The world was aflutter with talk of a new movie, Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle. This movie, which was released in 2008 in the United States, was instantly a hit. It focuses on the protagonist, Jamal Malik, and how he came to be on the show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and his amazing life story in the slums of Mumbai. While the story is generally acknowledged to be a story of an underdog’s rise to fame and fortune, and a love lost and found again, another perspective could be applied to this story.
Globalization is a readily apparent theme in Slumdog Millionaire, with its focus on the American television show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Globalization is, simply, a “geographical concept, and it means global integration” (CITATION:645). Yet the foundation of globalization, the thing that pushes and drives globalization is capital. “Globalization, above all, is the global and unitary operation of capital” (CITE:645). To understand globalization, we must understand capital. At this point in time, capitalism rules the world and has gone global. Karl Marx was one of the few people who theorized the idea of globalization well ahead of his time, as well as the inherent contradiction of capitalism. “He [Marx] understood that "the need for a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe, ‘foreseeing that the development of capitalism would inevitably be "paving the way for more extensive and exhaustive crises.’ Marx identified how disastrous speculation could trigger and exacerbate crises in the whole economy” (Panitch). Marx predicted with some accuracy, the extent of the global economic crisis we are finding ourselves in now. The article by Leo Panitch outlines the current economic crisis in terms of the newfound interest in Marx’s philosophies.
Slumdog Millionaire is a prime example of the economic crisis the world is currently in, on a national level, and of the unequal distribution of wealth between the upper class gangsters and the slumdogs.
The disparity of the slums is made apparent from the introducing scene of the movie, where Jamal and his brother Samir run through the slums to escape a police officer chasing them. The vast system that makes up the slums is juxtaposed later with the houses and cars of the gangsters, especially Javed. This primary gangster lives in a western-style house with many working for him. The characters in Slumdog almost perfectly shows a comparison between the many versus the few; the two wealthy gangsters versus all the people living in the slums.
The way Samir goes to work for Javed is an example of a product of cultural globalization. People can see the standard of life that is being presented to them, and want to raise themselves to a higher standard of living. Samir has nothing to lose by going to work for Javed and everything to gain, monetarily speaking. By the end of the movie, he is one of Javed’s most trusted men—he is rewarded accordingly and dies in a bathtub full of money, with a gold chain around his neck. Even when he was younger, Samir took advantage of any opportunity to make money. He charges men to use the bathroom, sells his brother’s autographed picture, and helps Maman, another gangster, force children to beg in the streets for money.
This idea of raising one’s standard of living is also the reason I think everyone, Americans included, are so enthralled by the American television show, “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” Jamal asks Latika at one point why people watch the show, and Latika says it gives people a way out their lives for a short while. It gives them hope for a better life, if they could answer the questions correctly and earn all that money (capital again). Of course, capitalism requires a large base of workers who are exploited for the monetary gain of the few, so the way Samir becomes wealthy seems about right; doing the dirty work of a CEO and becoming the trusted underling. There is no other way of lifting yourself up other than those two means: lift yourself up by any means necessary under a powerful CEO-type, or win twenty million rupees on a television show.
The movie focuses more on the love story between the two main characters, rather than a commentary on capitalism and globalization, however I believe it is a good representation of capitalism’s inherent contradictions. The workers must be paid in order to buy the products they are producing, and when that doesn’t happen, new markets and new consumers must be found for those products. Thus we get the Indian version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and a vast chasm between those who constitute the few ‘extremely wealthy’ of the world, and the millions upon millions of ‘slumdogs.’
Ouyang, Kang, and Yumei Liu, Lingling Zhu. “Globalization and the Contemporary Development of Marxist Philosophy: Precondition, Problem Domain and Research Outline. Frontiers of Philosophy in China
Vol. 1, No. 4 (Dec., 2006), pp. 643-657. http://www.jstor.org/stable/30209880
Panitch, Leo. "Thoroughly Modern Marx." Foreign Policy No. 172 (May/June 2009) P. 140-5, 172 (2009): 140-145.