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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Salaam Bombay! and Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire was one of my favorite films, until I saw Salaam Bombay!. Life is not a fairy tale as it seems to be in the Oscar winner for Best Picture. Hollywood embraced it's uplifting, unique story where happiness is not only found in love but as the film was made by a Westerner the story is depicted through the lens of American values, including capitalism. So it doesn't hurt that the "slumdog" won a ton of money either. This seems to be the icing on the cake in American cinema, if one can avoid the world of poverty they are considered to have a happy ending. Slumdog Millionaire's title of course is an oxymoron, which is not the only contradiction in the film's world of overwhelming paradox. The film was criticized by Indian audiences for depicting a too-true image of the realities of what it is like to be categorized as "street children" and Indian poverty. However, the real truth is that there is no reality in the story at all. Of course there is value in showing how street children survive, but the happiness in the ending is defined by Western objectives. Hollywood reciprocates the notion over and over again that in order to achieve happiness, love and money are all you need. The fact that the film won an Academy Award for Best Picture proves that when you mix a little bit of reality with the falseness of idealism, people begin to deceive themselves into thinking what they just saw was good because it was "real." If anyone walked out of Slumdog Millionaire (myself included) thinking that they just saw "what it's really like" or "how it is for 'them'," was deceived by the masterful paradox's of Slumdog Millionaire's Hollywood guise. Both films used real street kids as the actors, but something is to be said about the Westerner "using" the child under the lens of the camera as a microscope for his project in Slumdog Millionaire where after the project is completed, similar to neocolonial projects, the subject is abandoned.  Unlike in Salaam Bombay where the children were adopted by crew and helped set up centers around India for similar street kids after the project was complete.  Why is it that the poor are studied and subjected by the rich, why do the poor never have the opportunity to study the rich?  Salaam Bombay had children that were not under study or under a microscope, but they were in it together, along with the director who was also poor, in fact they all shared an empty flat and the director allowed them to sleep in it during filming.  If you were under the impression that when you saw Slumdog Millionaire you were seeing a foreign film (which I know people who have) you are gravely mistaken. If you want to see that foreign film with everything that you thought Slumdog Millionaire was supposed to bring you, or that you thought DID bring you, see Salaam Bombay!.

Salaam Bombay! is a Bollywood film which attempted the same quest to depict "what's it's really like." It was the first film ever in Bollywood to have a kiss on screen, never before due to cultural taboos. As an example of the director's attempt to depict reality, this kiss was nothing magical, or romanticized, it was a kiss of a prostitute submitting to her husband, who happens to be her pimp as well. From director Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), this film "burst onto the Indian cinema scene with the force of a tornado" (Time Out London). Winner of the Caméra d'Or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival and nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® in 1989, this riveting look at life on the hardened streets of Bombay went on to accumulate accolades and awards across the globe. Ebert said of the film that the director "has been able to make a film that has the everyday, unforced reality of documentary, and yet the emotional power of great drama." The film just feels so genuine that Ebert is correct that you genuinely feel as if you are watching a documentary.

Forced to leave his family at a very young age, Krishna lives on the streets with pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts and other homeless children. He earns very little money – but it's more than most – delivering tea so he can return home to his family. "But his honest plan is foiled when his hard-earned money is stolen by his closest friend, forcing Krishna to follow in the footsteps of so many street children of Bombay…by turning to a life of crime" (Amazon).

It has been argued that street children have a better experience of growing up than those with parents because of the heavy detrimental influence that each parent makes, even unintentionally. This, of course is an outlandish claim as seen in the film Salaam Bombay. To be a child is not to be ignored and forced to be self reliant. Self reliance must be developed naturally in stages over time, not forced upon an incapable human being with no maturity and less intellect than a fully developed adult. If not developing dependency on parents, the parental role is fulfilled by other mediums such as a pimp, drugs, and even a prostitute in the case of the film. In Edmonton these roles are similar but places like Youth Emergency Shelter and other NGO's across the globe try and monitor children in ways the parents didn't. The role of a parent is crucial and vital in a child's development in becoming self reliant.

Not to discredit the fact that being on their own, these children are learning valuable lessons, street intelligence or "street sense" and depending on how you look at it they develop courage and a lack of fear. For example, the children are hired as caterers at a wedding and one ends up slapping a rich kid, who then runs to his mother. The kids later demand more cash and show no shyness to authority throughout the film because of their freedom from the oppression of authority figures such as teachers and parents. But this is not Summerhill school, the "freedom" they are given holds a great difference, the rich kid can run to his mother when he is afraid, when the street kid is in trouble or experiences fear he has only his pimp, pusher or master to run to for help. All in all, even if we say that these children have no parents, it is entirely false. Everyone has a parent, the parent is just fulfilled by a different role or person who abuses the responsibility to a varying extremity or degree. It is the degree of abuse that determines a "good" parent over a "bad" one. After all, a biological parent could even be worse than the street as a parent.

In the case of Manju, she had parents and still felt that the role was unfulfilled, when her parents visited her in the child center it became apparent that her mother needed Manju more than she needed her mother as the role of father and mother had been abandoned long before she became lost in the literal sense. Manju had found a parent role in the orphan center and perhaps in her friends as well. In the film it seems that trustworthy friends are the best possible parent that a street kid can hope for. Of course I do not attempt to criticize mother's parenting skills attempt to even relate to her situation. It is difficult to critique the parents in the film, that are not unlike characters in real life when we don't understand the societal, historical and cultural circumstances that caused their situation to begin with. Nor am I fully capable of judging their situation when I can only help but see it through a Western lens, not from a perspective which is more capable of resolving the issues of why street children exist historically in the first place. Too often do we fall into the situation or conversation of using terms such as "us" and "them." One thing is for certain however, Manju had become a child of the state or the public street long before her mother realized it.

Throughout the entire film, Krishna is searching to "go home" in the literal sense, but really he is searching for it figuratively as well, anything he can call "home." When he finally has an opportunity to have a structured life in the orphan center, he escapes knowing that this home is unfamiliar. The role of home and parent has been replaced for so long that he only recognizes both as the street itself. His new home and family is represented in the final shot of the film, where he is presented alone on a dreary street without a person in sight. The director has achieved here that reality of this story is the same for almost all street children in the world, that no person will become Krishna's home or his parent, Krishna has only one place to go, the only place he is familiar with to call his home is the street.

CONSENSUS
Rotten Tomatoes give this move a 92% rating

Zoom In Analysis will DISAGREE with this rating and go for a respectable 8.5/10. Though it's a phenomenal film I shouln't claim to be ignorant to the fact that I, myself am a Westerner and I value the entertainment in Western films more, not understanding many cultural references and themes presented in this film (I should make it clear that I still love Slumdog Millionare, but it will remain a PERFECT example of a Western filmmaker trying to depict a non-Western life and culture, or neo-colonialism at work). This film was "an honest and haunting portrait " of reality in India, made by someone who can relate and is more capable of understanding the issues and truthful conclusion that most street kids are forced to face. Trust me, after seeing this film it will stay with you, the ending is depressing and hard to digest.

1 comment:

Jimmy Jarred said...

Its one of the best movies I have seen so far. Its a dramatic comedy and the best movie of that year too. It should not be missed at any cost.
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