Thursday, October 8, 2015

Book Launch, 06 October 2015, Social Sciences 12.25, University of Leeds

Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire, Abingdon: Routledge.
Book Launch, 06 October 2015, Social Sciences 12.25, University of Leeds

Routledge link here

£34.99 eBook available for individual purchasers, which can be ordered through VitalSource in November.

There is also currently a £41.99 Kindle version on Amazon.

I started writing this book as a contribution to the way different mobilities intersect behind a movie. My focus was Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a highly successful enterprise created by an international community of artists spanning continents and cultures. The film is a straightforward story of a youth from the slums of Mumbai, his struggle to earn a living, self-educate, win back his childhood love and finally make it out of poverty. Thanks to his knowledge on facts based on personal experiences of exclusion, ethnic persecution and inequality, he wins on a quiz show and becomes a millionaire.

The film weaves a rich intertextual web of cinematic narratives from different eras, thus serving as a scholarly spyglass into the ways the city of Mumbai and India struggled through modernisation. However, as I researched more into the film, its production, reception and reproduction in other cultural circuits controlled by the Indian state as well as global media and tourist networks, the film itself became more a cosmetic starting point, albeit an important one. Note that the book’s summary stresses that the film became tangled in many controversies around India’s destiny in the world: it inserted Mumbai into various financial, political and artistic scenes, increased tourism in its filmed slums, and brought about charity projects in which celebrities and tourist businesses were involved. As such, it served as a global example of a ‘developing country’s’ uneven but unique modernisation according to Western standards.

The presence of Western standards in the whole cycle of Slumdog Millionaire’s inception, production and reception suggested that I don’t deal just with a piece of art but with a controversial case of invisible colonisation. That the application of Western representational methods for the city of Mumbai and its histories of ethnic integration and conflict in its slums presents us with an example of what decolonial theorists call ‘the captive mind’. This impossibility to narrate the past of a culture and imagine its futures outside Western modernity and modernisation was shared to a great extent by the makers of Slumdog Millionaire and their represented cultures, the slumdwellers. With all their good intentions to support India’s disenfranchised groups, the makers of SM were also trapped into their old roles as invisible colonists. They contributed to reproductions of the captive mind, willingly as philanthropists or volunteers and unwillingly as artmakers on whose work tourist business capitalised to sell Indian slum tourism. As much as their activist spirit produced a vision of Mumbai as a city of slums, a city of ruins, a dark city, the happy ending of the film also suggested alternate futures. But not outside capitalism and neoliberal policy-making. And not completely outside the histories of slum tourism and its beginnings in European industrial urbanisation, the tourist flanerie of journalists and philanthropists in shantytowns as well as its coincidence with colonial racism and domestic debates on welfare policies on poverty. Slumdog Millonaire’s visions of modernity simply excluded alternative knowledge systems from representations of Indian culture in film, e-tourism and on-site tourism in its filmed slums.

Was this a problem or a solution for the already excluded slumdwellers in India? Was it that bad to have someone interested in their fates from the West? The book does not offer straightforward answers, only different interpretations of harm, charity and benevolence. Reminding us that racism, exclusion and trafficking are also in the eye of the beholder, that victims can be perpetrators of inequality; that our scholarly interpretations contribute to the production of socio-cultural identities.

In short then, this book is about the ways different media regimes, including those of film and digital tourist industries shape the image of places. As what we call ‘worldmaking agents’ the original makers of such images do not necessarily hold control over these representations which enter global capitalist circuits, may instigate nationalist reactions even by the very disenfranchised they support or end up serving the political interests suspect interest groups. As such, the book aspires to advance debates on representations of place in the context of an all-consuming Western modernity, which constantly excludes consideration of intersectional inequalities based on race, gender, class and status as malleable conditions. Bringing together state-of-the-art tourism theory, work on professional migration flows and debates on decolonisation it suggests that mobilities continue to operate on the logic of Western knowledge systems for better or worse. 

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