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Waltham area Indian-American residents react to Slumdog Millionaire

Posted by Kathryn Eident  February 19, 2009 07:24 AM

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By Kathryn Eident, Globe Correspondent

It's the story of an orphan boy from Mumbai who rises out of the slums to success on the Indian version of "Who wants to be a millionaire?" The movie "Slumdog Millionaire" has wowed critics and won 8 Oscars, and it's generating talk among Indian Americans in Waltham and other area communities.

For Jayashree Shahane, a Sharon resident who volunteers at the Waltham-based Learnquest Academy of Music, a school that teaches classical Indian music, the movie is beautiful, imaginative and intense.

“I thought it was brilliantly made,” said Shahane, “It appeals to everyone. All of my Indian friends who’ve seen it have liked it, and I have other neighbors with no exposure to Indian culture who loved it.”

As someone who appreciates music, Shahane is especially thrilled to see the movie’s composer, A.R. Rahman, also nominated for awards.

“His music is beautiful. Indian people are not surprised at all because it comes from a genius,” she said. “He goes for traditional kinds of music with a classical base, then comes up with these tunes sometimes that sound very different, very beautiful and very melodious.”

The film’s debut in India last month sparked an international conversation about how the media should portray Indian culture both at home and abroad, and Shahane can understand why.

“I know that a lot of people were hurt in India because of the title and because of some of the scenes,” she said. “I guess that was a shocker to see that part of society—the slums and the poverty. You kind of feel sad and you are tense throughout the movie.”

At home, some say the film’s depiction of the slums as squalid and violent is inaccurate.

“It’s not the real India,” said an employee at Patel Brothers grocery store on Moody Street who did not want to be named. “I’m sure in some corners it’s like that, but you don’t know the real India inside and out [by seeing the movie].”

For Pradeep Shukla, a Suffolk University professor and director of the Learnquest Academy, the narrow focus on the slums is the film’s one major drawback.

“There are a lot of good things about India that people don’t know about,” he said. “Poverty exists everywhere, in the US and in US cities. Every country has good parts and its bad parts.”

Shulka cautions moviegoers to remember that the film is entertainment and shouldn’t be seen as an accurate portrayal of Indian culture.

“I don’t think that it was goal of the movie to show life in the slums. To me [the movie] sounds like a great piece of imagination,” he said. “I consider it a piece of literature, not history.”

Rajashree Ghosh, a resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, agrees with Shukla. The movie resonates across cultures because it depicts universal themes like love, struggle, triumph and hope, she said.

“This is a story, a film. Even if it has a western influence, they’re narrating a story,” she said. “They’re not trying to change what’s true and can be real and can be possible.”

She also wrote about her impressions in a recent article published by India New England, a newspaper and web site for New England’s Indian-American community.

Altaf Dugla, owner of the New Apna Bazar grocery store on Moody Street, said the film’s portrayal of life in the slums is realistic and important for people to see.

“It’s good for everyone to know what’s going on in the world, all over the world,” he said. “It’s a beautiful movie. I hope it wins an Oscar.”

(To see a Boston Globe review of Slumdog Millionaire, click here. You can find full Oscars coverage here.)

What do you think? What was your reaction to Slumdog Millionaire? Comment on the story below and contribute to the discussion.

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7 comments so far...
  1. Slumdog is way overated. Contrary to the hype, it is not a "feel good movie" that will "have you cheering in the aisles." It is a extremely violent (gratuitously so) and disturbing movie that appeals to teens and those in their 20s, probably because of the music and the fact that the leading characters are young good looking Bollywood actors . Even after the leading character gets tortured all night, he shows up at the Who Wants to be a Bizillionaire TV studio in the morning well groomed and in in perfect condition, looking like he had a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast. He somehow fails to mentiion to anyone that he had been beaten all night (including torture by means of a electrocution with a car battery). Now that's entertainment, folks !

    Posted by IHeartG-Warming February 19, 09 01:03 PM
  1. Well I don't fit into your demographics of who like the movie (middle aged female) but I loved the movie. I go to movies to be entertained -- and that is what this achieved. It is not a documentary. All movies have scenes that don't often jive from one to the other -- but take it for what it is. The story was interesting, I liked the way they related each question to an event in his life of how he knew the answer, and the "love" twist was just enough. Great movie, I'd recommend it.

    Posted by Anonymous February 19, 09 01:30 PM
  1. After a couple of missions trips to Haiti to work with the impoverished there, I was neither shocked nor surprised by the depiction of the "slums" in India. I was sad because the scenes looked so familiar with the exception that Cite Soliel in Haiti has almost no access to electricity or water. The initial comment in this thread is accurate of course, but one can poke logic holes in any movie - even those that pretend to be based on reality. I must take issue with those who contend the movie does not reflect the "real" India. Slum life is real and there are slums all over India. Of course there are beautiful wonderful aspects as well just like any other country. No single movie could ever hope to tackle all facets of any culture or nation. Just because this movie focuses on an area that makes some uncomfortable, that does not make it less real. Slum life should make us uncomfortable - I would be horrified if it did not.

    Posted by WVW in West Newton February 19, 09 01:47 PM
  1. I don't understand why the movie is supposed to "represent India." It's a movie, that happens to be set in India, that deals with certain parts of India. It's not a documentary. "Mystic River" was set in Mass, but I didn't hear complaints that it didn't "represent" the rest of the US, or even New England.
    I liked the film, but the reaction is so overblown. The film was quite good, the acting was good, the writing was good... but all this award buzz simply puzzles me. It wasn't THAT good.

    Posted by SG February 19, 09 03:31 PM
  1. I thought the movie was great, but extremely stressful to watch. The torture scenes and the thought of what was to come created that atmosphere. In the article it talks about not portraying India properly...well certainly not every "American" movie portrays every aspect of America or American culture! I completely agree with -WWW- that "Slum life should make us uncomfortable." But I think it was well done and portrays (again not a documentary) what goes on in some areas. But it is also a movie about hope, love, and overcoming adversity. I certainly recommend it.

    Posted by Movie Goer February 19, 09 04:22 PM
  1. I saw the movie and I liked it; I'm glad that it has got noticed by the reviewers because it has got a good story and the (oft repeated ??) message about the ability to achieve redemption even if one is born in a slum. About the people who complained that it was set in the slums - yes, every "third wold" country has slums like the ones in Mumbai (I have been there, so I know they exist just as they exist elsewhere in the world). It's a fact of life - you have the rich and poor living side by side in many places and never the twain shall meet ! No point in denying the obvious.

    To me, the point of the story is that the we all have the capacity to redeem ourselves (just as we have the capacity and ability to inflict damnation upon ourselves). That's the message I took back home with me. Maybe I missed something ???

    Posted by TP February 20, 09 11:54 AM
  1. Within India, Mumbai (or Bombay) is constantly referred to as Slumbai...Slums are a way of life for the poor in India and they span huge locations...the largest slum in Asia is Dharavi in central Mumbai. The chasm between rich and poor within India is wider than any other developing country probably due to caste, language and community differences and high corruption. The movie may not be representative of India as a whole (which movie is?) but does depict the slums in all its truthful glory!

    Posted by Max Rooman February 21, 09 03:57 PM