The Messy Legacy of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’

The West praised the 2008 film and showered it with Oscars, while many in India and the diaspora viewed it as poverty porn. Fourteen years later, its impact remains murky.

Ishani Nath

November 11, 2022

The Messy Legacy of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’
Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire)

Slumdog Millionaire was:

a) An Oscar-worthy masterpiece

b) “Poverty porn” that perpetuated Western stereotypes

c) A platform for Indian talent

d) OK at the time, but problematic looking back

If this were the million-dollar question, I would be calling in all my lifelines because my feelings about Slumdog Millionaire have changed over the years.

Made on a meager $15 million budget, initially envisioned as a straight-to-DVD film, Slumdog was an underdog story in its own right. The film elevated talent like Dev Patel — a series regular on the hit U.K. show Skins, but now in his first feature film — and Freida Pinto, a model with no prior acting experience. The 2008 film would end up winning over fans worldwide, becoming an awards-season darling. At the same time, the film was written and shot from a Western gaze, with footage of slums and children fit for an Amnesty International campaign.

Clearly, Slumdog’s legacy is far from simple. In fact, the answer to the above question increasingly seems to be “all of the above.”