Now playing in India, 'Slumdog' dismays some
MUMBAI, India - Even as American audiences gush over "Slumdog Millionaire," some Indians are groaning over what they see as another stereotypical depiction of their nation, accentuating squalor, corruption, and resilient-if-impoverished natives.
"Slumdog," which earned 10 Oscar nominations last week, had its Indian premiere Thursday in Mumbai. It began screening Friday in 400 theaters in 81 cities across the country.
The film, set in Mumbai, is based on an Indian novel and features many Indian actors. Yet the sensibility is anything but Indian, some critics contend. They attribute its international success to its timing and themes that touch a chord with Westerners.
"It's a white mans imagined India," said Shyamal Sengupta, a film professor at the Whistling Woods International institute in Mumbai. "It's not quite snake charmers, but it's close. It's a poverty tour."
The story of an orphaned street urchin, Jamal Malik, overcoming hardship to win a fortune on a game show and walk away with his childhood sweetheart provides a salve for a world beset by collapsing banks, jobs, and nest eggs, some people here say.
The film was released in the United States days before Mumbai came under attack by a team of militants. That might have strengthened its connection with foreign viewers, analysts said.
"Slumdog's" mix of Indian and foreign talent, and English and Hindi dialogue, has sparked a debate here over whether it's an Indian or foreign film.
At the star-studded premiere in Mumbai, Briton Danny Boyle responded to criticism here that the film focused too much on prostitution, crime, and organized begging rackets, saying that he sought to depict the "breathtaking resilience" of Mumbai and the "joy of people despite their circumstances, that lust for life."
Some people add that the criticism of "Slumdog" might be less about getting it wrong than its focus on issues some people in India would rather minimize.
"A lot of people felt it was bashing India, but I disagree," said Rochona Majumdar, an Indian film expert at the University of Chicago. "We're too quick to celebrate Incredible India,' " she said, referring to an Indian tourism slogan. "But . . . to say we don't have problems is absurd."