Slumdog Millionaire: Profiting off Poverty?

I guess some Indians are unhappy about the portrayal of India in the movie Slumdog Millionaire.  They think people in the west will see the film and associate India only with filth and poverty.

I saw the movie and didn’t think it was that good.  I think Mira Nair’s The Namesake was much better. They’re a lot of other “artsy” movies coming out of India that are just as good, but that many people in the west haven’t seen (& I’m not talking about those bollywood disaster movies where people are just dancing around tree’s in their saris and kutra’s) – I’m talking about small, independent movies where real acting takes place.

22 comments for “Slumdog Millionaire: Profiting off Poverty?

  1. Coldtusker
    April 1, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Mzeiya: The Namesake is a Hollywood production & geared towards the “Western” palate. The story could be for any immigrant community in the USA.

    The thing that pisses me off is that (some of) the Indians are hating on the film-makers while apparently Bollywood makes (mostly) song & dance movies that are pure fantasy!

    Heck, even Gandhi – now that is an epic – was made by an Englishman. Of course, some idiots complained it should have been made by an Indian. So Sir Richard Attenborough told ‘em… “I waited for 35 (or so) years but no Indian wanted to make a movie on Gandhi”

  2. mzeiya
    March 19, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    I watched this movie yesterday and honestly, I Love it, infact I’ll get a home dvd copy- actually blu ray…( but do i say..lol) no pun…

    ANYWAY, I don’t see why guys are complaining, this movie depicts the realities of india today with a historical context.

    near the end, we see how far mumbai / bombay has come from the early days. It touhes on india’s massive poverty which in all honesty is so similar to kenyas’, the call center industry which is partly responsible for the economic growth in the large cities such as mumbai and delhi, and the basic reality of life in a third world country.

    I watched the movie and loved it, especially how it was portarying the white tourists as patsy and easily taken advantage of, which is so common in kenya too.

    KE, I haven’t gotten a chance to watch the other movies u recommend like the namesake, maybe coz they are not as well distributed as slumdog

  3. MW
    March 4, 2009 at 3:28 am

    At the risk of sounding ignorant, I think the difference between Kenya & SA/Singapore is the difference between malignant and benevolent dictatorship.

    Back to the issue at the stake. I actually enjoyed ‘Slumdog’. I think it wouldn’t be getting all the hatin if an Indian made it. And I think it ‘humanized’ the subcontinent by depicting heroes & villains, extremes & everyday life, slums & rich suburbs. And the best part – no jungu hero saving the world! All in all a very satisfying movie.

    As for local productions, I concur with Noni. Some good stuff going on, for those who care to look.

  4. coldtusker
    February 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    noni: Nigeria has oil… and lots of it. Angola has oil & diamonds. Singapore has no oil, no diamonds, no minerals. Mineral wealth does not a country make.

    S. Africa has a much higher standard of living than Kenya. Their poorest do not die of (widespread) hunger. IMHO, parts of SA (yes, in the cities) are comparable to the best of Europe. Sandton was very impressive except for the high walls & barbed wire but that is common in Kenya.

    Erm, do you know what “to rave” means?

  5. Future Director
    February 27, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Noni, you have spoken like 24 gentlemen. Well done.

    @ KE are you good at writing scripts? I was thinking of getting into the local movie business myelf.

  6. noni
    February 27, 2009 at 3:10 am

    @ at Kenyan movie haters

    We have to start from somewhere (I did like Malooned even though the sound and picture quality left a lot to be desired). I also dislike Nigerian movies but it provide employment and a lot of revenue.

    By the way for you guys who are not in Kenya right now, there is alot of Kenyan production going on for TV and is preferred than foreign series. People buy american series off the streets and by the time they hit the airwaves most guys have watched them already. So the best for TV is kenyan production which is gaining popularity and fans. We have good shows like Tahidi High, Mother In Law, Wash & Set, Papa Shirandula, Waridi, Churchill Live(Talk show) and many more others showing on local free to air stations during prime hours. There are also several others being aired at Pay TV(DSTV) on MNET and Africa Magic. Like there is police drama a.l.a Kenyan version of C.S.I which is I hear is good being aired on MNET though i haven’t gotten a change to watch it.

    So please not just rant & rave about everything. Criticism is okay but positive criticism is better.

  7. noni
    February 27, 2009 at 2:56 am


    Ofcourse SA is like 20 years ahead of Kenya, but what do we say they are blessed with multiple minerals while we have none. Anyway the inequality there is too extreme comparing the white minority and the blacks. That country may explode any moment its just a matter of time. Another thing we have advantage of them is human capital is much better than theirs. Our people are hardworking and ambitious, the only problem is poor governance that we are grappling with.

  8. kenyanentrepreneur
    February 26, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Maishinski: Yes, watching “Malooned” is torture to some people. But at least it’s a start…
    Can you do better?:-)

    That’s an interesting question. i’ve always wanted to write a script for a movie and maybe i should look into it and apply for a grant and see if I could do it.

    Don’t they say all good movies begin with a script? That’s why so many movies are based on books. You need the writers to tell the story and then the director just brings the story to life through camera’s.

    malooned bombed because there was no script; there was no story and maybe this is the problem with Kenyan cinema: the country doesn’t nurture it’s writers.

    Slumdog was based on a book written by an indian author, as was the namesake, which was written by Jhumpa lahiri and there’s another Indian movie coming out called Shantaram, also based on a book.

    It all begins with the writing.

  9. coldtusker
    February 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Noni: For all the problems in S.Africa, I found SA to be far more prosperous than Kenya. As for the Alexandria. Nope… I was on a biz trip with some touristy stuff.

    I did do the Soweto – see Madiba’s house thing…

    On the other hand… is there an African city that can compare to Cape Town?
    And Sun City was impressive…

    Nairobi looks (& feels) like a slum compared to Cape Town. That said… my driver told me that Jo-burg (downtown) is a no-go area after 6pm!!!

    Maishinski: Yes, I can. I would rather make a movie of paint drying!!!

    Noni: Have you ever been to NE Kenya? That is real poverty.

  10. Maishinski
    February 26, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Yes, watching “Malooned” is torture to some people. But at least it’s a start…

    Can you do better?


  11. noni
    February 26, 2009 at 7:10 am

    By the way the inequality in SA is far more tragic than Kenyas. If you went there you will just weep and appreciate Kenya more.

  12. noni
    February 26, 2009 at 7:09 am

    @ coldtusker

    Ati SA does not have slums that look like kibera. Forget the side of soweto with low middle class looking houses. There are the bad parts. What about alexandria in jo’berg, do you know how it looks. Have you watched the SA movie ‘TsoTsi’ that even won an award. It shows ‘mabati houses, mud and watlle houses’, yes just like kibera. Sometimes I get suprised by how people pretend to be informed.

  13. Kei O
    February 26, 2009 at 4:11 am


    Incidentally, not all Nigerian movies are about Juju, although many have Juju elements. I think this is why they are so popular because Juju resonates in Africa and its diaspora.

    As a matter of fact, I am really tempted to visit Benin for the VODOO festival held every January!

    There are now 4 Nigerian Movie channels here in the UK on Sky TV. The variety is great. There are some great story lines and others are just horrid. I even managed to watch Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” the other day! It was great.

    I also recently watched a movie about the spoilt son of a powerful politician who could do anything to get his way. He even had a rival infected with HIV just because he wanted to get the man’s girl. It was a gripping story. Great dialogue, props, set – and no Juju!

    These Nigerians are really improving.

  14. Coldtusker
    February 25, 2009 at 7:01 pm


    The complaints/explanations you have given are based on ‘Hollywood Depictions’ of India’s slums. If you want the other side then watch the ‘Incredible India’ ads on CNN. The movie is SLUMdog millionaire not AMBANIgrove billionaire.

    kwani, you guys think the USA is as shown in Hollywood movies? For those who live in LA or NYC or Chicago or Miami, how often have you seen shoot-outs in the streets? How often do you see car chases & exploding cars?

    Hollywood makes movies for entertainment – as does Bollywood – and if you think it is much more than that… ROFLOL… Or watching TV shows. One thing about American TV shows (comedies, dramas, police shows, etc)… the protagonist chics are (mostly) good looking. And that is a gross mis-representation!

    My local cop station/hospital did not have cops/detectives/docs who looked like Eva LaRue & Emily Procter (CSI Miami), Jill Hennessey (Crossing Jordan + Law & Order), Maura Tierney, Ming Na & Madchen Amick (ER), etc.

    As KeiO said, where are the Kenyan film-makers? There was a great show on TV called “The Big Cats” (or something like that)… awesome… but it was the BBC that made it!!!

    And please… if any non-Nigerian made the Nigerian shows about juju & all that jazz, they would be run out of town!

    India does produce its own movies – heck, according to Wikipedia… Bollywood produces more movies than Hollywood & I am sure these don’t show all the ‘positives’ about India. And I do not mean the song & dance routines.

    Watching malooned was sheer torture. Worse than abu ghraib. And please don’t get me started on the unimaginative Cobra Squad. At least (original) Vitimbi was original even with the poor camera work. It was funny & a must-see for my family.

    Erm, acting in movies is VOLUNTARY & you are paid. Unless the kibera residents contributed financially to the movie, why should they expect anything? At least they got toilets out of it. Beats getting nothing!

    I am glad The Constant Gardener was made in Kenya & not in S.Africa (well… Joburg does not have slums like Kenya. And Soweto is NOT a slum by Kenyan standards!). Kenyans got jobs. Kenya made some revenue. And the gorgeous Rachel Weisz came to my city… :grin:

    AND there were gorgeous scenes of Hell’s Gate & some god-forsaken part of northern Kenya that most Kenyans would have NEVER seen if not for the movie!

  15. kenyanentrepreneur
    February 25, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    Did you hear what the woman in the video said?

    1 out of 2 indians (which is a lot of people) defecate on the streets! Why can’t they build public toiles? afterall, they could build a nuclear bomb?

    It just got me thinking about why so many third world countries are so filthy? because if you think about what is required to keep a place clean, it’s not rocket science. It’s really just a combination of water, sewage and an organized garbage collection system.

  16. kenyanentrepreneur
    February 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    You should watch the clips first because the panelists are making very good comments and are saying that the movie did depict the poverty that does in fact exist in India.

    I can see why the indians are a little mad about the movie, but I also understand the western stereotypes. When it comes to india, people want to see slums, temples and snake charmers.

    When it comes to kenya, they want to see animals in the mara, maasai’s with ear lopes half-cut and children with flies on their faces.

    Showing them java house where you can get a cappucinno and where you’ll see young, urban kenyans with their laptops and BMW’s, would destroy their fantasy of an untouched Africa.

    Anyway, I understand tours to the slum shown in that movie are going to increase. Mzungu’s are fascinated by poverty and I don’t get it.

    **Speaking of kenyan movies, has anyone seen the movie Malooned? I watched it a friends house one night and after five minutes, I pleaded with them to turn it off (because it was horrid) – but they were all feeling soooo patriotic and insisted on watching it to the end. So, I was forced to endure 2 hours of mind-numbing pain while I struggled to watch that movie.

    Those nigerian movies are even worse. Why do people like them?

  17. Kei O
    February 25, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Question is:

    Where are the Kenyan story tellers?

    Where are the Kenyan movie makers?

    Surely they can try – even if it is on camcorders?

    Look at how the Nigerians have made great strides. I watch alot of their movies and the stories are compelling.

    It is high time that Kenyans learnt to tell their own story – create their own heroes.

    I was amused the other day when a friend of mine told, over some drinks, that his greatest ambition when he was younger was to “TOM CRUISE”. And he was really serious about it.

    What a laugh!

  18. kenyanreality
    February 25, 2009 at 5:43 am

    I am yet to watch slumdog millionaire but my reaction to ‘constant gardner’ was that the film makers did take advantage of the poverty in kibera to ‘shock’ the audience. This to me was a very cheap shot. I believe film makers can be more creative than that.

    I doubt they paid/compensated everyone who they have shown on these movies and all those whose houses, general living conditions and poverty they broadcasted all over world.

    In kibera I believe they built some toilets for the community or something like that. Now if you lived in kibera would this be enough?? For me it would not be enough; if you show me, my house or my kid in your movie kindly discuss terms with me first and pay me well for it – pesa tasilimu tafadhali.

    @KE – great topic

  19. bankelele
    February 25, 2009 at 3:42 am

    It’s rare to find a Hollywood movie about your own country you enjoy. Each time I watch one I go “that’s not true” “stereotype”, “Gratuitous animal Africa shot”etc.

  20. Maishinski
    February 25, 2009 at 1:08 am

    Cold Tusker,

    Money at what cost? Who benefits? Do the slum dwellers get any of the royalties? That’s a case of the rich exploiting the poor.

    Not forgetting that when you go abroad, people associate you with negative stereotypes – making it harder for you to do anything decent.

    A country is like a corporation. It must have a National Brand.

    Americans were perceived to be the best managers – the truth is, they weren’t. Look at what is happening to them… They were just good at BRANDING.

    Don’t sell out for the “small money”. There’s much more money in the bigger picture!

  21. Maishinski
    February 25, 2009 at 1:02 am

    I agree with the indians.

    The award was given in bad faith. How else to cheaply spread stereotype propaganda than to make a movie that achieves your objectives popular? What better time than when India’s global influence is becoming significant?

    There are far better Indian movies than that piece of trash.

    India should shrug off the movie and stop debating it so that it can be forgotten as quickly as possible.

  22. Coldtusker
    February 24, 2009 at 6:19 pm

    Idiots. We know there is poverty in India. Deal with it. I think it is a tiny minority upset at that picture. Let it be. Not showing poverty will not make it disappear.

    The constant gardener depicted kibera the slum. So what? It is a slum. And the film brought in much needed forex & jobs. Any Kenyan who complains about the movie depicting the slum can go take a flying shit.

    I think Slumdog will encourage other film-makers to explore India as a place to make movies on a budget. Indian IT & CGI will get a boost as will actors, carpenters, etc.

    I wish Kenya made it easier for film-makers. There is much to be gained. Did you know that ‘The Ghost & The Darkness’ was filmed in S.Africa?

    Wouldn’t it have been great if more films were shot in Kenya? The income, prestige, jobs, etc… and Kenyan film-makers could learn new techniques to make good pictures/shows.

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