Tag Archives: Slumdog Millionaire

“People Don’t Want To See Problems On The Screen”: Why The West Won’t Watch Bollywood

By Guest Contributor Margaret Redlich

Kajol (l) and Shahrukh Khan in Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenga. Courtesy: planetradiocity.com

When they’ve tried to make realistic pictures about the poor and the middle classes, they get miserable attendance…People don’t want to see problems on the screen.

So says a 2001 article from Smithsonian magazine about the rise in popularity of the Indian movie industry, a.k.a. “Bollywood,” in the West during the 1990s.  And this is the general assumption many in the First World like to make about Indian film: that it is an escapist genre, and that all the poor people of South Asia need to be happy is three hours of brightly colored fantasy.

Indian films have been the main source of popular culture for all of South Asia and popular in many other countries throughout the world since the 1950s. The first international hit was Raj Kapoor’s Awaara in 1951, followed by Shree 420 four years later. Although the 50s are generally considered the “Golden Age” of Indian film, the Indian film industry had been around for 40 years before that, with the studio system already thriving within 20 years. Although the West, especially America, likes to pretend that they invented the movies and every other country is merely imitating them (as is implied in the very name “Bollywood”), in fact India has been making movies in its own style since the advent of the artform.

The West didn’t suddenly make a Columbus-like discovery of Indian film in the 90s; it was a result of a calculated strategy on the part of the Indian industry. A series of political shifts in Indian government had led to weakening import/export regulations as well as the legalization of investments in the Indian film industry. Therefore, there was suddenly more money around to make these globe-hopping song- and dance-filled extravaganzas. And that money could be turned into even more money by making plots that were universal and of interest to Desis and others living in the First World. What is more universal than romance?

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Butterflies, Slumdogs, And Tiger Moms: Asian American Women And The Rescue Narrative

By Guest Contributor Sayantani DasGupta

“Can we try it more mysterious, with that mystique from the East?

… Channel a late night sex chat ad

… Maybe go back further into your heritage … A little more ethnic.”

Remember those racist-alicious ads from Michigan senatorial candidate Pete Hoekstra, the ones where the docile, limpid eyed, bike-riding Asian woman thanked “Debbie Spend It Now” for spending so much American money that she singlehandedly ruined the U.S. economy while giving more jobs to China? Well, that Sinophobic Super Bowl ad promptly inspired several spoofs including this one from Funny or Die, and this clever one from Kristina Wong that I found recently on Disgrasian.

In it, Wong plays an actress obviously starring in a “Debbie Spend it Now”-type commercial. The disembodied (presumably white, male) director’s voice is off-camera, insisting that Wong play her role with more ethnic “authenticity.” At one point, he asks her to read the lines like her mother might. When Wong delivers the lines in an American accent, the frustrated director corrects, “But that’s the same as you read it last time, is that how your mother talks?” Wong nods, deadpan. “She was born in San Francisco.” Later, he reminds Wong that she is “in a rice paddy.” To which she exclaims, “Oh, I thought we were in Runyon Canyon.”

Kristina Wong’s spoof speaks to the continued conflation of Asian American and Asian identity. No matter how many years, or generations, we’ve been in this country, we Asian Americans remain ‘contingent citizens’ and ‘perpetual foreigners.’ (You’ve heard the question: “Where are you from? … No, where are you really from?”)

Wong’s spoof also speaks to the sexualized, passive tropes surrounding Asian American womanhood. In a recent talk I gave for Wellesley College’s GenerAsians Magazine, I suggested that three tropes still seem to encapsulate much of how Asian American women continue to be perceived:

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Which Images Represent India?

By Guest Contributor Gwen, originally published at Sociological Images

On her blog, Deepa D. posted about what she calls the “Slumdog Shooting technique,” using this video from Greenpeace about climate change:

Deepa says,

Ishan Tankha, photographer…sitting in casually imperial isolation on one of the many historical monuments peppering Delhi…

Meanwhile every other shot? The gaudy, public, and exotically poor street life of Delhi. At most we get some middle class women shopping, some Metro commuters, and Ishan riding his bike in front of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

But even as he is saying climate change spans all classes, there are no other young, upper class people like him, no rich people, no half-naked out of fashion rather than poverty women, no fat cat industrialists or cavalcade-riding politicians, no indication that there are any of the Westernised English speaking people on the streets, even though Ishan has been chosen spokesperson.

I’m calling this the Slumdog Shooting technique – use English because you don’t want to alienate your Western audience with subtitles, but keep the local colour full of attractive yet needy children, crowds that look struggling, and picturesque poverty.

Also check out our posts on “starving African kids,” juxtaposing wealth and poverty, the white woman’s burden, the “we are all African” campaign, making charity recipients look gross, tourism in Brazil, us and them, Burger King’s Whopper Virgin campaign, India needs western technology, and de-racializing the modern/traditional binary.

Kinatay

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

Let me get this out of the way first. This is not a movie review. It is a review of movie reviews about Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay. Spoilers follow, though the title pretty much tells you what you’re gonna get.

Last weekend, Filipino director Brillante Mendoza won the best director award at the Cannes Festival for the movie Kinatay (”Slaughtered“). Mendoza’s win was a surprise, considering how Kinatay is probably, as Prometheus Brown puts it, the most hated film at Cannes.

Exerpts from Maggie Lee’s synopsis and review at The Hollywood Reporter:

Newly married Peping, who attends the police academy, receives an offer via text message to make a fast buck with a shady friend. By nightfall, he is in a van with a group of vicious gangsters who have kidnapped a bar hostess to demand a loan repayment under orders from an elusive general…

The real time pacing, feels like being stuck in a traffic jam, but the dramatic thrust is relentless as one hears through the muffled darkness, the woman being gagged and beaten mercilessly. The horror escalates to rape, murder and dismemberment. None of this is left to the imagination, with the men’s verbal sexism being equally distasteful.

That was a positive review. (See here to view Kinatay excerpts, and here for a round-up of reviews and more background on the film.)

Roger Ebert’s review, charmingly titled “What were they thinking of?”, is typical of how critics who hated Kinatay approached the movie. There is hardly any discussion of the merits of the movie itself, and instead a whole lot of indignation over the unpleasantness that viewers were subjected to:

It is Mendoza’s conceit that it his Idea will make a statement, or evoke a sensation, or demonstrate something–if only he makes the rest of the film as unpleasant to the eyes, the ears, the mind and the story itself as possible…

No drama is developed. No story purpose is revealed…

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So Bobby Jindal is the Slumdog Governor?

by Latoya Peterson

Oh, this is so fucking cute. Daniel Larison writing for Eunomia (a blog hosted on the American Conservative site) sheds the spotlight on some very racist comments:

What on earth is this? Well, it is an interview between Michael Steele and ABC Radio’s Curtis Sliwa, but beyond that I don’t know how else to describe it:

    SLIWA: Now, using a little bit of that street terminology, are you giving him [Jindal] any Slum love, Michael?

    STEELE: (laughter)

    SLIWA: Because he is — when guys look at him and young women look at him — they say oh, that’s the slumdog millionaire, governor. So, give me some slum love.

    STEELE: I love it. (inaudible) … some slum love out to my buddy. Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing a friggin’ awesome job in his state. He’s really turned around on some core principles — like hey, government ought not be corrupt. The good stuff … the easy stuff.

Oh wait, and here’s Ann Coulter:

Wasn’t Bobby great in “Slumdog Millionaire”?

Look.

I know Bobby Jindal isn’t going to trip over this. He’s still finding his feet as a rising GOPer and he probably won’t make his new friends uncomfortable by calling out their dumb jokes. But that shit is ridiculous. Cracking jokes that begin and end with someone’s ethnicity isn’t funny, it’s callous. Especially with the reputation this crew has for racist behavior.

Oh, and Steele? Remember the Oreo incident? That mess wasn’t funny. Neither was this. Don’t forget that when laugh off racism towards others, you could be the next target.

Update: Kuriusjurge writes in the comments that the Oreo incident was probably fabricated. Even still, Steele should know better!

(Hat Tip to Ta-Nehisi)

Slumdog Explotasian Scandal: Fake, Real or Something In-Between

by Guest Contributor Jen, originally published at DISGRASIAN

There’s a new Slumdog Millionaire scandal a-brewing, with the families of two of its child stars claiming exploitasian. The parents of 8 year-olds Rubina Ali and Azharuddin Ismail, who play young Latika and Salim in the film, respectively, and are both still living in Mumbai slums, have accused the film’s producers of underpaying their children. (The families also appear to be in the direst of straits: Rubina’s father broke his leg during filming and has been out of work since, and Azharuddin’s father has TB.)

The movie’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, responded by saying that the children were paid three times the average wage of adults in their neighborhoods. Considering their neighborhoods are slums and the average annual income in India is $941, this sounds like a raw deal for the kids. Apparently, a trust fund has also been set up for the child actors that they will be able to access when they are 18, provided they stay in school. Which sounds slightly better, until you start to wonder: Isn’t it pretty fucking impossible to stay in school until you’re 18 when you’re living in a slum in India? The drop-out rate is 30% in America and higher in lower-income areas, so what must it be like in India, where ONE-THIRD of ALL the world’s poor live? This may be a noble plan in theory, but is it even tenable?

Maybe Fox Searchlight and Danny Boyle and Slumdog’s producers have done right by those kids, relatively speaking, but would it be any skin off their noses to do, for lack of a better phrase, more right? What would it cost, a few thousand dollars? That’s nothing to a movie that’s already grossed $62 million.

Entertainment Weekly asked its readers to weigh in on this controversy, and there’s an array of thoughtful ideas on the situation, like how the movie’s overrated, or how the media’s making all of this up, or how these child actors–hell, all of India–is to blame for…um…outsourcing:

And some of you wonder why we don’t allow comments.

[UPDATE: Some backpedaling.]

Perception Through the Lens of Slumdog Millionaire

by Guest Contibutor Sulagna

First, I have to say that this isn’t a critique.

It’s a serious of observations, an analysis of my viewing, and a reflection on one of the warmest and most electrifying movies I’ve seen in a while. Slumdog Millionaire wasn’t perfect, but I know that after I saw it, I felt incredible. I had already known I would like it before I had gone in, because it fit the type I liked—the interesting premise, the quirky storytelling device, and, of course, the overall familiarity of the subject matter, but it defied my expectations. The hopeful, love-themed story was at Bollywood levels of intensity (though better made), and I easily identified with the setting and characters.

Here is where I realized that I saw this movie differently than how perhaps my non-Indian college friends at college did. I saw layers underneath certain scenes in the movie that I doubt they would’ve.

When Jamal answered the question about the Hindu god Rama, I predicted the clash of religion. As the pulsing beat of the music and the main character’s mother’s anxious face forecasted the riots, frustrated emotions burst in my chest, the fatigue of the age-long conflict between Muslims and Hindus in India and Pakistan pressing me with its weight.

Wasn’t it just a little more than a month ago that my family and I had watched the news about Mumbai on fire during our Thanksgiving holiday? I had felt uncomfortably separated from it—India felt so far away, but I still felt a scrambling anxiety at the events, nervous about what this changed. Continue reading