Tuesday, February 24, 2009

‘Slum Dog, what’s that?’

By Shevlin Sebastian

The sun has set, but the football game is carrying on in earnest at the ground opposite the Udaya Colony, near the South railway station. Amidst shouts and jostling, boys, ranging in age from five to fifteen, chase the ball up and down the field. If Slum Dog Millionaire director Danny Boyle looked at them he would have said, “These are Kochi’s slum dogs.” But are they dogs or children having a whale of a time?

Here is Anandu, all of seven, wearing a multi-coloured T-shirt, with dusty hair. “No, I have not heard of Slum Dog,” he says, still panting from the exertions of playing. “What is it?”

He brightens up when he is asked about Idea Star Singer. “Oh yes, I like the show,” he says. “I want to take part because I can sing.”

Vishnu Ganesh, 13, has also not heard of the movie making waves around the world and in middle-class India. But he nods vigorously when asked about Munch Star Singer Junior and other reality shows on television.

Several children gather around and they say, “Ask me, ask me.” So the questions continue, but Slum Dog continues to draw a blank.

Till the older boys arrive. Sreejith Chandran, who is 17, says, “I have heard of Slum Dog. It is a British film. It is like Kaun Banega Crorepati. I read about it in the newspaper.”

Would he like to take part in a quiz show, like in the movie? “Definitely,” he says. “But who will give me the chance? And I don’t have the knowledge to answer the questions.”

Curly-haired Sabu Babu, 18, has also heard of Slum Dog. “A friend told me the story,” he says. “I found it astonishing that a boy from the slum could win so much of money. I pray to God that, some day, a boy from Udaya Colony will win such a contest.”

Would he like to be a millionaire one day? “Yes, I want to be rich,” he says. “It seems the only way to achieve that is to be a businessman.”

Two middle-aged women from the colony come up, overhear the conversations, and pass sarcastic comments under their breaths for the boys to hear. A few of them laugh loudly.

Curiosity compels Manisha Mukesh, 11, and Meenakshi Rajesh, 13 to join the group. The boys shout in unison, “Don’t ask them any questions!!”

But the girls are willing to talk. They have not heard of Slum Dog, but get excited about Idea Star Singer. “It is a nice programme, and I would like to sing,” says Manisha.

There are contrasting yells of “She can’t sing,” and “She can sing!”

On one side of the field, two people are playing chess, watched by a few men, sitting on the grass. Suddenly, a young man, from the group, wearing a blue INDIA cricket jersey comes up and asks aggressively, “Where are you from? Why have you come? Why are you asking questions?”

Back home, I ask my eight-year-old daughter whether she has heard of Slum Dog. She can barely tear her eyes away from ‘A Suppandi Tale’ in Tinkle Digest and says, tersely, "It's a film."

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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