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After the film Slum Dog Millionaire received so many Oscars, it has become the topic of discussion in a wide range of circles all over the world. Many writers, artists, film makers and lay people are expressing their opinion about its form and content, its art and politics and why it received so many Oscars. We all realize that art is not science and when we react to any piece of art we are also expressing our own taste and our artistic and ethical values. Before I express my opinion about the movie I want to reflect upon:
What is the yardstick on which we judge art and literature?
What are the criteria on which we assess a novel or a film?
What are the characteristics of great novels and movies?
Which pieces of art become classics and are considered masterpieces?
How is the taste and tradition in art, literature and film changing in the 21st century?
When I reflect on these questions the following thoughts come to my mind.
Art and literature deal with life in general and human condition in particular.
Artists and writers can create popular art and literature for entertainment or they can create art and literature for enlightenment that may not become popular or the art work becomes entertaining as well as enlightening as one does not exclude the other.
Some writers and artists only focus on the form, while others on the content, while some try to integrate both.
Art and literature can show only one aspect of life and characters and create journalistic art and uni-dimensional characters or they can be subtle and show many sides of life and create three dimensional characters.
Art and literature can show:
What life is…[Tasweer-e-hayaaat]
Why life is the way it is…[Tabeer-e-hayat]
What life can become…[Tameer-e-hayat]
In the last century there were many schools of thought that became popular. I will just focus on two to make my point.
The first group follows the Modernist philosophy and focuses mainly on the form of art and literature. If they are successful in reflecting What Life Is they feel they are successful as artists.
The second group follows the Progressive philosophy. They focus not only on the form but also on the content and the treatment of the theme. They are not happy just showing
What life is,
they also want to focus on
Why life is the way it is
What life can become.
They try to highlight the underlying psychological, social, economic and political factors that contributed to that human condition and then also reflect on what can be dome to improve that condition.
Modernists feel that it is not the job of artists and writers to reflect on those factors as they are not reformers. Progressive writers and artists have set higher standards for their creations as they feel that artists and writers have a role to play in their communities to raise social consciousness and help people evolve to the next stage of human evolution. They want their creations not only to be entertaining but also enlightening. They want to share profound insights in their literature so that their readers and viewers are not only aesthetically satisfied but also intellectually stimulated. They want to accept the challenges of art as well as of life. They like to create three dimensional characters and like to reflect on past, present and future of human condition, either in a concrete or in a metaphorical way.
In my opinion the movie Slum Dog Millionaire fulfills the demands of Modernists and shows us only one aspect of life in India, the poverty of India in which children live in the slums. As far as the form of the film, the cinematography, the editing, the direction and the music are concerned they were wonderful and deserved to receive awards. So from a Modernist point of view it was a successful movie.
But from a Progressive point of view it lacked a few things. It did not reflect on the social, economic and political factors that led to such pervasive poverty in India. Who is responsible for that poverty? And what can be done about it by people, by Indian politicians or the governments of the world?
Modernists would say that the artists showed the poverty and now it is up to politicians, reformers and revolutionaries to educate the public and find solutions to that serious problem.
In my opinion an artists or writers have the right to choose any theme or subject for their creativity, but then we hope that they do justice to that theme. In my opinion in the film the artists and writers only focused on the dark side, rather darker or darkest side of India. After seeing that movie the foreigner has a distorted view of India. It reminded me of the movie One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest that showed mental hospitals with angry nurses giving shock treatments to psychiatric patients. That image of Jack Nickolson has been carved in Western cultural psyche and now we try to educate people that it was part of the reality and not the whole reality. The greater the art and literature the better it captures the duality of life and captures the dark as well as the bright side of human condition. Greta art reflects the Yin as well as the Yang. Bull Dog Millionaire in my opinion reflected the dark side without balancing it with the bright side. It was more of a Hollywood/ Bollywood style of the movie making phenomenon, as if poverty was sold in the media market for entertainment. At the end the poor children will remain poor while the writers, actors, directors and producers will become millionaires.
There is an interesting trend developing in 21st century to build bridges between commercial and art movies as well as between documentary and feature film movies that was done by Michael Moore in America. Let us see how the global village deals with global realities of the relationship between the poor and rich in different parts of the world. Does art help the poor or exploits the poor? is a major unanswered question, a question that writers, artists and lay people have to reflect upon. I just shared my own reflections. I found it emotionally violent and I think the people living in the slums of India would find it insulting.

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