Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Like most films I see, I did not research this one.  Usually, I at least read a description of the film, but for this film, I didn’t even do that, even when my good friend RG carted us to see a prescreening, which we didn’t get to see because of the crowd of overanxious auntyjis.  So when I sat down in the theatre to see Slumdog yesterday with my other good friend, JD, I was actually surprised that the film dealt with the game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire,  Desi-style.  What I liked about the film was the way in which Jamal’s answers were backed by real experiences, versus a formal education.  When you think about the game show idea at all, one doesn’t have to be a bookish genius to win them, except for maybe the more intellectually challenging shows like Jeopardy.   But even then, the answers to Jeopardy questions are more about capitalizing on inference than they are about whether you knew the answer already.

Jamal got his education from (as they say where I’m from) The School of Hard Knocks.  Jamal, Salim & Latika’s stories were sad, and the film is a testament to the results of living a hard life while attempting to remain true to your character.  Jamal and Salim’s relationship was a travesty, but the viewer could clearly see Salim was destined for the “end” he dealt himself.  And, Jamal was a good boy from the beginning:  highly compassionate and organically pure.

In a way, Slumdog reminded me of Antonio Gramsci’s idea of the organic intellectual.  Not in the strictest sense, because I think Gramsci was going for something a little different, but similar enough here to prove that this Slumdog could defy the odds by answering specialized questions based on his own specialized life experiences.  Definitely an interesting concept to work out onscreen.

I think what was shocking in this film was the presentation of oppression and poverty. Despite all of the slums and garbage and child slavery, I think one of the most disturbing aspects of the film was when Jamal was being tortured by the police:  because at the very heart of his interrogation/torture was the belief the HE could not possibly have known the answers and was cheating somehow.  In Jamal’s case, the inference that he was lying or cheating got him tortured.  But the saddest part is that it was a lifetime of torture and anguish that got him to the point where he could answer those particular questions correctly. Anyway, being tortured for just knowing what you know is an affront to intelligence in general.  And, being accused of cheating just because you know something that someone else doesn’t think you should know, is equally disgraceful.

I think part of what it comes down to is dumb luck.  Dumb luck got him into trouble growing up, and dumb luck got him 20,000,000 rupees.  But, what Jamal knew, as a human being, is what got him to where he was:  just like for the rest of us.

So, at the end of the day when all the smarties or richies of the world think they have the monopoly on things, I think we should remember that we’re all a product of our upbringing and the collective experiences we’ve had over the course of our individual lives:  the opportunities we took advantage of and those we were denied.  We all have different things to bring to the table and each of our lives is worth just as much as everyone else’s regardless of whether we’re from the Slum, the Hill, or the Trailer Park. 

Gretchen Wilson, the country singer, says it best in her song, “Redneck Woman”:

“Cause I’m a redneck woman
I ain’t no high class broad
I’m just a product of my raisin’
I say, ‘hey ya’ll’ and ‘yee-haw’
And I keep my Christmas lights on
On my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Charlie Daniels song
So, here’s to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big ‘hell yeah’ from the redneck girls like me
Hell yeah
Hell yeah”

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