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     Volume 8 Issue 59 | February 27, 2009 |

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Will You Be My (Slumdog) Valentine?

Faruk Hassan

A scene from Slumdog Millionaire.

So I bowed down to peer pressure and finally watched Slumdog Millionaire, on Valentine's Day (or should I use the more indigenised term Bhalobasha Dibosh instead) nonetheless. Like a good economist, I had already done my cost benefit analysis: If the movie was really as bad as I thought, I could always blame my date for the evening in cajoling me into watching something I clearly did not want (more on why later). Conversely, if the movie turned out to be passable, I could score extra brownie points by thanking her for giving me this opportunity to expand my horizons. So it was a win-win situation for me. What could go wrong?

I watched the movie in a small private screening somewhere in Banani where couples came in their (dads') Lexuses and BMWs. The small irony that the average attendee had never set foot inside a kacha bazaar, let alone a slum, did not escape me. Soon the room grew dark, couples started snuggling and the screen came alive. Soon we were in Mumbai, circa present time, in slum not so far away. On with the show.

Two hours later, the movie ended, the lights were back on again, and couples locked in loving embrace were busy disentangling and brushing the scattered popcorn off themselves. This latest feel good venture by a British film-maker had done exactly that: made all of us feel good. What an inspiring story, my date gushed. Even in utter poverty and misery, there is hope and solace. What we all need is a bit of good luck and plenty of love in our hearts. Being in the right place at the right time can do wonders for you, chirped my little Pollyanna. Wasn't I happy that I came to the movie after all?

I wasn't. In fact, I was downright morose about the whole movie. Here was a film whose mere essence screamed anti-meritocracy, whose protagonist becomes a millionaire not because of hard work, talent, or even due to our beloved desi love of connections, but simply because the most serendipitous of circumstances. So what you need to climb out of poverty is dumb luck? Wasn't this overt condescension at all insulting to my date? Didn't she want to scream out why the movie didn't do a better job at a realistic portrayal as to why slums exist in the first place and almost all slum dwellers will never have a full stomach, let alone be a millionaire?

My date was aghast. How could I rail against something so pure and so innocent? Didn't the boy get the girl in the end? Isn't the movie a vindication of how “true” love wins after all? And, more importantly, doesn't the end justify the means?

And then it struck me. I was watching the movie for all the wrong reasons. I was looking for an epiphany, a eureka moment which would translate back into something concrete, something that I could take back into my work or life and give it a semblance of a meaning, however illusory it may turn out to be. What I should have been doing was to look for an escape route out of my life, not a different pathway into it. Like my date, I should want to watch her favourite stars play the handsome, dashing (and let's not forget well fed) young men who flirt and cajole young women as they overcome all the trials and tribulations in their lives, and ultimately ride off into the sunset together. Like the lovers in the theatres today, I should have left hand in hand with my paramour humming together the tune of the soundtrack or reminiscing about the glint of love in the protagonists' eyes in their embrace of rediscovery. But no. I chose to be paralysed by the grit and sordidness, the desperation and hunger. I gave in to reality while I should have revelled in escapism.

My date pulled over in front of my house. Why was I such a cynic, she asked. Why must I always look for meanings and symbolism where none exist, choose the sordid over the shiny, and confuse a blockbuster with an “art” film? And, most importantly, why did I have to spoil Bhalabasha Dibosh with such a trifling and inconsequential argument? I had no answers for her as she slammed the door shut and I made my way home to celebrate another lonely Valentine's Day evening.


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