‘Slumdog’ and Malignant Western Narcissism

 One more review of Slumdog from another forum. I don’t know who wrote it, but it is quite scholarly.

“Slumdog Millionaire” belongs to the genre of movies like “city of joy”, “fire” and “Mr and Mrs Iyer.” It is another reinforcement of the western “manifest destiny” or “white-man’s-burden” view of India – the constructed image of the “other” that the narcissistic civilization that is the “west” needs in the process of defining its own self.

Colonized peoples in all cultures and all times in history, (whether politically colonized or remaining colonized at the psychological level after the political colonization has ended) must be constructed in terms that the colonizer can comprehend and control: in the case of India and Hindus — as irrational, obscurantist, superstitious, primitive, divisive, territorial, violent, destructive — and therefore, poverty-ridden, downtrodden, immoral, corrupt — and therefore — in the ultimate analysis, unfit for self-determination or self-rule.

This basic process of imagining the other remains the foundation for present-day economic-cultural imperialism via “manifest destiny” as it was during the euro-colonial era via the “white-man’s-burden.”

Such dialectical image lies at the nexus of a complex game of representations and imaginary projections. It is a play of mimesis. ‘Mimesis’ is the fundamental human capacity and subconscious tendency to imitate and mirror what is different from one’s self, or rather, what is one’s self-understanding of oneself.

Mimesis is to imitate and mirror, in other words, one’s “disowned-self” – the opposite of one’s ego ideal, individual or collective. This assumes more intense forms when different cultures are confronted with one another, often in unequal, exploitative circumstances.

The colonizing power, which in this case is also a narcissistic power, feels the compulsion to construct a variety of imaginary representations of the “other”. Projecting their own deepest fears and the most disowned aspects of their collective subconscious, the narcissistic west (which itself is devoid of a sense of self, and which is a guilt-ridden civilization) has to project an “anti-type” of themselves (as they love to see it) in the mirror of the “other,” which is the “Orient” – and more specifically – India.

Therefore — as was in the days before the age of electronic media, when Katherine Mayo pioneered this whole process by her “Mother India,” followed by a truckload of works to the same ultimate aim and purpose – the film medium, with a more instant and wider reach and many times more visual, verbal and vital effect, must be put to full use – either by the west itself, represented by likes of Dominique lapierre, Richard Attenborough, or — now — Danny Boyle, or by the “native informants” of the west — the purchased cultural prostitutes in the form of Deepa Mehta, Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and the like. And the “money” used for the purchasing are typically “critical acclaims”, “awards”, “reviews” and “film-festival-entries.”

Seen in this light, it can now be understood why the very predictable and very expected ingredients will be brought out and used too in very predictable and pre-practised ratios, whenever one needs to cook up yet another dish that serves the narcissistic palate of the west, for it to gratify itself with “narcissist supply” and reinforce its narcissistic sense of grandiosity.


(1) The slum — the foremost basic ingredient, complete with lepers, beggars, naked urchins, goons, horribly amputated sub-human humans begging by singing Surdas or Meera bhajans (read: in the name of Hinduism) etc. – must be first used in liberal amounts.

Subliminal message and image-reinforcement no.1 — (a) India = slum, India = poverty, (b) India = hunger, India = primitive/barbaric inhumanity (amputated child beggars) and finally (d) India = Hinduism = obscurantism /superstition / regression = poverty/hunger (begging with Hindu bhajans), therefore, Hinduism is the culprit and the source of depravity, and so it is the “advanced west’s” burden to “rescue the heathens” from it and replace it with its own value system and morality and religion.

The other “ingredients” or “components” can then easily complete the recipe:

(2) Muslims = the victims and Hindus = unprovoked aggressors;

(3) Muslims = secular and suffering and Hindus = the powerful hostile majority;

(4) Authorities (policemen) picking on Muslims = Hindu = Hindutva misrule and minority oppression;

(5) Riot victims = always Muslims (to be shown as always in panic or running mode) – thereby successfully reinforcing Hindu India into a hostile, savage jungle where minority lambs and sheep have to spend their entire lives constantly running and trying to hide;

(6) Christian nuns = benevolent rescuers, selfless servers and constantly in the risk of getting raped anytime. “Confirming” that Hindu-majority India can have no decent human rights performance, and Christianity (read: western helping hand) has no welcome or appreciation from the barbarians;

(7) Blue-bodied Rama = Hindu icon = inspiration behind the violent, fanatical, irrational, insensitive, dehumanised Hindu; inspiration behind “Hindu communalism” (the Sangh parivar — Rama connection established) = a dark (“blue” — as also in Kali) symbol that can even turn a pre-teen kid into a raging bloodthirsty hate-filled fanatic;

8. Bombay police = the authority, the ruling power, the law-keeper of Hindu India = always picking on the Muslims = intolerant and suspicious of help from outside = helps the Hindu fanatics with the power of their uniforms, therefore making the prevalent law-and-order situation, human rights records and civic/public life and insecurity of minorities under Hindu majority rule “very obvious”;

(9) The Christian church = the white, Christian first-world western “helping-hand” trying to make things better for the Hindu masses, trying to rescue, humanize and enlighten them, but constantly hounded by the hostile, savage heathens, who cannot go on with their evil if the church is allowed to flourish and people are made “aware” and “emancipated”;

(10) Amnesty International = another form of the white, Christian, first-world western hand, extended to the downtrodden dehumanized Hindu India, but which is not allowed by the authorities, law-keepers and the public (the powerful and unrestrained Hindu majority) to do its work for the poverty-ridden heathen Hindus in peace, but is constantly harassed and forced to try to work under very “challenging and hostile conditions.”

With these ingredients — the essential ‘masalas,’ the great Indian feast of cow-caste-curry (to use the phrase coined by Rajiv Malhotra) is served before the champagne-caviar-and-red-carpet circuit at Cannes film festival.

The narcissist has his fill of his essential narcissistic supply. In fact, he satiates himself with it, gloating over the fact that only his modern, advanced, first-world, Christian west holds the key to the emancipation, humanization and the enlightenment of Hindu India via foreign direct investment, globalization, evangelization, Amnesty International, Deepa Mehta, and Miss Teresa (Saint of Gutters).

After the cooking is done, carefully suited to the palate of the targeted customer, the terms and phrases can be pulled out from the ever-ready stock-in-trade pile of high-sounding “critical-review” argot — “intricate and cleverly structured,” “breathless,” “as drama and as a look at a country increasingly entering the world spotlight,” “a modern fairy tale,” “a sensory blowout”, “one-of-the most-upbeat-stories-about-living-in-hell-imaginable”, “bright, cheery, hard-to-resist movie”, “a high-octane-hybrid-of-Danny-Boyle’s-patented-cinematic-overkill-and-Bollywood’s-ultra-energetic-genre-conventions,” “sprawling-madly-romantic-fairy-tale-epic-is-the-kind-of deep-dish-audience-rouser” …. and so on.

The more a film on India is pessimistic, dark, pejorative, and dehumanizingly objectifying, the more thrilling for the narcissist is his ego-masturbation. For now, he is done constructing an image of the “other” vis-a-vis which he can feel very good about himself and can gather a sense of grandiosity — by way of the film being more “breathless” and “a sensory blowout” and “bright, cheery hard-to-resist” – with the occasional self-reminder that it is still after all a movie on the “other’s” “living in *hell*”.

It is really as simple as that. There is no mystery at all, and there is no reason why you or anyone else should miss it and wonder why “contemporary film making seems to have appreciated little of these ground realities” and why “instead we find a rehash of the old and improbable rags to riches story in an ultra-regressive style.”

It is also not at all a question of whether any side got the *historical records and facts* straight, so that we need to ask: “When was the last time in Indian History when an unprovoked Hindu population took to violence?” The things is, this kind of a thing is not refuted or controverted in the first place — never is it attempted — it is only and simply *evaded*.

But there is the other side to it — the side that is always up to us to actualize. Colonized peoples — the “other” — in all cultures, are never just passively informed by Western representations of it, even when they are made to internalize that representation over a period of time. They too, remain creative agents, who retain the freedom to rethink, reshape and redeploy themselves in new ways in response to and even in subversion of the pecking order.

The Hindu diaspora in the west exemplifies that in many ways, big and small. As was in the previous century, Indians today do not by any means have to remain passive and unreflective (save only being reactionary and touchy), merely restricting themselves into a two-options-only perimeter of consciously or subconsciously accepting/internalizing the projections and representations imposed on them, or reacting to them in ways that play into the hands of the “other” and reinforce their constructions in their minds even more.

On the contrary, we too have (in fact, more than any other colonized society and culture anywhere) the potential, the ideas, the creativity and the resources to engage in a variety of appropriative and subversive strategies. Mimesis is always a two-way street, and peoples colonized or targeted for colonization have their own forms of mimesis, their own ways of returning the favour by imaginatively representing the colonial other — through mimicry, parody, and satire they can seize upon the narcissistic imaginings of the narcissist themselves, by turning them on their heads and manipulating them as a source of “counter-hegemonic” discourse. And I will say that we have failed to do that, to make use of that opportunity so far, right from the time of the “City of Joy” through “Fire” through “Slumdog Millionaire”.

But one fine example of a start in that direction will be – for instance — a Madhur Bhandarkar film. Tasting, sounding and feeling the way only a Madhur Bhandarkar film can taste, sound and feel – with perhaps, a title (in tune with those like “Fashion” or “Page 3”) like …. “Secular.” Or “Foreign Aid.”

And that should be entered for the Cannes film festival. And that would be a very fine and deadly example of holding a mirror up to a narcissistic civilization.




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2 responses to “‘Slumdog’ and Malignant Western Narcissism

  1. gajanan

    Slum dogs named after SDM stars. Do it all over India.


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