Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Oliver Twist and Slumdog Millionaire

In Doug Saunders' column in the Saturday Globe and Mail, he traces the parallels between Oliver Twist and Slumdog Millionaire:

Bethnal Green, meet the Dharavi slum; Oliver Twist, meet Slumdog Millionaire.

What has made this genre so enduringly successful is not the melodramatic account of a young person's rise from squalor and poverty to something more elevated. That story had been doing great box office for centuries – including such hits as Cinderella, Moses, Moll Flanders and Jesus Christ.

What Dickens introduced was a new character – the slum itself. The East London shantytowns of Clerkenwell and Bethnal Green loom so large in Oliver Twist that they serve as the novel's main antagonist, throwing all manner of spectres and challenges at the hapless Oliver. At the end, while Oliver is fixed and catalogued, the slum remains a blank-faced mystery.

Danny Boyle's Mumbai, which at the story's outset has not yet been robbed of its name Bombay, is similarly compelling, similarly menacing, similarly inscrutable. It appears as a vast and gorgeous figure, responsible for most of the film's plot twists.

For the rest, click here.


jenclair said...

I'm reading a novel set in Bethnal Green right now. Haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire yet, but the connection to Oliver Twist makes it even more appealing. NPR had a good interview with Danny Boyle several days ago.

Pallavi said...

I enjoyed the connection you made between the Dickensian world of 'Hard Times' and 'Oliver Twist' and 'Slumdog Millionnaire'. Living in India and having visited Bombay, it's even more immediate for me. By the by, have been following your blog for a while now and think you write superbly!

Lesley said...

Have you seen the latest Oliver Twist offering from PBS? I watched the first part last Sunday and quite liked it. The soundtrack is a mix of traditional and more contemporary tracks.

A Hazra said...

Actually, 'Slumdog Millionare' isn't as rich and nuanced as 'Oliver Twist'. Sure, it depicts a slum pretty accurately, but it just touches upon the fringes. You should read Suketu Mehta's 'Maximum City' for a detailed picture.

Kate S. said...


I haven't seen it yet either but much of what I've heard about it has me keen to go.


I wish I could take the credit for the parallel but that bit of the post is a quotation from Doug Saunders. Thanks for your kind words about my blog though!


I meant to watch Oliver Twist on PBS but then forgot all about it the night it was on. I hope I'll get another opportunity soon!

A Hazra,

Thanks for the recommendation of Maximum City. I will add it to my to-read list. Another book set in Mumbai that I've been meaning to read, fiction rather than non-fiction, is Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. Have you read that one? I haven't heard any recommendations one way or another but the description on the back of the book intrigued me.

davebeauty said...

Watch Salaam Bombay, Pixote and Los Olvidados.

Kate S. said...

Thanks for the recommendations Dave. I'm familiar with Salaam Bombay but hadn't heard of the other two films. They sound like they're well worth checking out.

davebeauty said...

Pixote and Los Olvidados show a level of evil no one should voluntarely expose themselves to. I disrecommend them. Oliver would not have survived.