Term Paper: Slumdog Millionaire the 2008 British

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Slumdog Millionaire

The 2008 British film Slumdog Millionaire became a worldwide hit, earning a slew of awards and nominations as well as mainstream critical acclaim in the United States. Danny Boyle's movie is an adaptation of a novel called Q&A by Vikas Swarup. Slumdog Millionaire is a rags-to-riches coming of age story of a poor street urchin who, though a series of unlikely events, winds up on a televised quiz show. The film is a comedy-drama, addressing deadly serious issues ranging from child abuse, rape, and battery to the political, economic, and social problems plaguing Indian society. At the same time, Slumdog Millionaire has a happy ending and enough comic relief to emerge as a feel-good film.

As compelling and entertaining as Slumdog Millionaire may be, the film has a problematic dimension. For one, Boyle's movie capitalizes on India's problems. The film is made for a Western audience and was appreciated and embraced by millions of moviegoers who have never been to India. Responses to the film have been laudatory, without probing into whether the filmmaker inadvertently romanticizes Indian culture based on discursive patterns of Self and Other. Clearly, Slumdog Millionaire encapsulates the ongoing dynamic between the Western Self and the exotic Eastern Other. The film is told from a Western perspective, not an Indian one. Western values and ideals are projected onto Indian society. The central quiz show motif is a Western import to Indian society. The very nature of the plot being a rags-to-riches story reeks of the American Dream. Finally, the happy ending comes across as grossly saccharine and even insensitive to the grim realities of poverty in India. Watching Slumdog Millionaire, viewers may wonder how far Westerners have come in shedding outmoded beliefs and stereotypes about "exoticism." Romanticizing the Asian Other is just another form of stereotyping.

A critical theory of globalization can be readily applied to Slumdog Millionaire to show that while the film does expose some of the net positive effects of globalization, the net negative effects must also be acknowledged. As Keller points out in "Theorizing Globalization," the potential benefits of globalization include "fresh economic opportunities, political democratization, cultural diversity, and the opening to an exciting new world," (286). Slumdog Millionaire presents this idealized vision of globalization as it impacts India. The positive impacts of globalization are reflexive, too. First, Western filmmaker creates a film that portrays globalization in a positive light. Second, Western moviegoers expect these themes to be displayed and responds to the positive portrayal of Western ideals being superimposed on Indian society. Western fans and critics liked Slumdog Millionaire because it makes them feel better about themselves. It proves the righteousness of European-American ideologies related to upward social mobility and the inherent equality of all human beings. The film also highlights the Western belief that there are tremendous positive benefits for Indians who embrace Western ideology; and correspondingly negative consequences for those who revert to outdated social, political, and economic models. Slumdog Millionaire therefore feeds the positive paradigm of globalization.

The central motif of the television quiz show especially feeds the positive paradigm of globalization. Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is an American show, which has been translated and transmuted for the Indian market. Moreover, the American show is portrayed in the movie as having the magical potential of uniting lost lovers and helping them to live happily ever after with lots of money. The fantasy dimension of Slumdog Millionaire is compelling, especially because it reminds the viewer that the American Dream is still alive in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Moviegoers stay at home when they want to watch PBS documentaries about life in the slums of India; they go to the theater to watch fantasy comedy-dramas about that one cute little boy and his cute little girlfriend go from extreme poverty and abuse to becoming national heroes. In this sense, the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? motif is more than just a quiz show. The show has a polysemous dimension. As Simon During points out, polysemy refers to "the way in which a particular signifier always has more than one meaning," (6). Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is laden with meaning. It is a symbol of being magically propelled from rags to riches, the way characters are in children's books. The quiz show is not depicted as being a test of one's knowledge, but only of one's luck. Jamal knows the answers to the questions on the show because they magically connect to a string of life events. Those life events often evoke painful memories, representing the transformation of a painful past into a promising future. Overlaid on Indian culture, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is an especially polysemous quiz show because it shows that the American dream applies universally. Slumdog Millionaire is the globalization of the American Dream.

In new markets like India, the American Dream holds special sway. Whereas many Americans have become disillusioned by the lie, Indians are shown to be innocent enough to keep the hope alive. The particular manifestation of the American Dream in India follows the localization patterns of a globalized thought or idea. Globalization "is itself a deeply historical, uneven, and even localizing process," (Appadurai 17). In Slumdog Millionaire, the quiz show takes on a distinctly Indian character. It features one of India's most renowned movie stars (Anil Kapoor), and one of the few whose fame stretched beyond the boundaries of Bollywood. As Appadurai points out, globalization "does not necessarily or even frequently imply homogenization or Americanization," (17).

Boyle, ironically or not, inserts symbols of globalization liberally in Slumdog Millionaire. For Americans, one of the main symbols of economic globalization is the outsourcing of customer service call centers to India. Comedians in the United States and critics too have made fun of the way American companies have benefitted financially from outsourcing call centers to the world's largest English-speaking democracy. With English as an official language, India is poised to receive doctrines like the American Dream with particular vigor. India is an apt slate upon which to project the ideals of the American Dream. Furthermore, Jamal comes across as a highly likeable character for American viewers because he did not just escape the slums and become famous on a television quiz show. He also put in his time at the call center, representing the hard work that the individual must accomplish in order to climb the social ladder. Climbing the social ladder is a core component of the American Dream. The magical dimension and the dimension of work ethic combine to create a deeply ambiguous and conflicting global ideology.

The call center is a hub of globalization, but it does represent "cultural homogenization" too (Keller 286). A supervisor training all the new recruits including Jamal teaches the staff how to speak to Americans. They are to adapt an American name, because Americans cannot understand or pronounce Indian names. Cultural cliches and stereotypes litter the film's dialogue at this stage. The underlying message is that for Indians to succeed in the global marketplace, they must sacrifice their Indian-ness and embrace a new American identity.

A dynamic of Indian Self to Western Other is projected in the way Boyle incorporates genuinely Indian themes and motifs. For example, there are allusions to Bollywood's lighthearted love stories and music. The importance of cricket and cricket celebrities to Indian culture is recognized and presented to the Western audience, allowing for a kind of cultural exchange. Interchange between West and East in Slumdog Millionaire is not entirely sinister. In many ways, Boyle has managed to capture the midpoint between Indian self-representation and Western idealization of the Indian mystique.

Because Slumdog Millionaire is a film Westerners can relate to, Westerners can also feel a sense of amelioration from guilt when watching it. Boyle is a British filmmaker. He essentially represents British ideals in a post-colonial world. Slumdog Millionaire is a far cry from Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden," which conveyed prevailing racism. With racism no longer a trending ideology in the postmodern world, Boyle can present a mix of imagery that portrays post-colonial India. Post-colonial India still has problems, evidenced by the extensive slums and the cruelty of its slumlords. Boyle shifts the blame away from colonialism in Slumdog Millionaire. The root cause of the poverty problem has shifted away from a structural or functionalist approach, and instead Boyle presents a quintessentially Western model of self-liberation. Jamal spearheads his own liberation. He is an American-style hero: an individualist and someone who succeeds with or without the help of others. Plus, he gets the girl. Western viewers see Jamal and think that perhaps India is not so bad after all, and has recovered fairly well from the Raj. Shaking off any lingering British guilt for its colonial enterprise, Boyle implies that the postmodern Indian hero is "just like us." The film was successful especially in the West because its protagonist assumes the heroic form Westerners can relate to. Jamal is an underdog who achieves… [END OF PREVIEW]

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