Last Night’s TV – The Slumdog Children of Mumbai

by Lynn Connolly

Films of this kind are not new, but they continue to be horribly shocking.

While we may often consider what poverty is, until programmes like this highlight what it means to thousands, it’s perhaps hard to get our heads around what it truly means.

It’s not going without designer trainers or living on nuggets and chips because parents can’t afford healthy food; it’s going without food, without shoes, without a home and often, as we saw last night, without parents.

But what set this film apart from many of its peers was the refusal to sugar coat and therefore make the subject matter more palatable to Western viewers. It simply documented and told it like it is, and that ‘it’ is horrific.

The film followed several children as they did their best to survive on the streets of Mumbai. Children who’d been abandoned by parents or who decided to leave an abusive home for the promise of a better way of life. They were to be sadly disabused of that idea.

Salaam, Deepa, and twins, Hassan and Hussein had horribly sad stories to tell, but they told them without a trace of self-pity, and God knows, they’d be entitled to feel pity for themselves.

11 year old Salaam had run away from home after his step-mother beat him. He was offered comradeship by a gang of other boys, most of whom were a good deal older than him, but by implication – though not proven fact – Salaam was abused here too.

He, like so many other children, had a variety of addictions which he relied upon to get him through his awful days and nights, and frankly, one can’t blame him; in his situation, I think I too would look for relief from the relentless horror.

Deepa, who is just seven, had her toe bitten off by rats as an infant and now, living with her granny and siblings after her mother abandoned her – and another baby who turned up during the film – and her father died, she works up to 20 hours a day selling flowers.

Hussain and Hussan, aged 11, collect scrap metal and plastic – and anything else they can sell – just to have enough to eat. And often, it doesn’t even achieve that meagre goal.

The stories go on and on, as does the unrelenting horror of it all. There have rarely been times when the words ‘God forsaken’ have had such literal meaning. These four children were but the tip of a rotten iceberg in a city where great wealth lives alongside hideous poverty.

Yet again, the world’s injustices are visited upon the world’s most innocent, and it’s sickening. It always is of course but somehow, this raw film made me feel ashamed to be human. And more ashamed to be a Western hemisphere dwelling human who does nothing much for those in the most need. Yes I give to charity and shed the odd tear at the sorrowful stories, all of which is a tiny drop in an overwhelmingly large ocean of misery…

But arguably, the value of films like this are to make the viewer realise that.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.