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Slumdog Subtext > Letters

Web Letter

I am a 67-year-old ex-Indian. In 1946, when I was 4 years old, my paternal uncles, aunts and their families were massacred in cold blood, forty-eight in number in three small towns in Bihar: Telhara, Karai Perserai and Salarpur! The total death toll ran into thousands. In 1964 I personally escaped being thrown alive into an industrial furnace in the industrial city of Jamshedpur, the HQ of Tata Steel and other other heavy industries. On the same day the massacres started, similar massacres were conducted by Hindu "terrorists" in two other major industrial cities; Rourkela and Bhilai both in North East India like Jamshedpur! In 1964 the Kashmir "intifada" was two decades ahead. Osama bin Laden was in a primary school. It was 1965 when India "invaded" West Pakistan (now the only Pakistan remaining after India helped East Pakistan secede after another invasion by India). In 1964 the Kashmir cease-fire line was "quiet" in every sense of the word. Why then forced boiler crematoriums for the living? Because it was only in industrial cities like Jamshedpur an educated Indian Muslim like me could land a job on merit, like I had done.

In 1964, right after being saved by a Sikh colleague, I crossed the border into East Pakistan where I was welcomed as an unwanted refugee, but that's another story.

In 1965 I flew to Saudi Arabia after accepting the first overseas job I could land, and it here that I have lived, worked, married locally and raised kids who are now lecturers in Jeddah University.

Had the Hindu "terrorists" who are now being courted by the US allowed me to continue living and enjoying my "human, civil and citizen rights" in India, I wouldn't be sharing any "past hell" with you all!

Hindu "terrorism" is very much alive and getting healthier and stronger with every passing day.

syed salamah ali mahdi

Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Feb 26 2009 - 1:36pm

Web Letter

After the Oscars, I suspect I am one of the four people in the US who did not like this movie, what it implied, what it represented and the manner in which it did it. It was too inconsistently fluffy, and I doubt most people ever picked up on the sub-text about the Muslim-Hindu conflict. While some imagery was overdone, much of it was under-played. This movie missed a great opportunity to expose and explain how coarse life is in India, and instead gave us a goofy love story, with a totally improbable YouTube dance sequence on an abandoned train platform that obliterated any substantive message that might have been conveyed. America and Hollywood fell for it, hook, line and stinker.

Ivan Hentschel

Austin, TX

Feb 26 2009 - 1:29pm

Web Letter

I would agree with the author's (inferred) condemnation of the movie for its religious malevolence, if it was a forced, untrue story.

Truth is more important than hurt feelings.

We all know India went through a partition of epic proportions and that it was not Gandhi's plan to gain independence so divisively. We know that thugs can appear from both sides. So in a religiously blind world, we could make the heroes of the movie Hindi, subject to Moslem violence or vice versa. No matter. The fact is, it could have been this way.

What is the point of pointing out that Hindus are offended? If this is the raison d'être of the condemnation, I can't see the purpose. Better to point to other, easily rentable movies wherein the protagonists, and the whole story, are of Hindi culture and religious roots. I suggest Salaam Bombay, for one. This movie is about a boy, sold to a traveling circus, as I remember and left behind by accident. How he survives in what is now called Mumbai is incredible--much more gritty and realistic than Slumdog (which I viewed as a charming and romantic mythology.)

Fiction is not always based upon documentable accuracy. The questions themselves were too simple for the show. Any college-educated American could have gotten them all.

A good example of excoriating Hindu racism, sexism, and blatant cruelty can be found in the movie The Bandit Queen. Let them feel that one, which is a true story, BTW.

City of Hope is another--hope I have the name correct--it stars John Swayze, star of Dirty Dancing, as a young doctor in India. Then one might go way back and see the 1960s Italian documentary Mondo Cane or "Dog's World." That one is probably the first ever filmed of the mutilation of captive children for income as beggars.

Another letter here below mentioned the corruptive influence of money as a theme. I agree. And we could also begin to seriously investigate the worldwide abuse of children on every continent. Much of it is about money. Examples in film abound--Rabbit Proof Fence jumps to mind. Dickensian cruelties are commonplace. The fear in growing up homeless and unloved must be traumatizing--it's amazing we do so little to prevent it. These slums are the incubation places of terror and gangsterism.

See the Brazilian movie, City of God. See Grand Central. None of these have anything to do with religious prejudice...only children.

So, I'm sorry, Ms. Author, about someone's hurt feelings, I have to ask you, so what? What about the kids who don't win the lottery?

J. R. Hammond

San Francisco, CA

Feb 26 2009 - 12:19am

Web Letter

I must be naïve. Of course, I was sensitive to the religious context of this film, due to my limited knowledge of recent violence between Hindus and Muslims in India. But what literally took my breath away in the film was the omnipresence of money as a corrupting force in human life. At every twist in this story, money is there: At the very beginning when the hero's priceless autographed picture of a famous movie star is auctioned off by his already venal older brother. When the children are intentionally blinded in order to make them more "attractive" as beggars. The examples are innumerable. And if the film caught my imagination, it was largely due to its hero's refusal to be sucked into such corruption. His insolent contempt for the outrageous sums he is chalking up on a tawdry game show. His affirmation that he wanted to appear on the show because he knew that his beloved would be watching. Not for the megabucks. Not for the hour of glory either. And his brother's death in a bathtub filled with dollars, another indictment of filthy lucre. No, I don't really think that the Muslim/Hindu slant is particularly important in a film with such universal intent.

Debra Mervant

Grenoble, France

Feb 25 2009 - 4:27pm

Web Letter

Well, Ms. Crossette seems to have missed a great deal while watching the movie. Or probably she conveniently missed it to further her own myopic views.

True that Mr. Jamal Malik, the protagonist in the movie, is a victim of Hindu persecution and violence. But on the other hand, the Hindu Latika is also a victim of Muslim persecution and violence. Latika's parents are killed by Muslims during the riots; she gets raped by Salim, a Muslim gangster and brother of Jamal. She becomes a sex worker and mistress of the Muslim crime lord Javed.

The reality of India is that both Hindus and Muslims are victims of fundamentalists. The Hindu extremists and the Muslim extremists persecute each others' communities for their own vested interests.

I think the movie was trying to emphasize a different point altogether. The message of the movie was struggle, righteousness, peace, education, optimism, truth and strength. Sorry to know that Ms. Crossette watched the movie through all the wrong prisms.

Aarti Singh

New York , NY

Feb 25 2009 - 1:02pm

Web Letter

Is Ms. Crossette aware that the central character in the novel Q and A (on which Slumdog is based) is named Raj Mohammed Thomas? Despite the West's obsession with identity politics and revulsion at the caste system, religion/caste and identity have had a fluid nature in India--a point Vikas Kashyap, the author of Q and A, emphasized in naming the protagonist.

The primary reason for the backwardness of Muslims in India and indeed the world is their desire to shield and protect their women, thereby depriving them of opportunity. To read absurd subtexts can only be accomplished by an elite journalist who during her tenure in India predicted the coming disintegration of India with a confidence matched only by her colleague Judith Miller's on the presence of WMDs in Iraq.

Sumant Rawat

Pueblo , CO

Feb 24 2009 - 7:18pm

Web Letter

Finally someone has notice and written about the pro-Muslim subtext of the film! The subtext is that Muslims in India are the victims of Hindus. This fits very well into the standard pro-Muslim line that Muslims are always victims--of Hindus, of Christians, of "colonialists," of Jews, you name it. Muslims are always victims.

Unfortunately, neither the author, Barbara Crosette, nor anyone else will tell you that Muslims slaughtered literally millions of Hindus when they invaded and conquered India centuries ago. The Hindus have a lot of pent up grievances against the Muslims in India--which, of course, does not justify the anti-Muslim pogrom portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire.

Abdul Ameer

Chicago, IL

Feb 24 2009 - 2:22pm