Sunday, February 22, 2009

Slumdog Controversy

Yesterday I saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire—truly one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. The story sucked me into another time and part of the world that I confess I know little about. And it was shocking. And humbling. And certainly made me look at the rip in my leather sofa and the scratches on coffee table and my broken California shutters in a whole new and embarrassing light.

Growing up in Western society—in a far from affluent neighbourhood—I learned early in life what real poverty looks like. Having a Romanian uncle who, at the time, was not allowed back into the country he’d escaped from, I was taken on two occasions, 9 years-old and again at 15, to a country that made my lower-middle-class house look like a palace. I remember clearly seeing the white, bare store and asking, “What is that?’ and being told, “It’s the bread store.” “But where’s the bread?” “There isn’t any.” And beside it another empty space. “And what’s that?” “The meat store.” “And where’s the meat?” “There isn’t any.” I remember parked cars, snaking from a gas station in a ghostly line that went on for miles. “Why are they parked like that?” “They are waiting for gas.” Let me guess. There isn’t any.

For a 15 year old, it was an eye-opener and certainly a turning point in my life. I am eternally grateful for that experience as I was able to remind myself often over the years that I have it good.

When I came home from the movie last night, gushing about how great it was, I was taken aback when my babysitter informed me that there was a huge back-lash against the movie in India, that using the word “dog” in the title was derogatory and that the scenes of total poverty in the movie were exploiting those that live in these slums.

I can totally see why there is such uproar, but in my opinion, the movie does less to exploit the poor and more to educate those of us living in a world so far removed from this sort of desperate poverty that we weep freely at seeing these scenes rather than gawk at them as sensational. I firmly believe and live by the adage, “The more places you see, the more you know,” and for all those who never make it out of their own city, let alone province or country and who will never go half-way around the world and experience first hand just how good they’ve got it, this movie can at least transport them for two hours and hopefully have them leave the theatre as humbled as I did.

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