Archive for February, 2009


Slumdog Millionaire


Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire



Ultimately, Slumdog Millionaire is a depressing movie. The movie took too much pains to remind us that in the end of it all, the whole story is a fantasy, while juxtaposing that fantasy against the grim reality of Third World poverty and moral corruption.

The element of fantasy and escapism is evident in the entire movie, which is something of a cross between Oliver Twist and the Ramayana — Jamal himself is a character we can only dream of; a man untainted by the sin of the world even as he is part of the very harshest of the world, and who is far too honest for his own good despite proving that he steals and lies to get by. But when Latika tells the curious Jamal the reason why people are transfixed on the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? she is really telling the audience that they, like the many people tuning in to watch the game show, are watching an escapist fantasy.

That the cinema is the escapist fantasy of the poor in India is an old concept, well familiar to anyone familiar with the three-hour movies of Bollywood — a film genre that combines ancient Indian storytelling with the silver screen, complete with highly lyrical songs about love and loss — but Bollywood films have always successfully shielded the immense sense of poverty in India (Tamil movies, on the other hand, generally do not do so). Slumdog Millionaire, on the other hand, juxtaposes the fantasy of a naive, untainted hero who finds himself in a rags-to-rajah destiny with the harsh reality of slum children in India (and later, the underworld that they find themselves in). The movie uncomfortably jostles between the extent of that reality and the mythic quality of Jamal’s story, and at the end of the movie, this conflict is unresolved.

Yes, Jamal gets his millions, and Jamal gets the girl. But what else is for them in the future? Can Jamal wisely invest those millions in something that can sustain Latika and himself? Will he not be a walking target for villains and thugs, some of whom he has made enemies with? And will that same underworld that has kept Latika for so long surrender her so easily? His brother Salim, the only person who might be able to offer protection from the underworld, having been part of it himself, is dead.

The movie does not resolve these questions. Instead, it ends with a tribute to Bollywood culture — in a song and dance routine — telling us that in spite of all things, and in spite of the likelihood that Jamal and Latika will never escape the reality of life that clutches them, they will have a happily-ever-after ending, simply because this is the movies, and if the movies cannot provide escapism for us — no matter how improbable and impossible the situation is — then what is the movies anyway?

Well, the movies are not reality. Slumdog Millionaire may well turn out to be a masterpiece in cinematic storytelling, but as for whatever hope, or awareness, that it might provoke, the movie is bleak.


No wonder I am a Christian.

When I consider all of the other things that tug at my sense of identity — things such as nationality, ethnicity, and demands to loyalty of either; the politics and policies of language and that uncomfortable interaction with the rest of the world — then I think to myself: no wonder I am a Christian. For Christianity, far more powerful than being Malaysian, or Bumiputra, or second-class Bumiputra, or East Malaysian, or half-Chinese, or Anglophile, or Japanophile, or whatever one can think of; and being Christian means being an inheritor or another history, another past, and one that I can choose — and, because of eschatology, another destiny, too.


Why religious wars happen.

The incident at Gaza has taught me one thing: when people see ‘one of theirs’ dying at the hands of ‘one of others’, it strikes a herd mentality in the minds of even the brightest and the best, and people will rush to defend their own or demand justice from the ‘others’ that have caused the grievance. As Erdogan and Peres slam each other on the international sphere and Anwar Ibrahim, our de facto national leader for the Opposition Front, cheers Erdogan on in his blog, what becomes evident is that even the brightest of the godly is not exempt from rushing to war at the (perceived) call of God. The difference is only in whether one opts a weapon of missiles or a weapon of words. A jihad, after all, has three levels: the second is a jihad of words (dakwah) and it is only the third and final jihad that is one of weapons.

Although the basis of some of this battling may be found in each religion’s respective Scripture, the reason for this is actually easier, simpler, and thus deadlier than anything that can be found in Scripture. Religions offer an identity that transcends all other forms of identification an individual may associate himself or herself to. It is the identification that is easiest to slip in, and psychologically the hardest to slip out of. Whereas one cannot choose one’s ethnicity and has little choice in choosing one’s nationality, one chooses the beliefs that one holds on to, and if it is a well-institutionalized one such as the Big Three, one is also opting to enter an international, border-crossing sense of identification. It is no coincidence that both Christianity and Islam already identified this border-crossing sense of unity among believers in the language of their respective faiths; in Christianity all believers are part of the ‘body of Christ’ — united despite differences — whereas in Islam all believers are part of the ummah. This (the sense of identification, not the fact that these religions recognize it) means that religious identification is perhaps the most powerful force of identification that can be conceived by the human imagination.

It is within the eschatologies of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — beliefs that blend and siphon off each other, and sometimes setting each other at odds with one another — that the location of Israel and Palestine will play a major role in the end of the world. You do not need prophets to tell you this sort of thing, of course. The location is the point of identification of three major religions and has been, for centuries, the point of contention for all three. Anything that happens there will lead to a domino effect around the world, as Jews, Christians and Muslims begin to define themselves first and foremost as Jews, Christians and Muslims instead of anything else that they are. And they will fight — not by order of their religion (though some of it exists) — but simply because they see that ‘you, outsider, have hurt someone of my own’.


Kata Karcy is part of an experiment to write consistently in two separate blogs -- one as a public diary, and one as a public soapbox -- for two months. By the end of the two months, if things go well, I will purchase my own webspace and set up my own personal hub, of which the two blogs will be part of. To visit the public diary, check out Life in Progress.


February 2009