If we can forget, may be for a while, that Indian film-making will be entirely wasted without any stamp of approval from the westside of downtown Los Angeles, we might be able to see some of the issues this film, Slumdog Millionaire (SM), has raised. Can we pretend, or have a delusion, or dream, just for a moment, that this film was based somewhere in Brasil (may be Rio De Janeiro) and try to visualise how we might have reacted. We probably would have seen lots of children sleeping in the street, going to sleep in a hungry stomach, standing in the traffic lights and begging money, being physically abused by some horrible adults, growing up to be gangsters or prostitutes (depending on the gender), and, only a few get a lucky break to do something else. Winning 'Kaun Banega Krorepati' by any of these street children is a wild, wild dream which happens in the film.
So far so good.
Problem starts when we see that this film is about Mumbai while India is still shining (at least for the chattering classes). How do we reconcile this poverty, cruelty and injustice in our own backyards (or courtyard, as Dharavi is probably in the middle of Mumbai)?
There are three ways, possibly, to deal with this. One is to ignore the squalor and pretend that it's not there which is difficult as the film has won some award and will be more difficult if this film wins an Oscar. Second, is to blame the whole film as a plot to discredit Mumbai/India hatched by some scheming masterminds in The West. This is an equally difficult position to hold as this film is based on a novel by Vikas Swarup, 1986 batch Indian Foreign Service diplomat, who is probably as much a part of the Indian establishment as the other guy, much more famous, who shares the same birthplace. Third way is to stop the pretense and ask ourselves if we can do anything to change anything if we feel it needs to be changed.
A. Population of Dharavi: c. 6 million
B. Rent of a one bedroom flat in Mumbai( e.g. in Bandra West): c. Rs. 40,000
C. Cost of 6 million single bedroom apartment monthly rentals (i.e. C=AxB) : Rs. 240 Billion or 24,000 Crore
D. Profit after tax of some of the ‘famous’ corporate groups in 2006-07 financial year
1. Tata Group: Rs. 12,574 Crore (Source: http://www.tata.com/htm/Group_Investor_GroupFinancials.htm )
2. Reliance Industries Limited: Rs. 11,943 Crore (Source: http://www.ril.com/html/investor/10_yearshighlight.html )
3. Infosys: Rs. 3,777 Crore (Source: http://www.infosys.com/investors/financials/profit-loss-data.asp )
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