What does Slumdog Millionaire tell us about modern India and globalization in terms of the universality of human experience and a sense of place in the contemporary world?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are some distinct "moving parts" in the question.  The first issue is in how the film makes a distinct statement that globalization in India has the theoretical capacity and practical reality to uplift the lives of many who would be previously left without a voice.  The premise of the flim is that someone from the lowest realms of society can "make it."  Jamal is able to be where he is because of globalization.  His taking over for a moment at a call center is what puts him in position to be on the show and be able to answer the questions correctly.  The globalized world is what enables the call center to emerge, enabling Jamal to have a shot at crores of Rupees on the game show.  Had globalization not been there, Jamal would have been a "chai wallah" at a local tea shop or a local market.  It is because of globalization that his life improves as it increases opportunity for him.  Theoretically, this becomes the lure of globalization in that it can improve life for so many because it offers opportunity where it once was not.  In a world before globalization, Jamal would not have had any chance to find success.  Globalization affords this opportunity to him.  Even if we concede that this is mythic, designed to enhance the quality of the film, there might be something to it.  Elements of the pre- globalized world, such as caste, are being defied and this is due, in part, to globalization.   The caste system that stressed individual placement in society is what globalization seeks to overcome.  In a globalized setting, digitized opportunities replace time worn traditions of "chosen" groups and silenced ones.  Intercaste marriage in India is being embraced now more than ever as educational and occupational opportunities in urban areas are becoming the norm.  Defiant voices in India are gaining traction in their desire to end the caste system.  This is due in part to globalization, the very same globalization that enabled Jamal to have a shot as a "slumdog."  The film's message is that Indian globalization affords more opportunity than what existed in a pre- globalized world.

The film suggests that globalization helps to broaden human connection and better understand that struggle is universal.  Jamal's plight is simple:  "I am a slumdog, so I must have cheated, right?"  The universality of human experience is evident in this idea of someone being relegated to the lowest aspect of consciousness, seeking to be more and wish for more.  Jamal does not set out to win be a "crorepati."  Rather, he simply wishes to win Latika's heart and be with her.  He would willingly live as a "slumdog" or as a "chai wallah," if he could be with her.  In this, there is a universal human experience to yearn for more than what is, the stinging and perpetual hope in what can be.  Globalization has helped to bring our world closer.  We better understand that the narratives of those millions of miles away are simillar to our own.  The sense of place in the contemporary world is one in which people hope for something better, strive for something more.  In seeing Jamal's narrative, one recognizes this as the universal message in the film.

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