Rick McGinnis writes:
The confused and contradictory way we relate to the third world is highlighted in a scene where an American tourist couple’s car is stripped clean by a gang of urchins while Jamal and Salim take them on a tour, which prompts a policeman to casually put the boot to Jamal in front of the horrified tourists. When they intervene, putting themselves between the boy and the police and even giving him money in an attempt to deal with the situation “the American way,” they’re supposed to look like callow idiots, but what, precisely, is so comic about finding a cop kicking a child deplorable? The scene presents the strange spectacle of white liberals – you have to assume that’s the intended audience Hollywood markets itself to first and foremost with a film like Slumdog Millionaire – being encouraged to laugh at what, on balance, is probably the last sound instinct they have.
India might be overpopulated, but I fail to see how what goes on there is somehow exempt from the judgment of a rational, enlightened person concerned with basic humanity. Police brutality, mob violence, child labour, brutal and systemic tolerance of poverty – real poverty, and not the 5000 calorie version we see here – is criminal and awful, and we should be able to judge a society that’s defined by it, and allow ourselves to respect our discomfort when it’s used as colourful scene-setting, instead of downgrading it to the status of the merely quaint by aestheticizing it with words like “gaudy” and “sensory overload.”