Cinematography has ceased being a kind of art focusing on purely entertainment purposes and is becoming more and more useful in representing significant issues that affect people’s lives. Boyle’s (2009) movie, Slumdog Millionaire, is one of many successful attempts to depict the conditions in which people who are below the poverty level live. The representation of the lack of acceptable living conditions in the film is truthful, which may be traced in statistics and academic research. Hence, it is viable to note that Slumdog Millionaire offers a realistic portrayal of the urbanization and poverty concepts in Mumbai, India.
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The movie characterizes Mumbai as divided into two greater parts: the one where wealthy people live and the one where those striving for survival reside. This is a truthful depiction since Mumbai is considered to be broken down into such sectors by specialists in demographics and visitors. As Peterson (2018) remarks, Mumbai has the potential to both fascinate and disappoint its visitors due to being unofficially segregated. As per the latest census, Mumbai, which is the fourth-most densely populated city in the world, has nearly 20 million inhabitants (“Mumbai population 2019,” 2019). The population density is rather high, equaling approximately 73,000 people per square mile, which indicates that Mumbai is one of the most heavily populated cities in the whole world (“Mumbai population 2019,” 2019). Slumdog Millionaire pays particular attention to the slum part of Mumbai, depicting it as a place with unbearable living and working conditions. According to statistics, these claims are true: as many as 41.3% (about 9 million) of Mumbai citizens reside in the poor part (“Mumbai population 2019,” 2019). These numbers are alarming since they indicate that too many people live below the poverty level.
Apart from bringing up the issue of poverty, Slumdog Millionaire depicts another crucial urban geographical problem: that of urbanization. These two features are closely interrelated since the increasing number of people moving to the city of Mumbai leads to the growing rate of poverty among them. Compared to the rest of the country, the percentage of people living in slums in Mumbai is much higher: 41.3% in the city versus 9% overall (“Mumbai population 2019,” 2019). Slumdog Millionaire portrays the largest slum of Mumbai, Dharavi, which is also the second-largest in Asia. While population density in Mumbai is already impressively high, it is astonishing in Dharavi. About a million people living on the territory of 535 acres leads to the density of 869,565 citizens per square mile (“Mumbai population 2019,” 2019). The level of literacy in this area is rather low, equaling 69%. Therefore, the depiction of the unfair treatment of a boy who answers the questions of a popular TV show in Slumdog Millionaire is correct. It is hard to believe that a boy from slums, where conditions for receiving a proper education are too scarce, should know how to reply to some of the most complicated inquiries.
Research indicates that slums pose a serious threat to urban planning. Furthermore, as Patel, Koizumi, and Crooks (2014) note, there are discrepancies between the measurements of Mumbai slums as performed by the UN-Habitat and the Census of India. Hence, scholars have come up with a Slum Severity Index (SSI), with the help of which they have measured slum severity in Mumbai. Patel et al. (2014) remark that the difference in measurements comes from the peculiarities of definitions. While the UN-Habitat views slums from the point of a household as the analysis unit, the Census of India identifies them at the neighborhood scale. Under the premises of both definitions, the situation portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire is realistic. Particularly, one of the issues mentioned in the Census of India’s description is a minimum of 300 people or nearly 60-70 households, which is far exceeded by Mumbai slums. Also, both definitions involve the problem of drinking water and sanitary facilities access (Patel et al., 2014). Judging from these aspects of definitions, it is viable to conclude that the film gives a realistic picture of life in slums.
The portrayal of slums in the film corresponds to the suggested explanations. One of the initial scenes is that of a public toilet almost in the middle of the street, with no water and long lines of people waiting for their turn. Other aspects of slums that are singled out in Patel et al.’s (2014) research involve inadequate space, the lack of the legal right to house ownership, and the insufficient durability of the house structure. All of these issues are depicted in the film, which makes it a true-to-life representation of slum life.
The lack of access to water as one of the major challenges in slums is given attention in another research study. Subbaraman and Murthy (2015) focus on the problem of water access in Mumbai. Scholars note that the initial obstacles to meeting the need for water in Mumbai slums are not exclusively technical or financial. In addition to these reasons, there are also political, institutional, and legal causes of the issue. Some of the slums in India are notified, meaning that their inhabitants have the security of land tenure even though they do not actually own the land on which they live (Subbaraman & Murthy, 2015). In Mumbai, about half of the slums are non-notified, which presupposes that they do not have access to the city’s chlorinated central water supply. The lack of appropriate access to water leads to such negative outcomes as fecal contamination, poor nutritional status, diarrheal illness, and even increased child mortality (Subbaraman & Murthy, 2015). Some of these implications are portrayed in Slumdog Millionaire, which adds to the realism of the movie.
Along with the depiction of poverty, the film offers an insight into issues tightly associated with it, such as the psychological burden. People living in conditions of poverty frequently suffer from mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression (Subbaraman et al., 2014). Furthermore, such mental impairment may lead to an increased level of criminalization and a high rate of social exclusion from the main part of the city. These aspects are also shown in Slumdog Millionaire, which is evident from the attitude of the TV shows presented and policemen toward the boy participating in the program.
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Through the depiction of real-life situations in Mumbai slums, the director of Slumdog Millionaire reached the aim of giving a realistic portrayal of the urbanization and poverty concepts. Numerous instances of social inequalities and deprivations demonstrated in the film helped its creators to reflect some of the acutest urban geographical issues of the modern world. The movie thus may be considered as the authentic reflection of living in Mumbai slums.
Boyle, D. (Director.). (2009). Slumdog Millionaire. Web.
Mumbai population 2019. (2019). Web.
Patel, A., Koizumi, N., & Crooks, A. (2014). Measuring slum severity in Mumbai and Kolkata: A household-based approach. Habitat International, 41, 300-306.
Peterson, L. (2018). Mumbai, a city both uplifting and heartbreaking. The New York Times. Web.
Subbaraman, R., & Murthy, S. L. (2015). The right to water in the slums of Mumbai, India. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 93(11), 815-816.
Subbaraman, R., Nolan, L., Shitole, T., Sawant, K., Shitole, S., Sood, K., … Patil-Deshmukh, A. (2014). The psychological toll of slum living in Mumbai, India: A mixed methods study. Social Science & Medicine, 119, 155-169.