Slumdog Millionaire: A Voice for Children

If you have not yet seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, you’ve surely heard of it. One of the biggest movies of the year, it just swept the Golden Globes and looks poised to do the same at the Oscars. For good reason – it’s affecting without being affected, gives us great multi-dimensional characters, has phenomenal cinematography with brilliant India as its backdrop, along with a beautiful musical score. In addition, it has three of the most natural, appealing child actors to be seen on the big screen in a long time. If you haven’t seen the movie, I urge you to see it. I promise it’ll take you an hour after the ending to wipe the smile off your face.

This tale of life and love in the slums of Mumbai alternates between heartbreak and triumph. The story follows two brothers who live in abject poverty, whose lives are made even more difficult after they are orphaned. Following them throughout their childhood and into early adulthood – along with their friend Latika – we see them fight against exploiters, brothel owners, child abusers, and even each other, in their struggle to survive.

I spent a day as an “Un-Tourist” in these very slums of Mumbai – a place called Dharavi. I went with Deepa Krishnan, owner of tour operator Mumbai Magic. Immersing yourself in the real lives of ordinary people in a place traveled to is a unique experience, and one that can truly bring the spirit and culture of a place alive to the traveler.

Slumdog Millionaire captures this brilliantly and is a fantastic movie, that caused me at times to want to applaud and at times to cringe and shut my eyes. Despite its upbeat ending and “rags to riches” Hollywood/Bollywood mechanism, Slumdog Millionaire shows us a side of India, and a way of life, that millions of children struggle to survive every day. Orphaning, abandonment, homelessness, begging, working, being exploited and abused…this is real, daily life for hundreds of thousands of children in Mumbai alone.

The actors who play the characters at their youngest ages are themselves Hindi-speaking street kids, discovered by casting director Loveleen Tandan. This fact reminded me of the 1988 movie Salaam Bombay, a movie by Mira Nair that was also about street kids in Mumbai, and which featured a cast of actual street children. Nair went on to start a foundation, the Salaam Baalak Trust, with proceeds from the film, and today SBT assists thousands of street children in Mumbai and Delhi. I interviewed Nair’s mother, Praveen, in my book The Weight of Silence; Praveen started SBT with her daughter Mira.

Salaam Bombay has a grittier, more realistic feel without the rags-to-riches ending. While I love the Slumdog Millionaire movie, while watching it there did resonate in me a sense of reinforcement of just such fantasies that lead kids into street life in Mumbai all the time. While traveling India and researching for my book, I interviewed many social workers and child advocates who told me that thousands of children run away from home and catch a train to “Bombay” with fantasies of the movies or making it big in the glamorous city filling their head. Sadly, most of them fall prey to just such exploiters as those found in both these movies: traffickers, begging rings, brothel owners or factory recruiters. Many of them remain living in the railway stations in which they arrive, begging or scratching out a living by sorting through trash for recycling or other dangerous endeavors. You can read my story here about my day spent with just such railway boys in Mumbai.

The lesson I would like to leave about this movie is: please see it. Enjoy it. Revel with these kids when luck comes their way. But please, please – don’t forget the millions of others whose lives continue in poverty, abuse and despair.

Read about child trafficking and what you can do at Oasis India’s website

Donate to Childline India, the hotline for homeless children or those in trouble


About Shelley Seale

Shelley is a wanderer and student of the world, yoga chick, voracious reader and dog lover. She pounds the keyboard as a freelance writer, author and publication designer, based in Austin, Texas when she isn't traipsing around the globe. Shelley has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week, Fodor's, The Telegraph and Texas Monthly, among others. Shelley has performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano, and was once robbed by a monkey in India. But she doesn’t know how to whistle.

Posted on January 15, 2009, in child labor, India, orphans, sex trade, shelley seale, slavery, trafficking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Great review especially given the research you did for your book. Do come by to read my take on it at: I am originally from India and have done some work/research in a similar area you refer to here, so you might perhaps find my review an interesting read.

  2. Hi Shelley!
    Thanks for sharing the information on how to be of help. Your review of the movie is extremely balanced. I am linking this page to my blog so that people who would like to help get useful information.

  3. Ask for help

    Be that know that, worldly economy at present is in the recession.

    But, the situation that is the effect is from the economy and the World. Cause a lot of problems especially child problem and happen from a problem of a family. We are which person group that is a volunteer looks after a problem that happens, which, can not wait and can look over that tramp child, a child was breaked sexual and a child were deserted. Both of cover arrive at a family of a child who gets into trouble and have the poorness.
    At present we are in problem situation severely. From assistance alms and roceeding activity every a side. Child assistance and a family can not carry on completely. Because of, stay in the condition that have no the fund and are in debt from operating collected long more ago 5 years. The place and the homestead will terminate one’s contract to rent on April 2009.
    Then the crisis that us must seek the exit and ask for help from person kindhearted, there is kindness, please a child and a family. Who are falling in problem sphere, at seek the exit gives with oneself life no.

    Pillar problem that happen and want the assistance, be,
    1. The fund
    2. The place and homestead
    3. A debt

    All 159 children and a family s status in our care at present has a person, 72 person boys and 87
    person girls. In each year pregnant to must help more than 8 persons build year
    We please from person kindhearted or there is the mind loves child assistance has
    good future next.
    And we wish strongly beg for the blessing from Almighty God, give we can solve that happen accomplish go to without trouble and bless to everyone that wish help us, have strong health, both mentally and physically, live long long, happiness, the evolution continues to go to long and never-ending.

  1. Pingback: Watch The Miracle Foundation on CNN! « The Weight of Silence

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: