Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slumdogs and Millionaires

Interesting story in The Age, an Australian newspaper (thanks to my friend Sundar for sending me the link):Who'd want to be a (Slumdog) Millionaire? It seems the producers have become millionaires with the film succeeding both in the box office and the Oscar nominations. But two of the main actors, Rubina and Azharuddin, who were paid very little for their efforts (that lasted one year) are back to their poor squalid surroundings and struggling to live and study. Rubina was, apparently, paid $ 1060 (something like Rs. 50,000) and Azharuddin $ 3600 (about Rs. 1,76,000) for one year's work.

"The child actors' parents have accused the hit film's producers of exploiting the eight-year-olds, disclosing that both face uncertain futures in one of Mumbai's most squalid slums." says the report.

Is it fair to expect someone taking a movie to help the people in his story financially? I don't know. But I know one thing. When the producer makes such a movie, it is only fair that (s)he pays his/her workers properly, whether they are established actors or children from a slum. Is Rs. 50,000 good enough for a year's work? I don't think so, but I am sure there are people who are paid less in the country. But I don't think that justifies a low pay either. In any case, I think it is really low for a child who did a role in a film, and that too working for one year. Is what Azharuddin got low? Well, to be frank, I don't know.

But the point is not simply that of paying a worker. It is also a moral question of making use of the pitiable state of some people to make money abroad and then leaving them in their misery. Just today I was told that the people who made the Tamil film Thannir Thannir, the story of a village that thirsts for water, left the people to their fate after making the movie. I can already hear people ask, "Then what should a film maker do? His job is to make movies. And, in any case, the movie helped to bring attention to the plight of the people, did it not? What more do you expect?"

True. But why did these people decide to take a movie on the plight of the poor? Was it out of empathy? Did they hope to find some solution to the problems these people are facing by letting others know about it? Or, did they think that this theme would sell well? In the former case, it is empathy that drives the decision. Therefore, one would expect empathetic behaviour from them -- at least use some of the money the film makes to help these people. In the latter case, it is only fair that the people who contributed to the film share some of the economic benefits. So, I think, in either case, there is nothing wrong in expecting some contribution from the film makers to alleviate the misery of the people whose story they are telling. But we didn't see that happening in either of the two cases mentioned above. At the same time, someone just mentioned to me this evening that all profits from the movie are earmarked for charity by its producer Anil Kapoor. I don't know how far it is true. But if it is, and he keeps his word, I withdraw all the above comments and apologise.

PS: Today's newspaper carried a report that said that the profits from the movie have been earmarked for development of the Mumbai slum that featured in the movie. If this is true, and they do indeed put money from the movie into the slums, then I sincerely apologise and withdraw my criticism. (Added on February 1, 2009)

1 comment:

ashoknest said...

There is a tamil movie "Varumai neeram sikkappu" poor are exploited by all .. there r millions of children who dont get food ,stunted due to malnuorishment, abandoned in streets...Many years back there was a movie called "Salam Bombay" The main child hero picked from the street by the director was even awarded a national award ...then a news item I think in NDTV or times I don't remember carried about that child artist in salam Bombay is eeking out a living as auto driver ..after the movie he was left to fend for himself .. .In his book Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation (1981), Amartya Sen revealed that in many cases of famine, food supplies were not significantly reduced. Instead, a number of social and economic factors, such as declining wages, unemployment, rising food prices, and poor food-distribution systems, led to starvation among certain groups in society.

Governments and international organizations handling food crises were influenced by Sen’s work. His views encouraged policy makers to pay attention not only to alleviating immediate suffering but also to finding ways to replace the lost income of the poor, as, for example, through public-works projects, and to maintain stable prices for food. A vigorous defender of political freedom, Sen believed that famines do not occur in functioning democracies because their leaders must be more responsive to the demands of the citizens. In order for economic growth to be achieved, he argued, social reforms, such as improvements in education and public health, must precede economic reform.