Arundhati Roy on Slumdog Millionaire

Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan’s Slumdog Millionaire was the big winner at the Oscars last night. Writer-activist Arundhati Roy was asked her opinion of the film’s global success about a week back, and here is what she had to say (see also this recent review):

People are selling India’s poverty big time both in literature and films. As they say, there is lots of money in poverty today. I am not against showing slums, but depicting them in a depoliticised manner, as has been done in the film, is quite unfortunate. Films do not show the real poor. Even if they are depicted, it’s not the true picture. The real poor are not shown in films because they are not attractive. Poverty sells but the poor do not. The film gives false hope to the poor that they too could become millionaires one day. Watching Slumdog Millionaire was like speeding on a highway with lots of potholes. The screenplay of the film is quite out of context and it feels as if a Harvard accent has been given to characters that are straight out of the Chicago black neighbourhood.

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

5 thoughts on “Arundhati Roy on Slumdog Millionaire”

  1. I hate when people say, “this film didn’t show this or didn’t show that”; a film is good if it shows what is set to show. It should be judge for it’s own merits not according to some exterior criteria. No film could show all or what a particular audience wants, each critic should make their own film showing what they want to see. You probably never watched a De Sica movie, or Etore Scola, or early Felini, or Rosselini, or Dusan Makavejev, or Fenando Meireles,or Walter Salles, or Andrucha Waddington, just to mention a few from the top of my head. These films/directors might not show “the real poverty”(and what the heck this means?), but sure are faithful portraits of the emotional environment present in poor places; and some of those do show quite realistically the places where the plot unfolds. I mean, if you want a film to raise the class-consciousness of the oppressed and combat the “false hopes”, then make one that attacks religion as well, not only the cinema or the entertainment industry. Yes, what the film shows is an illusion, but that is what is supposed to be. You are as narrow minded as George Bush, even though you congratulate yourself for beautiful statements like:” it feels as if a Harvard accent has been given to characters that are straight out of the Chicago black neighborhood”. That statement has no value as a critic, and shows ignorance regarding the arts. I’m sure the Cuban school (Robert Redford, Gabriel Garcia Marques, and others) probably would agree with me in the issues pertaining to the arts and social consciousness, arts and the poor. Sometimes I also feel films don’t portray Brazil (where I’m from) accurately, but that doesn’t necessarily disqualify the film as a good work. Next time you go to the movies, try to leave your sad militancy (to use a Foucault expression) at the door.

  2. “Next time you go to the movies, try to leave your sad militancy (to use a Foucault expression) at the door.” You’re so right, Wilson. I enjoyed the film. Of course, I saw inaccuracies and exaggeration of certain elements, but it’s one film. I think the problem is people forget it’s not a documentary! They place this impossible burden on every work of art. It’s either ‘not reflective of this” or ‘whitewashes something”. How can any one work of art tell all sides of the story? And anyway, that could be a criticism if Boyle was claiming to be telling the story of India’s poor. That’s never been his claim. The real protagonist is the city. But Roy is a Delhi-ite…she misses that point. I’m from Bombay, and in Bombay we totally got the idea of the film.

  3. I have to say I feel pulled two ways about this film. Firstly it IS a good film but when I started to think about its message and research not only the reality but what others were saying I admit to feeling fleeced. Really isnt this a nice way for rich people to tell us “poverty ain’t so bad?” and that “see they’re happy and noble” and so what if there life is grinding toil all day, every day LOOK HOW HAPPY THEY ARE.
    I’m not rich by american standards but when I compare myself to a large percentage of the worlds population I feel very lucky and a little bit sickened. Why? because the only reason I’m here at this computer drinking coffee and debateing this isue and not recycleing cans in Mumbai is an accident of chance.
    No I don’t claim to have answers, but Arundhati Roy has a good point as she usualy does.

  4. I can’t imagine what would make anyone say that the characters of the slum dwellers were ‘unattractive.

    Mirror Mirror Ms Roy?
    Their situation certainly isn’t attractive or enviable (nor could be tolerable to most that know and think about it) but most humans are aware that nobody is either responsible for their bad living conditions or superior if they are more fortunate.

    How many Dalits have been able to access your book ‘The God of Small Things’ Ms Roy?
    PS: I do not mean that many will have been able to access the film either.

  5. i agree with what ms Roy has said. The movie is good in its own way however gives false hope to the downtdodden.

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