Before I watched David Boyle’s critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire, I heard a lot of positive and negative perspectives on certain aspects of the film, which is likely why it is so renowned. Most of the responses hailed the film as very informational and emotionally charged; as a movie set in India, American audiences feel like they gain a somewhat accurate depiction of what Indian culture is like through the main character and fictional Who wants to be a Millionaire winner, Ram Mohammad Thomas. On the other side of the spectrum, (namely an Indian acquaintance of mine) some despise the message of the film because of the way it exploits Indian culture in an Americanized way. Though both of these perspectives are quite basic on the surface, each hold their own bit of truth that have led me to my own perspective looking at the film through the lens of globalization and its effects on cultures throughout the world. David Boyle’s film “Slumdog Millionaire” is an example of how globalization and western thinking in terms of capital deteriorate cultures around the world. Globalization has created a homogenized culture that promises prosperity that is false and intangible to most of the world’s population and should be recognized as such in order to help stop the injustices committed by industrialized nations on traditional cultures.
The film is shot in India and uses primarily Indian actors, which puts American viewers into a rather foreign, yet seemingly familiar environment. This is important to note because depending on where one is from and what culture one belongs to, the message of the film is greatly impacted. One immediately noticeable aspect of the setting is the great amount of poverty exemplified by trash strewn all over the cities, the poor living conditions, and no plumbing or access to clean drinking water, among other sights most Americans are not used to seeing. On the other hand, many aspects of American culture have made their way into the Indian culture shown in the film through how the major Indian cities operate, the television programs that are watched, and the attention given to Bollywood celebrities, which reify American audience’s beliefs that the people of India are up to the American standards of living. As Lieber and Weisberg relate this phenomenon directly to globalization, one observer reports, “globalization promotes integration and the removal not only of cultural barriers but many of the negative dimensions of culture. Globalization is a vital step toward both a more stable world and better lives for the people within it" (274) This is a perspective that one believes many American audiences have come to conclude because the main character Ram is ultimately blessed and achieves the “American dream” by the end of the movie when he wins on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. This assumption arises because Ram’s rising up out of the slums with capital is viewed as something beneficial to the boy and the rest of the community. The problem with this that many fail to see is that America’s globalized economy is what causes countries like India to have such immense poverty. Social Theorist David Harvey touches on this issue in relation to cultural values across the globe, the “US [has a] fascination with home ownership, which is supposedly a deep cultural value” (Harvey) which aims to explain that cultural values are not and cannot be the same throughout the world without injustice.
Another scene where this issue is brought up is when a western man supposedly saves young Ram, Jamal and Latika from homelessness. At first the man is seen as a western savior and gives the children coca-colas, the soda being another aspect of globalization in which its main purpose is to attract consumers. Symbolically the children and conned into believing they want this lifestyle, but later find out the man’s malicious and greedy plans to make the children into stars for his own capital gain. As with the case when the boys are blinded to be presumably made into the Indian equivalent of Ray Charles, “The inroads made by American English have been growing with globalization and as a consequence of America's power and influence” (278). This scene is a key example of globalization in India because American culture comes in the form of this Anglo man whose only mission is to exploit the children and essentially re-create his own culture on the other side of the world for profit. Harvey’s viewpoint agrees with this sentiment because he asserts that “capitalism never solves its crisis problems, it just moves its problems geographically” (Harvey). One can see the reason that the Indian people embrace certain aspects of American pop-culture is that it is indeed entertaining, but it also creates an Americanized standard of living which is made to seem like the ideal way to live. When one (especially Americans) sees so many people living in poverty, it comes as a shock that people can live in such conditions. What should be more alarming that is shown in the film is how the Indian people become fixated on wealth through the television game show, which in turn gives hope to people who will most likely always be impoverished. Americans have cultivated this attitude on striving for wealth in the name of the American dream, but that does not mean it should or can be achieved in every culture. What globalization creates is an illusion and promises of salvation that can never be met because it ultimately keeps the rich well-off, and the poor hoping not to be poor.
Not to digress too much, but the story’s basic moral is to value connection and relationships instead of money because capital gain will blind those into hurting others. In the case of the two brothers, Jamal repeatedly abandons Ram because he only cares about his own gain. As a naïve westerner who has never been to India and knows little about their history or current state, one is often led to believe the east is a mystical and spiritual place where people live harmoniously. On the contrary, the people of India strive to make a living by any means to stay alive; that includes begging in slums, or working in the city at some sort of communications corporation among other jobs which are directly connected and controlled by globalization. One student paper by Budiasih Nugroho points out how “the movie ignores the progress made in India over the past few years and how cities like Mumbai are becoming important players in the global economy” (5), but the global economy is definitely addressed in the film by the poverty that is created when the Indian people want to replicate the western standard. The scene when Jamal and Ram are resealing water bottles filled with tap water is an example of how other countries do not have the means to have certain services (recycling in this case), because they simply do not have the resources or the same standards of living. It’s noted that “the United States, with less than 5% of the world's population, accounts for at least one fourth of its economic activity,” (Lieber 276) which shows the imbalance capital creates. A scene that is quite funny that shows this imbalance is when an American couple’s Mercedes Benz is completely jacked because of “the real India”. It’s ironic to this theme of globalization because the man asks, “you’ve got insurance don’t you?” and the woman gives Ram “a bit of the real America” with a handful of money. This shows how naïve the western world is when it comes to solving real problems because it is believed that one can throw money at something at it will immediately become resolved.
Overall, globalization is an ever-growing network that aims to connect cultures, but it ultimately creates a new homogenized one. That is to say that the predominant culture overtakes and imposes itself on other cultures, which often times creates a new set of values and way of life in those parts of the world. One can see this process throughout David Boyle’s film Slumdog Millionaire by the way American pop-culture and politics cross into India and make their mark to stay. As the American way tends to move its problems around the globe to keep up a standard of living, at what point will a major shift occur that is not predominantly westernized? While globalization does offer the opportunity for cultures to cross boundaries and create a better informed world, these efforts are mostly western ideas and ultimately impose western ideals and culture that deteriorate and lessen the value of other worldly cultures. This process is only going to grow exponentially more which leads one to wonder, is there really a solution to this, or is this the future that western innovation always hoped for?
Harvey, David. "RSA Animate - Crises of Capitalism." YouTube. 28 June 2010. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.
Lieber, Robert J., and Ruth E. Weisberg. "Globalization, Culture, and Identities in Crisis." International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 16.2 (2002): 273-94. JSTOR. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.
Nugroho, Budiasih W. "Globalization of Pop Culture in Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire Movie (2008) : Sociological Approach." UMS ETD-db Repository - UMS ETD-db. 10 Aug. 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.