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Destiny and the Slumdog Millionaire

January 5, 2009

I recently watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire and liked it very much. I don’t know if it was because of the fact that it was a Hollywood production  set in Mumbai/India or it was the story line but the proud (albeit biased and human) Indian in me could not help but feel his chest expand a little bit at having a movie based on an Indian writer’s novel get such widespread international acclaim (not for the first time though).

spoiler warning : If you haven’t watched the movie, it maybe best not to read the rest of the post as it may give you enough clues about the ending.

 

However, there was this one bit about the movie which I couldn’t help but write about. At the beginning of the movie, the movie-makers show a boy named Jamal, brought up in the slums of Mumbai, participating in the Indian version of “Who wants to be a Millionaire,”  and asks the audience this question

Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?

A: He cheated
B: He’s lucky
C: He’s a genius
D: It is written

The movie then takes  bizarre turn after turn engaging the audience in a complex web of nail-biting,  interconnected stories which finally come together to complete the puzzle.  The movie ends with the answer D: It is written. At which I couldn’t help but exclaim “what the crap !!” How the heck is it written? What about all the determination, perseverance and patience this young man had shown to get to the thing he wanted most? Isn’t it trivializing his efforts? Would he have succeeded had he not persevered? There are so many people who may have gone through similar circumstances and failed just because of the lack of will power.  So his will-power had nothing to do with what was already pre-destined, like a robot following some divine instruction. Wow !! I couldn’t believe the conclusion after such a gripping movie. Even though a lot of Hindi movies these days implicitly draw such conclusions, it seemed the director and author were playing to the widely held beliefs and emotions of the masses rather than giving credit to the person for his efforts.  And, I realized that it is only because of such pandering to mass popular beliefs and human weaknesses that the media has been successful financially. It’s not about logic or reason but adopting any means to bolster the bottom line which I guess is justified from their perspective. However, the negative effect of this has been to stultify our critical thinking abilities and encourage thoughts about a Divine plan and fate. 

Anyway, the point of the post was to see if anyone felt that Jamal was predestined or was it his efforts which helped him succeed. What do you think?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sambit permalink
    January 26, 2009 10:50 pm

    Scenes of poverty and squalour may appear romantic to Westerners and to our snooty elite but for ordinary Indians they are an everyday reality. One wonders what sort of mind can find such images aesthetically pleasing. Party-hopping socialites (for example, Shobhaa De after all her bombast of “enough is enough”, went and watched a pirated copy!) who are distanced from such reality may find this film an “eye-opener” but for us it IS just poverty-porn. Leaving that aside, I have six other objections to the film.
    1) The director seems to RELISH showing violence. Some of it (like the police-torture) is quite needless. And why was the boy arrested in the first place? On what charge? Was it realistic?
    2) How can a boy growing up in slums speak such accented English? Even if one assumes that the language he actually uses to communicate with the game-show host and the police officer is Hindi (granting the director the creative license to use a language better suited for international audiences), there are 2 instances where it is stretched too far: (a) when the boy becomes a ‘guide’ for foreign tourists at the Taj Mahal & (b) when he becomes a substitute-operator at the call-centre.
    3) When the boy uses his ‘lifeline’ during the game-show, his friend discovers that she has forgotten her mobile and has to run back for it. This is plain Bollywood masala! Did the director have to make it so melodramatic?
    4) How did the boy know who invented the revolver just by watching his brother use it?
    5) “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” is NOT written by Surdas. It is written by Gopal Singh Nepali for the movie Narsi Bhagat (1957). This song is also credited as traditional and originally written by 15th century poet Narsi Mehta, whose life that film is based on.
    6) The greatest flaw in the storyline is that programmes like ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’ are NOT telecast live. As a result the entire structure of the film becomes unrealistic. For a film that boasts of being realistic such a flaw cannot be overlooked.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      January 27, 2009 9:20 am

      Good observations Sambit. I must admit that I didn’t watch the film with such a critical eye but I did notice the revolver and accent part being a stretch. I agree with most of your observations although I didn’t know the Surdas answer. As for violence I don’t think it was too-much, a lot of western and hindi movies these days have much more violence.

      About poverty being shown in western media, I don’t think the images are far from the truth. These conditions are very real in India. However, we also have to remember that the western media is not always trying to be balanced. These media houses are business entities and they do what is necessary to sell their product, and poverty sells because that makes the people feel superioir about themselves and their country. That also makes them feel self-important and make them feel that they are doing something for such countries.

      Thanks for the comment Sambit.

  2. Sambit from Mumbai permalink
    January 29, 2009 3:40 am

    Nitwitnastik,
    I like your name (Are you actually a nastik, btw? I am an agnostic.) and that is one of the reasons I wrote to you.
    I like your writing style.

    You may be right about the violence bit. There are many other films with much more violence. Question is: how much of it was necessary in THIS film?
    In these times, when there is already so much violence and hatred all over the world, shouldn’t a conscientious film-maker try to depict as little of it as possible?

    Incidentally, I’ve found a few more goof-ups in the film under question:
    1) How does Jamal’s friend know that it’s Benjamin Franklin on the dollar (something which many Americans don’t!)?
    2) After winning the game-show, the boy sits on the railway platform and nobody recognizes him! Considering the popularity of the show, is that realistic?
    3) Two glaring omissions: To get invited to the show one has to answer several GK questions over phone or Internet. Even after making it to the show, a contestant can reach the hot-seat only after qualifying through “fastest finger first”. All this is conveniently forgotten in the film.

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      January 29, 2009 7:25 am

      Thanks Sambit for the compliment. Well, I am a nastik which can mean both an agnostic or an atheist (since I am not aware if there is a sanskrit word for agnostic). And if you have read Richard Dawkins’s book God Delusion, there he grades the range of theist and atheists/agnostics on a scale of 1 to 7 – 1 being strongly theist and 7 being strongly atheist. Richard Dawkins puts himself on the scale of 6 and thats close to where I am too. Dawkins puts it very humorously by saying that, he believes in God as much as he believes in fairies at the bottom of the garden. So there you go.

      Man, it seems you must have really liked the film to have paid so much attention to such minute details. I agree with you completely. Did you publish your thoughts anywhere? I mean you can start your own movie critic blog. For me it was a 3/5 stars and any movie in that category doesn’t deserve much analysis anyway. It was what we often call in India “time-pass” movie. I just watched it like majority of Hindi movies, where it is in your interest to leave your brains outside :-).

  3. Sambit permalink
    January 30, 2009 3:02 am

    Hmmmm. Richard Dawkins?
    He is supposed to be one of the smartest persons alive, isn’t he? (http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/intellectuals/results)
    No, I haven’t read Dawkins :o( – am not that much into non-fiction.

    Interestingly, almost all the smartest people (according to the poll referred to above) are non-believers.

    1. Noam Chomsky – atheist
    2. Umberto Eco – agnostic
    3. Richard Dawkins – atheist
    4. Václav Havel – believer
    5. Christopher Hitchens – atheist
    6. Paul Krugman – atheist
    7. Jürgen Habermas – atheist
    8. Amartya Sen – atheist
    9. Jared Diamond- atheist
    10. Salman Rushdie – atheist

    None of the above, except Vaclav Havel, believes in God. And Havel,
    also, doesn’t believe in any organized religion. He is, like the
    other nine, a secular humanist.
    (http://www.celebatheists.com/?title=Main_Page)
    (http://www.rationalatheist.com/biographies/biographies.html)

    As Steven Weinberg (1979 Nobel laureate in Physics) said: “Religion
    is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good
    people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for
    good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_religion)

    NN, if you are interested to continue communicating with me you can find me here:
    sambitprem@yahoo.com

    • nitwitnastik permalink*
      January 30, 2009 9:45 am

      @ Sambit
      Yep I agree with you. Majority of eminent scientists have been found to be non-theists. The concept of a supernatural being often doesn’t appeal to the rational mind.

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