Art, Reality, and India
“Is Slumdog Millionaire Poverty Porn? ” asks David Chen in his blog post last January 25, 2009 on /Film, apparently as a sort of answer to Alice Miles’s commentary (“Shocked by Slumdog’s poverty porn”) at The Times last January 14. But what is meant by “poverty porn,” really? Chen, in his blog, cites a definition of porn from Merriam Webster: “The depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.
” Thus, considering this definition, the depiction of such scenes in Slumdog Millionaire such as the popular one which showed the young protagonist defecating in a makeshift toilet, might just as well be included, along with thousands of others from millions of other films. It is also undeniable that images and videos of like and even worse violent nature abound outside the cinemas. It just so happened that Slumdog Millionaire was “sensationalized,” that is, it became a box-office hit.
And as I watched the film again, I found myself deliberating on whether it was indeed “poverty porn” or not. But as I watched it yet again, I found myself thinking that it was kind of both. I did have “intense emotional reactions” but surely I did not “revel in the misery of India’s children” (). I could say that I liked the film, but I cannot necessarily say that I enjoyed seeing children in brutal suffering. However, I can say that I needed to see them. I would have missed half the film’s substance otherwise.
Thus, this leads me to a thesis statement: the film is just another artistic achievement which increased India’s international fame, and delivered itself in a way that is not a far cry from scenes and images that an individual might encounter in everyday life. Furthermore, by “just another artistic achievement,” I meant that the film, what with all the gruesome images or scenes that even border on the grotesque, is not unlike any other work of art, in that it possesses a statement.
Likewise, not unlike any other work of art, be it literary, visual, or even a music composition, Slumdog Millionaire, being a film, can be analyzed or criticized according to its elements which are more or less similar to those of the other art forms mentioned. Like literary art forms for instance, the film can also be analyzed according to its setting, mood or atmosphere, plot, narrative, and character. In its totality, the film Slumdog Millionaire is a legitimate work of art in a legitimate cultural arena.
It did not necessarily pornographically exploit India’s poverty, as such is not exactly done by a whole lot of people’s toil and creative energy in the production of award-winning elements of film. On the other hand, some viewers might indeed find the horrors shown in the film too vivid, and the film’s fame similarly appalling. Being an art form however, the film remains entitled to subjectivity, what with opinions being relative to every critic and viewer. But when considered objectively, it would remain that both the reality and plausibility shown in the film is just too true.
It may even be too true for comfort in fact, that perhaps it is just unavoidable for some viewers to find it a little too disconcerting. Through flashbacks for instance, it was shown that the protagonist (just like any individual could have), was able to win the quiz show through insights he gained from experience, which were shown to be ordinary or day to day incidents. And like any victim of suspicion, he was beaten and interrogated because his triumph was just too hard to believe, considering that he was only a janitor from the lower caste.
But then again, there are still the many reasons why films, or art for that matter, concern themselves with such subjects. For why create a masterpiece if it would not have any impact? Sometimes the image just has to be vivid. The protagonist had to see his mother killed as it was a turning point in his life and also established one of the experiences that helped him win the quiz show. In Slumdog Millionaire, the scenes just had to feel real because they actually are, and that is the whole point.
They are real, and such circumstances as people or children meeting persons that would be significant in their lives later on during violent events is far from impossible and may indeed happen. In literature, we have both fiction and non-fiction. In the same way, film can depict either fantasy or reality. Slumdog Millionaire portrays the latter, and there is not necessarily anything wrong with it pointing out through its filmic devices that its particular reality is harsh.
As David Chen says, “sometimes works of art only achieve greatness by taking on strong positions and painting with a vivid, broad brush. ” It might then be safe to say that “the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction” was employed in the film to tell a plausible tale set amidst a genuine social milieu that is Mumbai. But then again, it may also be unavoidable for some critics to note the profit angle as film or cinema, like other art forms, is an industry.
Some critics might be anxious about Western influences taking advantage of the poverty of the East. In terms of exploitation for profit, Slumdog Millionaire’s staggering success does not help the film any against some critics. However, it does not change the fact that “it is the most successful Indian film ever. ” The “poverty tour” that Slumdog Millionaire takes its viewers on might be far from a picture of the well-publicized Incredible India, but I do concur with what Rochona Majumdar, an Indian film expert, said: “To say we don’t have problems is absurd.
” Besides, it is not just India. I believe it just so happened that the combination of Danny Boyle, an interesting story, and the exotic Mumbai setting produced a great success. I remember another film with a quite similar theme that did not reach the same level of popularity. Cidade de Deus or City of God was also about poverty and violence and children victims. It was set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, the City of God. In the film, children are driven by despair to commit acts of terrible violence, as they struggle to survive Brazil’s impoverished badlands.
The film had also been compared to Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, which is a Hollywood film. It is not just India. It might be that Western influence or involvement in the film’s production was a large part of the success as well as the criticisms. Nevertheless, I believe it was good that the movie was made. It might have utilized “depiction of acts in a sensational manner,” but the only things that make this “pornographic” film different from news telecasts on national television are the aesthetic elements and the box-office fame.
Poverty, violence, and their children victims remain subjects of day to day publicity, only in less dramatic forms. Thus, Slumdog Millionaire might be considered “poverty porn” in terms of some vague definitions, but it is clearly and objectively just another artistic achievement or masterpiece that heightened India’s international fame, in a way not far from those which we have easier access to or see everyday. The film’s being an art form was given justice by its elements which were obviously rather well-thought of, therefore making the “poverty tour” so much more than mere “poverty porn.
” In addition, just like a lot of other films or works of art for that matter, Slumdog Millionaire picked a particularly harsh reality as a setting or milieu, but a genuine reality nonetheless. Such may just contribute to a social reawakening, as we are all already aware of the goings-on in other places thanks to a variety of media we all subscribe to. And such reawakening may just be precipitated by works such as Slumdog Millionaire, which gives us a clearer and truer picture of that which we already know. Moreover, while the film is subject to criticism, it is also subject to appreciation.
It might have put India in a not truly beautiful light, but everybody should be aware that Utopia does not exist, not really. The film shed light though, on more important aspects like poverty and violence which exist in the “underbelly” of many nations, not just India, which we should know about. Probably, one of the best things that happened was that another rich culture has entered the Hollywood mainstream, and we might anticipate more to come. There just might be, after all, harsher realities out there.
A slum dweller might be able to overcome poverty and become a millionaire, but we cannot expect happy endings all the time. Works Cited: Chen, David. “Is Slumdog Millionaire Poverty Porn? ” (2009). May 18, 2009 <http://www. slashfilm. com/2009/01/25/is-slumdog-millionaire-poverty-porn/>. Darrell Y. Hamamoto, Sandra Liu. Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. illustrated ed: Temple University Press, 2000. Feng, Peter X. Identities in Motion: Asian American Film and Video. illustrated ed: Duke University Press, 2002. Okihiro, Gary Y. The Columbia Guide to Asian American History. Columbia University Press, 2001.Sample Essay of Edusson.com