Slumdog Millionaire was made about the people of Mumbai’s teeming slums, but it was not made for them.
In the squalid shantytowns of Nehru Nagar, where parts of the Oscar-nominated film were shot, there was little of the excitement that has swept India since the low budget film emerged from obscurity to win four Golden Globes and 10 Oscar nominations.
Many of the slum’s residents greeted Friday’s India release of the movie with indifference. Most had never heard of the Academy Awards, and the neighborhood Hindi-language theater had no plans to screen the Hindi version of the film, Slumdog Crorepati.
“We don’t even talk about it,” said Shabana Shaikh, 39, who lives in Nehru Nagar — a warren of small houses and shops built of brick, corrugated metal, cement and tarpaulins in northern Mumbai.
Shot on a modest US$14 million budget, Slumdog Millionaire tells the alternately heartwarming and horrific tale of Jamal Malik, a street orphan in Mumbai whose pursuit of love carries him to triumph on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle with visceral cinematography and fluid edits, the film draws the viewer into the squalor but ends with unexpected hope.
Slumdog’s rattling iron roofs and sick-sweet sewers, its pickup cricket games, clucking chickens and dirty teal barbershops are all here in Nehru Nagar. There are impish boys, the constant buzz of commerce, sleeping dogs, one-eyed cats, and, up high, endless lines of tired laundry.
In real life, however, things are slower and hotter, the streets are more broken and the smells — of dirt, defecation, death — are stronger.
For the residents of Nehru Nagar, such stuff is not cinematic, it is home.
And most of them rarely go to movies.
The price of a ticket, which ranges from 60 rupees to 120 rupees (US$1.22 to US$2.44) at theaters near Nehru Nagar, is too steep.
“Will you give us tickets?” said Regina Munshi, a mother of three whose husband makes about US$3 a day as a driver. “On that money, you can’t take five people to the movies.”
When they do go, they prefer the Bollywood staples of rich guys, gangsters and big song-and-dance numbers, not the grim reality of their daily lives.
The few who are drawn to the film say it is only because they love the music of composer A.R. Rahman, who was nominated for three Oscars, and because they are fans of the movie’s two Indian stars, Irrfan Khan and Anil Kapoor.
Or, they had personal reasons.
Rafik Shaikh, a 37-year-old bus driver, said the filmmakers shot a scene in his home. He doesn’t know much about the Oscars, but he’s keen to see it.
He said he hopes to catch sight of the family dog, which died a few months after filming.
He said he was proud to show off his single room, with its chipping lime walls, neat folded blankets and rows of stainless steel pots that his bride brought as a dowry.
“I was more than happy to show off the reality here,” said Shaikh, sitting on his narrow bed with his daughters, two round-faced girls with braids. “I was happy my house would be seen.”
Bootleg DVD’s of Slumdog, which have been selling fast in more prosperous areas, have not made their way through Nehru Nagar’s tightly packed lanes of single-room homes and fly-covered garbage dumps.
Still, many are familiar with the broad outlines of Slumdog Millionaire: A child of their own streets makes it big. And this is a theme they can embrace, particularly the kids that run barefoot down small, sun-flecked alleys.