There’s an episode of the American television show Seinfeld where Elaine has to hide from everyone the fact that she hated the Academy Award winning movie The English Patient. You can watch a clip from this episode here.
For me, its been the same scenario since I walked out of Slumdog Millionaire several years ago. People (and especially students) always ask me what I think about it because in the early nineties I lived and worked in India and have spent much of my adult life teaching and loving all stories Indian, whether realist or fantastical, tabloid or literary, Indian made or not. But I hated Slumdog Millionaire.
I hated it for its relentless and gratuitous violence; for portraying the poverty of Mumbai like some exotic side show oddity, like the photographs American soldiers took of the abuse of Muslim prisoners in the Abu Gharib Prison; for completely obscuring the teller behind the story (a white guy based in London); for all the endless story about the hard and ugly lives of its real life slumdog stars and their one week respite in Hollywood and in Disneyland (where photographs of Slumdog’s adorable street urchins, all dressed up in Kid Gap and gazing at the singing puppets of the It’s a Small World ride at Disney World, were published practically everywhere).
So to everyone who asks me: No, I didn’t see Slumdog Millionaire and for what its worth, if you want to know how tough going it is for some children in India, I suggest watching Zana Brinski’s Born Into Brothels. Because, as filmmaker Trihn T. Mihn-Ha might say, more important than who or what a story is, is making clear where, when and how its from (what I call the ethnographic back-story), Brothels makes it clear:
End Note: Like “Seinfeld’s” Elaine, I also hated the movie version of “The English Patient,” except for the scenes that had Kip (played by a rope-y haired Naveen Andrews) in them. See Naveen, with actress Juliette Binoche in the movie still above.
End Note 2: For an excellent article about how the Abu Gharib Prison photographs can be read as “tourist snapshots,” click here. It was written by the art critic, (or, what we would call in our disciplinary circles, visual sociologist), Sarah Boxer.