Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Film: "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008)

Criticism: While watching "Slumdog Millionaire," at a certain point, I was struck by a transition in the film that structurally connects (or, rather, disconnects) the film itself from the reality of the issues of education, language, and language of instruction.

Without spoiling the film for those yet to see it, there is a point at which the movie transitions from flashbacks of the childhood (~6-7 yrs. old) of the main character and his brother to their early teenage years. Now, for the entire set of "childhood" series of flashbacks, the child actors spoke in what is presumably their mother tongue (i.e. not English). These two boys have apparently had very little formal schooling, as is referenced in a brief segment in the classroom (remember "Three Musketeers?). Indeed, this lack of formal schooling is part of what makes them "slumdogs"; we may even say that the film itself is about the power of non-formal educational experiences (no spoilers!). But back to this transition -- we go from a flashback scene of the young boys speaking in their mother tongue, cutting to a seen of the teenage boys (different, older actors) conversing - in perfect English (slight "Indian accent")!

Granted that English is spoken in India, how are we to believe that these children of the slums were able to acquire a fluency in a language that they presumably had no formal acquaintance with, and, from what we can tell in the film, only cursory interaction with during other aspects of their lives?

I suppose this point is more squarely a commentary on Hollywood's convenient disconnection from reality than it is directly about language and education outside of the USA. But let's use this occasion to advocate for the necessity of qualitative research that allows us to experience and understand the "actual" situation "on the ground," rather than allowing our impressions to be unduly shaped by popular (mis)representations in the various media.

Although "Slumdog" is an enjoyable film, I sadly have to agree with the following condemnation from The Guardian (UK):

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