After my disappointing Cinemas, I finally got to see Slumdog Millionaire on Saturday. It did not disappoint. I’m a fan of Danny Boyle and you can’t help but be impressed by his ability to pull this film together into something extraordinary. The movement among the different time lines of the story is deft and poignant. Just as important, the pathos of tragedy never descends into bathos, perhaps because the film makes clear that this is one more tragedy in a sea of millions of sad, desperate, impoverished lives.
In short, I liked the film and I recommend it, but … You knew there was a but, didn’t you?
Boyle takes on the real Mumbai and carefully shows us both sides of modern India: call centers full of cleancut technologically savvy young Indians and the grinding, killing poverty that still rules so much of the world. This is shocking to American audiences, but Boyle softens the blow by making his main characters beautiful. He has to, because no matter how far Mumbai may be from Hollywood, it is Hollywood that still controls the purse strings, and beauty sells.
I have nothing against watching beautiful people on theater screens, but I try to remember it’s fiction. Spending two hours with lovely, tall Dev Patel with his mega-watt smile is a pleasure, but it’s clear he wasn’t born and raised in a Mumbai slum, eking out an existence against a backdrop of neglect, abuse, hunger, and desperation.
So watch the film and enjoy it, but keep in the back of your mind that this is not the face of India’s poor. There are likely some children who are purposely crippled and disfigured to improve their ability to beg, but vast numbers more are crippled and disfigured by malnutrition and lack of medical care. And those children need help, because they’re not ever going to win at Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Go see the movie, but consider skipping the popcorn and donating that money to Oxfam or some other worthwhile agency.