!!
However, back to the two points that are kind of interesting.
1) The title "slum dog millionaire". From your blog it sound like "dog" is a very derogatory term in India. You many say to yourself. Yes, obviously. But, in American culture the word "dog" is used quite differently. Calling someone a dog in one of the inner cities in America is like calling them "brother". So a gangster type would say "what's up dog?" to a good friend, followed by a hand shake and a hug. Now obviously in the movie this was used in the derogatory sense. But, I think that it was named this way to make it popular in western culture. When I first saw "slum dog millionaire" I didn't even look at it, I just assumed it was about drug deals in inner city Detroit or Chicago, movies that I don't particularly care for, but are very popular in America.
2) This is a movie that I kept thinking about for days and days after. So the "social awareness" aspect obviously had an effect. So a few days after I saw the movie I was talking to my Indian friends about the movie. The aspect of the movie that they just couldn't believe was that the couple kissed at the end! I almost fell over...with the abuse, the torture, the corruption, the conditions that people lived couldn't believe they showed two people kiss?


  1. what's up dog" in which part of the world do you greet this way? i haven't heard it for the past 10 years in the US - does it happen in UK or in the other english speaking part of the world. would defintely like to know

    my contention of the title is a literal translation of the hindi
    sentence - " ghali ka kutta " - a street dog. the director decided to title it as a slumdog.

    it is a bollywood movie through a british lens - capturing the human
    spirit of perseverance and triumph against all odds - the perfect
    american dream - captured the western audience. now an indian film
    maker will dare not make such a movie because it is wrong in the eyes
    of the indian audience who struggle very hard but only manages to keep
    the head out of water, hence the british make and all the accolades.

    movie making is an art and the director is definitely the artist in
    this case. there is nothing wrong or right in the eyes of the artist,
    because the creator shall choose which direction to take and we
    watch them - watch them and talk about it.

  2. The American visitor to the blog has said 'What's up, dog?'is an acceptable greeting among the gangster type in an 'inner American city'. Let's take her word for it. She goes on to affirm that in the movie it has obviously been used in the deregatory sense.

    Now, whether the makers of the film were really aware of this special sort of usage in the 'inner American cities' while naming the movie is something we'll probably never know.

    But I respect our American friend's right to find the movie a creative work. There is this cynical trend in some of us, sometimes to consider anything that appeals to the west as a 'selling out' of India. It needn't necessarily be so. A friend of mine, (an intellectual type) once told me that EM Forster's 'A Passage to India' was written to appeal to the west and according to him it presented India as a 'despicable, wicked old hag with a wrikled face'. I still haven't been able to grasp his meaning.
    And having had the opportunity to interact with quite a few westerners (Americans included) I'll vouch for the fact that the vast majority of them are not eagerly looking forward to lap up 'poverty, squalor, corruption' stories of India everytime. It will be a mistake to nurture any such prejudiced notion.

  3. yes , you are right Paul " what, up dog - is a phrase in a gangster type inner american cities -- i recall now as you say.

    you are right paul - no westerners want to lap up poverty. no human being in its earnestness wants this disease.poverty only creeps upon you for many reasons.

    westerners seek such inspirations and know to make a dollar out of it because there is an audience in waiting for this in the american market - may be other european markets too.


  4. "westerners seek such inspirations and know to make a dollar out of it because there is an audience in waiting for this in the american market - may be other european markets too."..

    could be true but why cant we all just watch it as a movie and not go on to critisize what it shows and what it doesnt and who makes a profit from it.

    its like telling ur mom "why did the chicken cross the road" and she replies "who let out the chicken in the first place??"

    ruins the joke. just my $0.02

  5. >>This movie captures the true human spirit. The ability to overcome the most dire circumstances and rise above it all.<<

    Couldnt have said it better!


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