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General Interest, Politics

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE TOUCHED HEARTS AND OPENED EYES

So India’s election returns are in and the ruling party will remain in power. For anyone who’s seen the movie “Slumdog Millionaire,” you have to wonder exactly why they got voted back in. A outstanding movie that won an Academy Award for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of a group of orphans who basically raised themselves in the direst poverty imaginable. It is a feel-good story since the two main characters, a young man and a woman, become reunited at the end after the young man wins a fortune on A TV game show. Their story is told as a response to each correct answer he gives on the show, an explanation of exactly why a “Slumdog” like himself could amass the necessary knowledge to answer some challenging questions. The reasons for his hard-won knowledge become apparent when he is being tortured and interrogated by the police when the game show host accuses him of cheating.

The young man was not cheating, and was grudgingly returned to compete on the show, where in spite of being discouraged and misled, he persevered and won the top prize. Then he gets the girl and the credits roll. But the story is not as simple as that and the movie depicts the unbelievable poverty and oppression suffered by a goodly portion of India’s population. The depiction of  the horrible, unsanitary and barbaric world of “Slumdogs” is given almost matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal that in a nation that possesses nuclear arms, generates more college degrees in computer sciences than the rest of the world combined and is fast becoming Asia’s economic powerhouse that such conditions could exist. The existence of hundreds of millions of have-nots in the middle of high tech splendor seems not to bother Indians.

Boys and girls kidnapped by modern day “Fagins” and trained to beg and steal, some getting crippled or having their eyes burned out to become more effective beggars, the attractive female children having their virginity auctioned off to fat old pedophiles, well, that seems okay with Indian society. And while the Indian government protested that this movie unfairly depicted this seamy side of Indian society, no one claimed that the film makers invented any of this, and many humanitarian organizations feel the movie did not show enough of the very real misery, that the film makers could have gone a whole lot farther. They we telling a commercial story that met with an extraordinary amount of commercial success, and the world they depicted is unchanged for their having done so, at least so far. 

Judging by the election results, it looks like it will be many years before any fundamental changes are made. But perhaps there are some more dramatic movies to be made from this social cesspool, a rich mine of stories about wasted lives, casual cruelty and untapped potential. Bronze-Age life coexisting with high-tech 21st century prosperity. While there are many compelling stories to be told about this, the better story would be the Indian government doing something about it, a very unglamorous and non-dramatic undertaking, and an effort not likely to be made anytime soon. Meanwhile, coming soon to theaters near you: Slumdog 2,3,4,5,6,7….

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