It is tough for a movie to successfully entertain, educate and inform the viewers of genuine social issues while winning awards. Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, this year’s winner of the Best Movie Oscar Award, does all of this beautifully. But we need to learn the right lessons. Maybe I am reading too much into the movie but then the specific changes made by Boyle to the original story in the book and the criticism by the Hindu extremists leads one to think if that is really the case. Here are the 10 questions asked to Jamal, the hero of the movie. Each question symbolizes the issues Indians face on a daily basis. Correct answers are in bold.
1. Who was the star of the 1973 hit film “Zanjeer”?
The Hindi cinema: It provides an escape to the masses. The only thing that can keep people out of the social sh*t they are in. (Pardon the use of the word here but you will understand if you see the movie and the symbolism). While the movie industry has grown to be the largest in the world making billions of dollars, it is by far not representative of Indian lives. It’s easier to see Ferraris and Yachts and people dancing in Geneva and New York than to see the issues faced by Indians on a daily basis. This is very unlike Hollywood and other industries which are quite representative of their societies.
“They are making out that India is a Third World, dirty underbelly, developing nation,” snorts Amitabh Bachchan, one of the country’s leading film stars and a powerful, “patriotic” voice.
Andrew Malone of the Daily Mail says “Amitabh Bachan cannot be blamed for feeling negatively on this movie for the fact that Danny very cleverly elucidates the fallacious Indian mentality of worshipping actors who stay away from the miseries of common man.”
2. A picture of three lions is seen in the national emblem of India. What is written underneath it?
Money alone triumphs
The truth alone triumphs
Lies alone triumph
Fashion alone triumphs
A society where “The Truth” Alone does NOT triumph: Corruption and favoritism triumphs better. Legal services, employment, government benefits, education, and many other life’s most important needs can be bought and sold quite openly. Those who do not have the money simply do not have a chance. It should not come as a surprise that India is still ranked among the most corrupt countries of the world.
Another factor that is part of the daily lives of Indians is favoritism. It’s not so important as who you are but who you know. Literally. You can get away with murder or win government contracts simply by knowing the right people. The police often torture innocent people until a ‘confession’ is obtained to save influential and wealthy offenders. Those who do not know anyone are out of luck in India.
3. In depictions of God Rama, he is famously holding what in his right hand?
A bow and arrow
Anti Muslim riots: Almost all riots in India are against Muslims and more than 90% deaths are of Muslims. This has caused widespread internal migration, economic deprivation, long term loss of Muslim businesses, and overall social and economic subjugation of the Muslim population. So if a scene shows a Muslim woman being killed by Hindu mobs then it is politically incorrect by Indian standards, to not show a Hindu victim as well. But this movie was bold enough to say it like it is.
4. The song “Darshan Do Ghanshyam” was written by which famous Indian poet, according to the movie?
Often, to entice empathy among potential contributors, the limbs of abducted children are amputated or they are disfigured with acid by the begging mafia. Sometimes blood vessels are stitched to block blood supply to parts of the body, bringing about gangrene.
With the beggar mafia making more than $32 million a year in Mumbai alone, corrupt officers ensure that the trade thrives. According to official figures, as many as 44,000 children fall into the clutches of the beggar mafia in India each year and of these, hundreds are deliberately mutilated. The true number of abducted children is believed to be much higher, with some estimates putting it at up to one million a year.
A report by India’s human rights commission said these stolen children are “working as cheap forced labor in illegal factories, establishments, homes, exploited as sex slaves or forced into the child porn industry, as camel jockeys in the Gulf countries, as child beggars in begging rackets, as victims of illegal adoptions or forced marriages, or perhaps, worse than any of these, as victims of organ trade and even grotesque cannibalism”.
Most of the victims are between two and eight years of age. They are often not fed so that they cry continuously, enticing passers-by to give them money. There have also been cases of new born babies being stolen from hospitals to be used as props by beggars.
Complaints to the police are pointless as they are usually bribed by the mafia or are no match for the resources of the mafia.
5. On an American $100 bill, there is a portrait of which American statesman?
Among all this mess the dollar reigns supreme in the Indian society. From the time when anything foreign made was as precious as gold to today where a white skin person is still revered in the society. Foreign remittances are an important part of the Indian middle class particularly the minorities. But then there are those who make a living out of scams. There are scams and white collar crimes everywhere. From the national government to the local tourist guide are all involved in scamming. Jamal’s involvement in an effort to scam a tourist reminds him of the answer.
6. Who invented the first commercially-successful revolver?
A report published by the National Crime Records Bureau compared crime rate from 1953 to 2006. The report noted that murder has increased by 231% (from 9,803 in 1953 to 32,481 in 2006). Kidnapping has increased by 356% (from 5,261 in 1953 to 23,991 in 2006), robbery by 120% (from 8,407 in 1953 to 18,456 in 2006) and riots by 176% (from 20,529 in 1953 to 56,641 in 2006). The point: It is the crime not the financial success that is being shared with the larger and poorer society of the country.
7. Cambridge Circus is in which U.K. city?
Call centers are symbols of India’s economic boom. With Anglicized names and feigned Western accents, Indians handle credit card problems and troubleshoot computers, collect debts and conduct customer satisfaction surveys. Over the past decade or so, relatively high salaries in the call center sector have attracted thousands of applicants across the country. But these are the lowly jobs that not everyone wants to do that are exported. Naturally the better jobs are kept at home. Indians are naïve victims of false pride in these foreign jobs that do not require any special education or skills and in return do not provide any long term prospects.
8. Which cricketer has scored the most first-class centuries?
This particular question was not really about cricket. Yes, it does show how little the poor are part of the cricket crazed nation. But I personally thought the attempt of the show host to misguide the hero in the movie highlighted the constant abuse of power in India. At every level, from the clerk of a government department and peon of a government official to the highest level in the government, power is abused in more than a routine manner. It is considered the “right” of the person in power to abuse it as he is the one who “earned” it. Often times it is just to feed their egos or to fulfill personal vendettas against a person or even community. The society has come to accept this largely false stance.
But there is another interesting interpretation I would like to make. A very sensitive one: the discrimination of India’s largest minority at the hands of the majority. I am quoting Yoginder Sikand here: A non Muslim Indian author from the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.
Since Muslims are generally framed in such a way that their overall pathetic economic, educational and social conditions of the Indian Muslims are hardly ever talked about.
The living conditions of India’s Muslims are significantly worse than that of Hindus, particularly ‘upper’ caste Hindus and not different from the poorest of the Indian poor. This is what a recently-released report, a joint effort of Action Aid, the Indian Social Institute and the Jahangirabad Media Institute, makes clear. The ‘National Study on Socio-Economic Conditions of Muslims in India’ of 2006, brings to light the fact of alarming levels of deprivation as well as state neglect and discrimination that most Indian Muslims face.
On every social index, the report reveals, Muslims are considerably worse off than others. In the Parliament, state assemblies and local bodies their representation is much less than that warranted by their population. The same holds true in various government services, even in such jobs as peons, drivers and cleaners, for which higher educational qualifications are not required. Government infrastructural investment, scholarship schemes, reservations and development programs have benefited only a tiny number of Muslims.
In terms of occupation, income levels, education, living standards and access to various services, too, Muslims fare considerably worse than others. In villages, Muslim landlessness is widespread, and equal to that of Dalits. On the educational front, Muslims are much behind Hindus, especially at the higher levels. Owing to discrimination, Muslims often find it difficult to get jobs.
Widespread discrimination and organized anti-Muslim violence by Hindu mobs, instigated by Hindutva outfits and often in league with the state, are driving Muslims into squalid ghettos, which remain deprived of basic amenities. This process is further increasing communal divisions and reducing spaces for cross-community interaction, besides further fuelling Muslim social, economic and educational marginalization.
Organized anti-Muslim pogroms have resulted in much tragic loss of life and property. In the face of the Hindutva onslaught and, in some cases, the specific targeting of Muslims by agencies of the state, a tremendous fear psychosis now pervades large sections of the community in several parts of India, the report reveals. Being constantly put on the defensive and forced to ‘prove’ their commitment to ‘patriotism’ and ‘non-violence’, Muslims today experience a heightened sense of Muslim insecurity, leaving them little breathing space to focus on the work of internal reform. In a climate of growing Islamophobia, even basic demands for the state to protect social, educational and economic rights of Muslims as citizens and tax-payers are quickly branded as ‘communal’ and ‘anti-national’. This makes it increasingly difficult for Muslims to have their voices heard and for their pathetic living conditions to be addressed by the state and the wider society.
Neglect and discrimination by the state and its failure to protect Muslim lives and take stern action against those involved in anti-Muslim violence naturally seriously impacts on Muslims’ confidence in the system. This, and the vitriolic Islamophobic rhetoric of Hindutva forces and the periodic anti-Muslim pogroms that they unleash, often in league with or abetted by agencies of the state, is only reinforcing the influence of insular and conservative religious forces among many Muslims, making the prospects for cross-community dialogue increasingly difficult.
9. In Alexander Dumas’ book “The Three Musketeers”, two of the musketeers are called Athos and Porthos. What is the name of the third Musketeer?
It’s education stupid. How irrelevant has it become to these people? So out of touch with reality. But when the hero’s brother uses it to save his and his brother’s life, it shows that even such a story as the “The Three Musketeers” can be useful. On another thought this also highlights the hidden talent in the Indian society. What if those children in the slums had an equal opportunity to learn as the middle class? India can become the largest resource of knowledge and skills for the entire world!
10. While the police inspector was questioning Jamal’s knowledge, he asked Jamal whose picture was on the Indian 1000-rupee note, and then showed him when Jamal claimed not to know. Whose picture was it?
Mohandas Gandhi is to India what all the figures on the US currency bills are to Americans combined. So there can be no Indian who cannot identify the father of the nation. But when the hero honestly says that he doesn’t know, it shows again how farther their world is from the rest of the Indians. But what is the point here: Having seen so little of actual money? Complete lack of education? Or most importantly the total absence of Gandhian values of economic self sufficiency, compassion, volunteerism and love of the country from Indian society.