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Slumdog Millionaire Revisited

Written By: Usree Bhattacharya on March 26, 2009 No Comment

Yesterday at the International House Café, Berkeley, a man ahead of me in line to get coffee (yes, we were both getting lattes) turned to me and asked me where I was from. I smiled and responded, “New Delhi” watching to see if there was a flicker of recognition. I waited a few seconds before adding, “in India.” He instantly flashed a smile, asking, “Have you seen Slumdog?” Not the first time that’s happened to me, and I imagine Indians all over the world are asked that question. For better or for worse, “Slumdog” is the new “cow.” “Yes,” I replied, “I have seen it. Twice.” The man, revealing a set of perfect teeth, leaned towards me, asking “Did you like it?” I was stumped. I never know how to answer that question. I gritted my teeth a little, saying “I don’t know.” He waited expectantly. We were both holding up the line, but it didn’t seem to matter. The chatter around us stilled a little.

“I really liked it,” he said, “I mean I’ve never been to India, I don’t know anything about it, but I loved it. Did you like it?” I felt a little pained. The man was so obviously interested to hear some validation, something, anything. I cringed. “Well, you know, I thought…the narrative…it was deeply troubling on some levels. I mean…it didn’t feel like an Indian narrative at all…I couldn’t really identify with it.” “But, what did you think? Did you like it?” Again those very charming eyes on me. I tried to gather my thoughts. He continued, “Didn’t you think-at least visually, wasn’t it brilliant?” I caved a little. “Sure, the movie was visually rich, there were scenes that took me back, took me home…the elements by themselves…they rang true, but together, the whole, the composite whole…well, that just didn’t…” and my voice tapered off here…”work.” He said, “Why?” And I had no answer. How do I explain this? “Well, it’s like…it’s like what the Times described as poverty porn…and the slum tours…and the very short-lived media interest in the plight of the film’s “slum stars”…how do I describe it? It was all…like there was this exoticization of the poverty that is India, and some kind of glee, a voyeuristic celebration of the glimpse of the Indian slumscape.” I breathed in. “But…but you liked it, right? Didn’t you think…” He continued. My lips curved in a smile. “Sure, I liked it.” He put his coffee aside and embraced me. I hugged him back. He smiled again, “So you liked it?” “Sure.” “We agree!” He held me warmly for a few seconds, and then waved me goodbye, telling me how much he enjoyed meeting me.

I walked off thinking, oh dear. I should just say I like it from now on.

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