Friday, February 20, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

This movie was, in a word, Incredible. I loved every minute of it. It's the type of movie where you know 10 minutes in that it will be one of your favorites of all time. It's already claiming a top 3 spot for me (along with Amelie and Almost Famous). The photo above is from my favorite scene--I haven't laughed that hard at a movie in years.

I was just reading a bit from an interview with the main actor, Dev Patel. Talking about visiting India, he says: "I remember reading the script, I remember thinking he might feel a bit sorry for himself. I had a preconceived notion of what a slum was. But being there, people don't feel sorry for themselves; they're just getting on with everyday life. And to them, they're not poor. They don't pity themselves. It's great; all you get is such an amazing sense of community. Everyone knows everyone, it's very heartwarming, and from them I knew that [his character, Jamal] was going to be a survivor, an optimist."

This is exactly how I felt while visiting India and Cambodia. People always ask me about how hard it must have been to see those "poor people" living that kind of life in slums. It makes me smile. It's all about perspective, right? If we, the privileged few, entered some crazy vortex and were living life in an Indian slum tomorrow, we'd be devastated. But they're not. It's just life. They don't know any different. And I have to tell you--there was an appeal about that life. Certainly not the living conditions, but maybe the lifestyle. You know me--I'm not exactly a fan of the pace of life we've driven ourselves to in this country. From my time in Cambodia, especially, I had the joy of experiencing a society of the most pleasant people--they were simply content. In fact, I never heard one child cry or whine at any point while I was there. It really stuck with me--the calm that prevails when you can be content with exactly what you have, right now, in this moment. It's good stuff.

Anyway, back to the point. Slumdog Millionaire is so good. Go see it. Soon.


Valerie said...

Interesting thoughts shared regarding the slums. And it is the resilience and ability to push through that inspires me regularly to work in the development sector here in Mumbai. But there is also a very dark side to it all. The sense of acceptance is amazing when we look at the ability to survive on and in almost sub-human conditions in many cases (recognizing that those slums are also in prime real estate areas and the slum dwellers have been offered up to 10M Rupees for their 10x10 plots - seriously!).

But the sense of acceptance is also very scary when we look at the degree of exploitation happening in the slums. From the blinding of a child so they earn more as a beggar, as depicted in the movie (which is a very real occurrence here) to the selling of the girls to the brothels to the basic pulling of children (esp girl children) from school to look after younger siblings because family planning practices are not widely used - that same sense of acceptance and ability to push on is perpetuating very scary situations. The stigmatization and exploitation (and related physical abuse) is very easily compared to the racial prejudices of past decades in the US. The black woman who got up in the morning in the 1940's and seemed to accept that there were places she was not allowed to go, that she may be exploited or abused because of her community, that violence in her part of town not regarded as a significant problem - all of this didn't mean she truly accepted it, only that there was little hope for significant change in her immediate future. And so it is for the slum dweller here. It is not a sense of contentment with life, but rather a feeling that "this is my fate, so why bother fighting it."

I absolutely agree that the question of "how do you deal with all those poor people" is not answerable in the way the typical questioner thinks. But after having spent time getting deeper into what is an amazingly multi-layered, complex and frankly diabolical social issue, I'm quick to respond to anything that minimizes the intensity of the problem, just because the problem is a bit different than our Western minds originally slot it (myself included for my first couple years here!).

Ah - it was nice to re-visit my soap box after so many years :-)

Cheers and lots of love,

brooke said...

Oh, I hear you, friend. And how I miss you and your soapbox! Trust me, the movie brought back many memories and feelings of frustration about how bad things can also be there. Especially about the expoitation of children. I remembered the teenage girls in Bangkok walking arm in arm with middle-aged white men just outside the red light district. I remembered the young beggar in India dragging himself on elbows and knees because no limbs existed beyond. I remember wondering how he got that way--and if it really was a medical issue, or something much worse. And I remember the naked kids in Cambodia, so young that they were more skilled at begging than walking.

Raf and I even had a conversation just after the movie ended about how we needed to ask you how we might be able to support the work that you, or others, are doing with the street kids (even with our humble donations). My head was definitely there.

Then, a couple days later when I went to blog about the movie, I read that quote from Dev. And it reminded me about the joy that I also experienced, in the most unexpected places. I'll never forget the boy in Cambodia perfectly content dragging his "boat" on a string behind him (a used water bottle). That memory and that quote reminded me of my current pursuit, my own soapbox--that it doesn't matter where we're from or the things or status that we do or don't have--we can be content, happy even, with what we DO have. Right now. There is so much joy to be found in the simple details of life. I want to focus on that. I need to focus on that. I know that I can't ignore the horrible things that happen in this world--I can't close my eyes, or be naive, but I need to spend my time and energy focusing on the good. I know you can understand how I feel--you deal with much more traumatizing content on a daily basis than I do. But I'm surrounded by cancer, literally, all day, every day. And I live in a culture focused primarily on things and the quest for more, better and faster.

For my own well-being, to keep myself focused on the kind of life I want to create for myself, I have to remember that kid in Cambodia. I have to focus on that.

Love and miss you like crazy!