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Decoding the Slumdog Millionaire Backlash

A still from Push.

As the first two thirds of Slumdog Millionaire make clear, the slum-dwelling beggars of overcrowded Mumbai lead no easy life. But if violence, hunger, and substandard living conditions weren't already enough to contend with, the movie's ten Oscar nominations have them dealing with an additional scourge: pushy journalists who won't stop asking them what they think of Slumdog Millionaire.

Probably spurred by reports of protests and even a lawsuit stemming from purported offense over the movie's title, LA Times New Delhi correspondent Mark Magnier went looking for a Slumdog backlash. He tracked down a few Indian academics who called the movie "a white man's imagined India" and "a poverty tour" (it should probably be noted that the LA Times accompanies the story with a photo slideshow of an actual Mumbai slum), but despite the damning headline of his piece yesterday ("Indians don't feel good about Slumdog Millionaire"), he couldn't find any real-life slumdogs who felt insulted.

"Who wouldn't want to be a millionaire?" says 12-year-old Salman Ali, an orphaned beggar who almost certainly has not seen Slumdog Millionaire and, even if he had, would likely not object to what practically many agree is a generally accurate depiction of his city's problems. Also, Magnier spoke with an Indian homemaker who seems equally completely unfamiliar with the movie, but nonetheless is asked to weigh in on its magical realism (which she finds unrealistic): "I feel it's a wrong route," she says referring to the movie's game-show premise. "We barely get by, but the answer is education and hard work, not a quick fix."

As Magnier concedes near the middle of his piece, most of the perceived uproar over Slumdog seems to derive from India's reluctance to be portrayed as an underdeveloped country at a time when it's trying to position itself as a global superpower, and not from any actual offense taken by Mumbai residents. And since none of Hollywood's award-givers seem to be listening anyway, we doubt Danny Boyle's losing much sleep over this.

Indians don't feel good about 'Slumdog Millionaire' [LAT]
Critics rave over 'Slumdog Millionaire,' Indian public mixed [AFP]
Mumbai slum residents object to 'Slumdog's' name [AP]

As Magnier concedes near the middle of his piece, most of the perceived uproar over Slumdog seems to derive from India's reluctance to be portrayed as an underdeveloped country at a time when it's trying to position itself as a global superpower, and not from any actual offense taken by Mumbai residents. And since none of Hollywood's award-givers seem to be listening anyway, we doubt Danny Boyle's losing much sleep over this.

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight