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Slumdog is about defaming Hindus

Slumdog is about defaming Hindus

Author: Kanchan Gupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: January 25, 2009
URL: http://dailypioneer.com/152164/Slumdog-is-about-defaming-Hindus.html

In keeping with American politics of the times, Slumdog Millionaire has been nominated for as many as 10 Oscars and our deracinated media, which constantly looks for inspirational 'good news' stories that invariably revolve around Western appreciation of 'truthful' portrayal of the Indian 'reality', has gone into a tizzy. Saturday's edition of a newspaper published from New Delhi had a blurb on the front page that read, "The Slumdog story: How 'Danny uncle' and his 'moral compass' created the biggest 'Indian' blockbuster - and why you should watch it." Predictably, the chattering classes, who had been blissfully ignorant of Vikas Swarup's Q and A (as they had been of Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger till its perverse denigration of India and all things Indian wowed the judges of last year's Man Booker prize) are now making a beeline for the nearest bookshop for a copy of the novel, whose title has been suitably changed to Slumdog Millionaire so that the book and the film are eponymous and both publisher and producer can encash the extraordinary hype that has been generated. Late last year, there was similar hoopla over AR Rahman getting the Golden Globe award for the music he has scored for Slumdog Millionaire. An approving pat on the back by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, it would seem, is the most important marker in an artiste's career. Those Indian musicians who haven't got the Golden Globe are not worthy of honour at home just as Sahitya Akademi award winners are not worthy of finding space on our bookshelves, leave alone feature on news pages or news bulletins.

The larger point is not really about going gaga over an American award or a British prize, but how they are seen as India being admitted into the charmed circle whose membership is strictly controlled and is by invitation only. That invitation invariably follows a certain pattern; it's not merely the keepers of the gate chanting, "Eeny meeny miny mo, catch a tiger by his toe, if he hollers let him go…" Apart from the fact that the 'tigers' in this case are not hollering but salivating at the prospect of seeing themselves clutching a handful of trophies on Oscar night, the nomination process is far more rigorous than we would think, with filters to keep out those films and books that do not serve the judges' purpose or pander to their fanciful notions - in this case, of India. Aravind Adiga crafted his novel in a manner that it could not but impress the Man Booker judges who see India as a seething mass of unwashed hordes which worship pagan gods, are trapped in caste-based prejudices, indulge in abominable practices like untouchability, and are not worthy of being considered as an emerging power, never mind economic growth and knowledge excellence. Similarly, Danny Boyle has made a film that portrays every possible bias against India and structured it within the matrix of Western lib-left perceptions of the Indian 'reality' which have little or nothing in common with the real India in which we live.

Therefore, it is not surprising that Boyle's film is about a slum where extreme social exclusion, political suppression and economic deprivation define the lives of its inhabitants. He has made every effort to shock and awe the film's audience by taking recourse to graphic and gory portrayal of bloodthirsty Hindu mobs on the rampage - the idiom that defines India as it is imagined by the lib-left Western mind - laying to waste Muslim lives (a Hindu is shown slitting a Muslim woman's throat in an almost frame-by-frame remake of the videotape that was released by the killers of Daniel Pearl) and property. There's more that makes you want to throw up the last meal you had: Hindu policemen torturing Muslims by giving them 'electric shock therapy', street children being physically disfigured and then forced to beg, and such other scenes of a medieval society where rule of law does not exist and every Hindu is a rapacious monster eager to make a feast of helpless Muslims.

Nor is it surprising that Boyle should have cunningly changed the name of the film's - as also the book's - protagonist from Vikas Swarup's Ram Mohammad Thomas (a sort of tribute to the Amar Akbar Antony brand of 'secularism' which was fashionable in the 1970s) to Jamal Malik. The name implies a Kashmiri connection, and we can't put it beyond Boyle suggesting a link between Jamal's travails - it is his mother whose throat is shown as being slit by a Hindu - and the imagined victimhood of Kashmir's Muslims who, the lib-left intelligentsia in the West insists, are 'persecuted by Hindu India'. Asked about the protagonist's name being changed, Swarup is believed to have said that it was done to "make it sound more politically correct". There is a second hidden message: The Hindu quizmaster on the 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' show has doubts about Jamal, who gets all the questions right, not because he is a 'slumdog' but because he is a Muslim; so he sets India's Hindu police on the hapless boy. Swarup did not quite put it that way in his book, but the film does so, and understandably the critics in Hollywood who sport Obama buttons are impressed.

The last time depravity was portrayed as the Indian 'reality' was when Roland Joffé did a cinematic version of Dominique Lapierre's City of Joy. In that film, the Missionaries of Charity were shown as the saviours of an India trapped in filth, squalor, poverty and Hindu superstition. Some two decades later, Boyle has rediscovered Joffé's India and made appropriate changes to fit his film into the Hindu-bad-Muslim-good mould so that it has a resonance in today's America where it is now fashionable to look at the world through the eyes of Barack Hussein Obama.

In her review of the film, "Shocked by Slumdog's poverty porn", Alice Miles writes in The Times: "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. Slumdog Millionaire is poverty porn." Commenting on the BBFC's decision to "place this work in the comedy genre", she says, "Comedy? So maybe that's it: I just didn't get the joke." It's doubtful whether most Indians, Hindus and Muslims, would get it either if they were to watch Slumdog Millionaire.

- kanchangupta@rocketmail.com

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