There is poverty in every part of the world. People who suffer the basic needs of food, shelter and clothes are on the streets in almost every country. India is a home for 26% of the global extreme poor, having most of their poor people living in states like Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, which are considered as the low-income states. A report by the Indian Government Planning Commission estimated 363 million Indians, who are 29.5% of the total Indian population, were living below poverty line, not having salaried jobs or even literacy (Katyal 2015).
photo credits: Sean Ellis
But how much of these sufferings of the poor are shown through the media? Relatively less. Often the media such as Bollywood shows the good parts of their cultures, instead of showing the viewers every state of living in the particular economies, ignoring the poverty side of the country. The deeper expectations audiences bring to the cinema is one of the reasons why there is resistance to depict the poor or slums in India (Hoad 2012). Therefore, most people, who haven’t travelled to India, probably do not have any identification or connection with the country other than what the mainstream media shows. However, the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008), directed by Danny Boyle, sets an example of the real India – poverty side – that the audience rarely comes in contact with. The film depicts how the poor and rich are living together – side by side, and shows the extreme division between social classes. The film shows a young, uneducated orphan, Jamal Malik, who rises from the slums of Mumbai to the biggest prize on India’s ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ show. He answers the show questions from the knowledge he got with the life experience in Mumbai he went through as a boy. The film also shows the view of the slums’ living from their rooftops, giving the audience a clear picture of the unimaginable life taking place in the areas of poverty.
photo credits: zsoolt
Despite showing every detail of Indian culture from rich to poor, the movie gained a lot of criticism regarding the portrayal of poverty in India and the marketing of ‘poverty porn’, especially from Indian community. A Mumbai film processor, Shyamal Sengupta, in an interview with LA Times, stated that “It’s a white man’s imagined India…It’s not quite snake charmers, but it’s close. It’s a poverty tour.”
Slumdog, the critics seem to be saying, propagates a sensationalistic, stereotypical, and inaccurate depiction of India that lowers that country’s stature in the eyes of the world.
photo credits: Samrat Sharma
Meanwhile, others agree to the fact that India, just like many other developed countries, still struggle with poverty and the Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t step away from showing this true fact of India.
“A lot of people felt it was bashing India, but I disagree…We’re too quick to celebrate ‘Incredible India’…But there is an underbelly. To say we don’t have problems is absurd.” Rochona Majumdar, Indian film expert
In contrary, I believe it is important to show the world through the media, the difficult sides of countries as well; not just the beautiful vibrant colours of the country and their middle to upper classes. People need to be aware of the harsh reality of poverty in India and in the world as well.
Katyal, R 2015, ‘India census exposes extent of poverty’, CNN, 3 August, viewed on 02/07/2016, http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/02/asia/india-poor-census-secc/
Hoad, P 2012, ‘Slumdog’s dissenters: poverty on film in India’, The Guardian, 15 May, viewed on 03/07/2016, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2012/may/15/after-hollywood-poverty-film-india