The headline to this post on Cinematical says “Danny Boyle Admits ‘Slumdog’ Kids Were Exploited“. Please gasp. That’s why the words “admits” and “exploited” have been used. Because if you do read till the end of the post, then you can see precise what Boyle has “admitted” to, which is:
…you exploit everyone in a film and I think we’ve been responsible. We set up a lot for them before any fuss started. We put them into school and set in place a trust that will look after them until they are 17. When the film became a huge hit, we got money from the profits to buy houses. Rubina has still not moved into the property, but the process is ongoing. I saw them the last time I was there.
Ok, this might sound elitist/bitchy/generally nasty, but HELLO! This is NOT exploitation. Boyle, understandably, seems to be tired of these allegations so he has clearly decided that it’s simpler to stick his head into the noose and hope no one tightens it rather than resist the hangman. But isn’t it obvious that he’s been by far one of the nicest, most responsible of directors. Actors from underprivileged situations have been used hundreds of times. I’m reasonably certain trusts and apartments aren’t organised for their benefit. For example, when the City of Joy crew came to Kolkata back in the 1990s, I know for a fact that NOTHING of this sort was done. The movie “Slumdog Millionaire” shows a kid winning the jackpot and, despite being a strictly mediocre film, the movie’s done the same for the Dharavi kids whom Boyle used in it. Is there any gratitude from the kids’ parents for this? Nope. ‘Course not. Let’s just get as much as can from the rich white guy. Because we know from our ’80s and ’90s flicks in which Bob Christo was the regular villain, white guys are evil and they’re genetically predisposed to exploiting the natives. So take that, Danny Boyle. This is for 1857, the Partition of India and whatever other colonial baggage we can grab, thank you very much. Never mind the money, additional work and book deals that “Slumdog Millionaire” has afforded them.
Slamming Boyle is almost hilarious. Would someone, anyone, like to cast their eye upon how the local film industry treats “strugglers”? Ask the people who come to Bombay with the hope of working in movies. Bollywood is built upon work that is uncredited. Exploitation is practically institutional here, to the point where an aspiring actress from an un-filmi background takes for granted that she has to sleep around. From casting couches to unpaid salaries, it’s all here. When was the last time a Bollywood director or producer did anything for the extras or the menial technical staff who earn pittance and work sweat-shop hours? And then people turn around and point fingers at Danny Boyle. Even by Hollywood standards, he’s done good by the people he worked with (even if he did forget to credit the choreographer and took his time to acknowledge the assistant director who directed the slum kids). As if it wasn’t bad enough that Indian bureaucracy makes shooting in this country difficult, the attitude of Rubina and gang’s parents is sure to be an enormous deterrent to future film makers. I just wish the Western press wouldn’t give them so much bhao*.
Incidentally, Bob Christo is now a yoga instructor in Bangalore.
*to give bhao = pay respect, show deference; desi slang.