Is Slumdog Millionaire an effective introduction to Indian culture? If so, how is it?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the film has many redeeming qualities as a work of art and a study of characterizations.  Certainly, the characters of Jamal, Latika, and Salim (even Prem, the host of the show, and the police interrogator) are very fascinating and possess a sense of depth and dynamic natures.  Additionally, I think the film tells a fascinating story and the interposition between the questions and the personalized narrative is also intriguing.  There should be an inherent danger to taking any sample of popular art as a "cultural sample."  Certainly there are some elements within it which are valid and there are some elements that are not.  We can credit the latter to some level of poetic license.

However, where the film is valid is in its assertion that societies have an inclination to use economic status as a measurement of character.  We hear the refrain often in the flim: "I must have cheated because I am a slumdog, right?" Exaggerated as it may be, societies do have a tendency to discredit and disparage those on the lower end of the economic scale.  In many profit driven social settings, wealth and the acquisition of it, subconsciously transfers the impression that wealth means better.  It is present in all levels of all societies, and this is due in part, to the emphasis of materialism in capitalist societies.  In these settings,  wealth is not merely an extension of a person's work, but is actually a mistaken impression of their character and worth.  We try to avoid this, but social orders are predicated upon this.  I think this element is brought out in this film and reflects elements of Indian society, as well as many others.  Class and socio- economic status is one of the hurdles that has proven to be challenging to overcome for quite a long time.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Your question is whether this movie is useful in introducing Indian culture to viewers.  The answer is yes, of course.  No matter if it's totally accurate or totally inaccurate, the film is a way of starting a dialogue about what is real.  That's the benefit of all the arts--they provide an opportunity to talk about views and perspectives and issues and ideas. 

krishna-agrawala | Student

The movie Slumdog Millionaire depicts a very small part of the total Indian culture. And that part is far from the most significant part, Further, even that small and not so central part  is presented in a highly exaggerated.

The slums and slum dwellers of India are a reality, but not the total reality, and they form a very small portion of total Indian population. Slums of the kind depicted in the movie exist in only in some very big cities. There are no slums in rural areas where most of Indian populations live. And the culture of these people living in rural areas, even that of rural poor is very different from the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai (Bombay) shown in the movie.

Actually slums developed in India only in twentieth century, and the the lifestyle they are forced to adopt, is an aberration of the basic Indian culture rather than the core Indian culture.

Coming to the exaggerations and errors, it will take a very long description to treat them all. Also who is to decide which version ir the right one - mine or the movies. So I will just take two glaring example of how truth and reality has been thrown to the winds in this movie.

Poet of a devotional song sung by a blind child in the movie, as per the movies is Surdas, a blind poet lived who lived in Sixteenth century and composed songs in a dialect of Hindi language called Braj. The language of the song in the movie is Hindi which started to develop in its present form in Nineteenth century. It is just like attributing a poem written in modern English to Shakespeare.

The the movie shows many police atrocities being committed on the hero of the movie on the night before he won the grand prize on the TV show. He is arrested by the police on complaint by host of the show. And host of the show  comes to the conclusion on the because he does not accept the wrong hint to the answer given by the host in a urinal, during a commercial break in the show that takes place after the question is asked but before the answer i given. If I say that it is not possible under Indian legal system and criminal procedures to arrest and torture a person on such flimsy ground, some people may not believe me. But all those who have seen similar shows on TV will agree that commercial breaks are never taken between asking and answering of question.

It should come as no surprise to anyone if movie with such scant respect for facts, deliberately exaggerate the filth and dirt that unfortunate slum dwellers in India are forced to accept.

user396107 | Student

In my opinion I believe SlumDog Millionaire is a different and unique introduction to Indian culture, thus making it quite effective. The introduction shows the western viewers the true lifestyle and society in India. It is quite different to what the westerns know about India leading to it being memorable and distinct. This is the point of an introduction. It entices viewers to continue to watch on to find out more about the setting and location and story.  

atyourservice | Student

No, because despite the situation in the movie seeming like the reality some people might face in india, it is most likely very dramatized, and India is probably not how the movie describes. It shows a really small size therefore not telling the full story, or showing the full culture of India.

Slumdog millionare captures a small part of india, of course the poverty, however the indian culture, and india itself is so much more then that. the poverty areas in the movie do exist in india but they are not all there is. India if full of vibrant colors, historical sights like the taj mahal of course and the red gate, and many other famous sights such as the red city in jaipur it is full and rich in historical and religious/cultural areas. 

Ada Sison | Student

Merriam-Webster defines culture as the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time. 

Slumdog Millionaire should not be considered a good introduction into the culture of India. This movie tells the story of an young Indian man who grows up in the slums but almost miraculously wins the game show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire", most of the story is told as a flashback to his past as he tells how he knows the answer to the game's questions. As an added note, this movie was directed by British men not Indian people. 

Yes, it shows some aspects of Indian culture such as cricket, religion, and the Taj Mahal. However it makes disgusting generalizations of life in India and creates a situation that praises Western ideals. 

Wiggin42 | Student

Movies and Entertainment can focus two extremes very good sides and very bad sides. This movie does the same but most of it or a real. How passionate the Indian are when it comes to Cricket is well used. Other than that there is no cultural or ethnicity reference made in the movie. It rightly depicted the dark side of the Mumbai city life,infact it is more cruel in reality than in the movie.

zumba96 | Student

Slumdog Millionaire is one of the most disgusting representation of Indian culture by far I have seen. I didn't even watch the whole movie the way India was portrayed was absolutely disgusting! First of all, they made it seem as all of India lives in a slum and can't make anything unless they miraculously go in a millionaire contest like he did. This does not ONE BIT describe the culture I grew up with and is a part of me. There are barely any if any slums in India and India's a place where not only the culture has spread to many countries, but also a part that could make any Indian proud. This was a wrong and terrible way to make a movie because not only did that truly disrespect our culture, but based on the amazingly rich and vibrant history of India, this is what these ... so called "filmmakers" wasted money on. Extremely disappointed.

helpmewithschool | Student

Slumdog Millionaire is, of course, a movie. Therefore, it dramatizes things. However, it does incorporate some real aspects of India, but it also depicts it in a low light.

subduedjoy | Student

Not. I felt like I was watching a British movie of the slums in Britian. The fact that one of the guys was shown prostrating himself does not show what it means to be Muslim, and the fact that a boy was dressed as Krishna does not show what it is like to be Hindu. If you want to understand Indian culture, then watch Indian movies. They produce more movies than any other country.

cherrybhatnagar | Student

hi,i am totally agrees to post 3 as it is real that there are very much less number of slums in india.only few places are there which consituets slums.

epollock | Student

Like all movies, they are simply a dramatic representation of a work. In the text itself, one can find figurative and rhetorical language; in the movie version, this is all eliminated. But, done well, a movie can pay tribute to a book, and crystallize the meaning for people who do not understand it.

As for "Slumdog Millionaire," the movie, I would say yes it can be useful, but there are some parts that young people might find offensive. If you can have students read the book, and put on their own dramatization, even better.