India revels in acclaim for 'Slumdog Millionaire'
Some see hope for change as the film, with four Golden Globe awards and 10 Oscar nominations, spotlights the desperation of slum life.
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Some social workers and nongovernmental organizations hope that "Slumdog Millionaire" will do similar good for slum dwellers.Skip to next paragraph
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More than 60 percent of Mumbai's citizens are known to reside in slums. The most visible of them is Dharavi, a labyrinth that is home to more than 1 million people. A majority of them are migrants, and all of them – 17,000 stuffed into each acre – are scrambling for space in a sea of weathered iron shacks and mildewed tenements.
Cholera and other waterborne diseases are endemic in Dharavi. Sanitation facilities are scarce, with one toilet for every 1,500 people, according to the World Bank. Drinking water is in short supply; families of 15 share one water tap.
Many of Mumbai's elite view Dharavi as a blight that must be purged if the city, India's financial and entertainment capital, is to achieve stature as a world-class city. Local politicians have long dreamed of transforming Mumbai into "India's Shanghai."
Sheela Patel, the director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers, a nongovernmental organization that works with slumdwellers, is intrigued by the success of "Slumdog Millionaire," but skeptical that it will prompt lasting change.
"Having seen well-made films in poverty from Brazil and South Africa, I believe that like all events on the screen, the film will throw a spotlight on slum life and poverty," she says. "But such focus moves on as new events and news replace yesterday's focus."
The film has also spawned concerns the film, which starkly portrays India's epic poverty, will tarnish the international reputation of the country, well known in recent years for its torrid economic boom. Some critics have derisively labeled it as "poverty porn."
About two dozen slumdwellers on Thursday demonstrated outside the Mumbai home of Anil Kapoor, one of the film's stars, outraged by the insulting title of the movie.
The Times of India, however, called the film "a piece of riveting cinema," urging moviegoers to forget "the twitter about aggrieved national sentiment."
Jubilant about the Oscar nominations – a rarity for films dealing with India – the national daily called the film "a Cinderella-like fairy tale with the edge of a thriller and the vision of an artist."