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Poverty, slums and millionaires

2/25/2009

By Katrinah Best

I’ve recently rekindled my love for film. That wonderful pastime I relished until the more pertinent duties of adulthood beckoned. The resumption of hours of viewing has not been wholly calculated either but to a large extent, other forces have been at play in reconnecting my existence in the spheres of reality with more imaginary observations in the realms of fiction.

For the most part, that’s what films are – a great opportunity to enter a vast, empty expanse, devoid of time where every iota of one’s supposed reality is created and the imagination allowed to run wild. Whilst the world’s greatest films have been hinged on that very same thought, our more recent productions have also wholeheartedly observed that age-old adage of “art imitating reality” and have caused us to either marvel at tales of triumph over adversity or wallow in the misery of despair.

Increasingly, the role of film has not been to continue the thread of overt optimism set in the early days of American studio productions but to challenge our concepts of wrong and right and bring us to a point of clarity whilst questioning the very essence of what is going on in the real world.

As we all know, whilst the big screen can shadow us from the harrowing realities of life, more and more, the effects of film are becoming so real that the screen appears far more transparent and brings many of us to override the virtual effects and manifests in us emotions seemingly instigated by real events.

The immensely popular Oscar winner, “Slumdog Millionaire”, is just one such example, but it exists amongst so many others which deal with often controversial and thought-provoking issues. Filmed in an innovative manner and securing itself a platform of no-name stars from which to launch its more serious subject matter, the story delves deep into the extreme poverty which exists on the continent of India and focuses on its largest city, Mumbai (formerly Bombay). Though it may have changed name through political administration, the film depicts how the shocking strife of impoverished living still exists, where unforgivable acts continue to take place and the ramifications of having little economic status leads gangs to amputate and mutilate children so as to raise the level of pity within what they deem their begging havens.

Where we might be more likely to shy away from such candid discussions, the film allows the screenwriters to arouse cinematic dialogue which at best raises the questions and required discussions or at the very least, leads us to entertain such thoughts within the confines of our own minds.

Questions such as: What brings a mother to have her child’s limbs amputated in order to gain more money from begging?; What leads a person to be so callous as to steal a new-born baby all in the name of economic gain and how can a certain prominent Indian personality refute the content of the film as depicting an “underbelly of India”?

It’s this last notion which is just as cruel for it allows the vicious cycle of poverty to be perpetuated in a very real manner. It also exposes the juxtaposition of wealth alongside extreme poverty which, unfortunately, doesn’t bring about a situation where the affluent stretch a hand to help the more disenfranchised and poverty-stricken but instead lifts a hand to cover such atrocities. I’m just grateful that beyond the Oscar accolades, the far less superficial benefits of film can allow for a revelation of truth which ironically shows the reality of everyday circumstances and proves that where poverty is involved, there really are no winners.

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