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Slumdog Millionaire: Raising awareness or poverty porn? Danny Boyles film is Gathering awards, but is it wrong to indulge in the misery of Indias children?

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Introduction

Slumdog Millionaire: Raising awareness or poverty porn? Danny Boyle's film is Gathering awards, but is it wrong to indulge in the misery of India's children? A feel Good Movie? Directed by the fantastic Danny Boyle and nominated for 10 oscars; the film has won awards for music, directing and acting. Set in the sensual feast that is Mumbai AND branded as a feel good movie, many - such as myself - were persuaded to go and see the film surrounded by so much good press . A few hours later I was wincing in my seat. The film begins with a scene of horrible violence: a young man hanging from the ceiling of a police station, being tortured to unconsciousness, a trickle of blood running from his mouth. It moves into scenes of utter misery, in which small starving children are beaten and mutilated. Mothers die in front of their children, young girls are turned into prostitutes, young boys into beggars. I hope I wont ruin the 'feel-good' surprise when I reveal that one particularly sadistic scene shows a young boy having his eyes burnt with acid to maximise the profits of street begging. The film is brilliant, horrifying, compelling and awful, the relentless violence lightened only by an occasional clip of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) working his way through the questions on Who wants to be a millionaire?. ...read more.

Middle

Their co-founder Chris Way however, claims that any of this criticism 'comes from misunderstanding of what we are trying to do.. break down the negative image of slums and highlight the industry and sense of community' This raises the argument as to whether poverty tourism may in fact be used in a positive way to raise awareness and encourage the west to help. Slumdog Millionaire has already started to be used as a form of propoganda, promoting the need for western help and money. The charity Plan featured an image of the younger Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) on the front of one of their pamphlets. Ayush Mahesh Khedekar was in fact a child of the Mumbai slums and the film has been an opportunity for him to better his life showing the possibility of transformation with sponsorship from ordinary people. There was however much dispute regarding the wages the younger actors received. The parents of the child actors' have accused the hit film's producers of exploiting and underpaying the eight year olds, disclosing that they face uncertain futures in one of Mumbai's most run-down slums. Boyle has spoken of how he set up trust funds for the children and paid for their education, but it has emerged that the children who played Latika (Rubina Ali) and Salim (Azharuddin Ismail) in the early scenes of the film, were paid less than many Indian domestic servants, raising the issue of exploitation of those in poverty during the filming of in addition to as a result of the movie. ...read more.

Conclusion

Scenes of Jamal's life reveal abuse, prostitution, drugs and violence... all the circumstances that typically characterize a life in poverty. Though it was a necessary part of the story and none of it was unwarranted, at times it was difficult to watch. When we are suckered into enjoying scenes of absolute horror among children in slums on the other side of the world, we ought to question where our moral compass is pointing. Slumdog Millionaire may have been the first time many of the audience had viewed scenes of such poverty and many would have wondered whether they were seeing reality or whether it was 'hollywood-ized'. This would certainly have encouraged some to visit the real life conditions to see whether or not the film had exaggerated the oppression of poverty or whether it was in fact a realistic portrayal of life in the slums. On the one hand poverty tourists are engaging in the overt exploitation of other people suffering to gawk at their lifestyle and living conditions, on the other hand, they are receiving a close-up, powerful and possibly life changing view of poverty that few get the chance to experience. In the case of poverty tourism, does the end justify the means? In other words, is it worth exploiting the poor in their helpless, and often hopeless situation if it ultimately changes someone's heart towards the poor? ...read more.

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