Sunday, April 26, 2015

Developing E-tourism: Slumdog Millionaire’s Digital Realities

Andrew Stewart Cinema, Film and Television Studies,
University of Glasgow,
15 May 2015


Dr Rodanthi Tzanelli,
University of Leeds

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dirs.. Danny Boyle & Loveen Tandan) has been successful in more than one ways: not only did it receive international accolade as cinematic artwork, it also contributed to the development of a tourist industry in its principal filmed sites, the mega-slums of Juhu and Dharavi in Mumbai. This presentation discusses the conceptual subtext of such transitions from cinematic artwork to digitised (online) tourist business. It points out that the Slumdog Millionaire e-tourist industries had to disconnect the film and its new slum tourisms from the dark heritage of Mumbai’s slum histories of migration and poverty-as-exclusion. This move signposted Mumbai’s filmed slums as spaces of industriousness, family sociality and potential togetherness.
The shift from the dissemination of ‘dark’ (associated with slavery, death, exile and colonisation) to slum (poverty, inequality) and, finally, to utopian (the slum as the Edenic space of industrious families) tourist messages can be (and has been) treated as an answer to Mumbai’s developmental problems. At the same time, its alleged ideological basis (e.g. the objectification of slumdwellers in the film and now the cyberspace, where slum tours are advertised) poses ethical dilemmas. I explore the arguments of the major involved e-tourist stakeholders to discuss the traps and pitfalls of engaging with such precarious enterprise. I argue that, before exploring these ‘theses’ as normative statements, we should consider how they support different versions of what is ‘social reality’ and how society should function healthily. I stress that Slumdog Millionaire’s ‘multiple realities’ (of slums as terrestrial, political, historical, cinematic and now digital spaces) provide a series of different blueprints for making host-guest exchange work (or not) in cinematic tourist contexts.

Rodanthi's monograph Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire will be published on 13 August with Routledge