There’s a class of Indian who has become very comfortable with the fairy-tale that India is populated entirely by well-educated, hyper-intelligent computer engineers, doctors and managers. Slumdog Millionaire is an affront to their egos because it vividly projects the stark reality of life for most Indians in the cities, not the fantasy indulged in by the elite 2% who travel all over the world and would like their friends to imagine India in colorful weddings, the Taj Mahal and gleaming banks of computers.
The reality is that India is deeply fractured along the lines of class, religion and wealth. It’s a place where legal authority is too often used to oppress, and justice is delayed. A country where politicians manipulate public disturbances and pogroms to further their own careers. A society which has been trying to stitch itself together into a cohesive whole, but has nightmarish episodes of tribal violence.
Bombay is filthy and bustling, but within it lie pockets of beauty and serenity. I despair whenever I think of the criminal gangs and mobs who seem to rule the city, but then a random act of kindness or example of civic responsibility from an unexpected quarter makes me hopeful. Like the rest of India, Bombay is more prosperous than it was a few years ago. People coming of age today have bigger dreams than their parents ever did, and a greater likelihood of having them realized. In broad terms, this is true for virtually everyone, and the movie captures this. Jamal works at a BPO, after all, where being muslim is largely unremarkable.
The movie is reasonably accurate in its setting and those bothered by its depiction of India should start working on improving the lot of the most underprivileged amongst them and stop harping on about perceived blows to their over-sized egos. A good place to start would be ensuring every child has access to a quality education at no cost.