The Two Faces of Capitalism
"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone" states John Maynard Keynes, one of our most renowned economic thinkers. This seems to be the view held by many: from the day-to-day laborer trying to make ends meet, to the powerful executive chief wielding his wand, magically creating billions of dollars more in the coffers of a few. The dichotomy that exists in capitalism as a force that can give in abundance but can also exploit and destroy is one of the themes prevalent in A Slumdog Millionaire. The movie present us with the two faces of Capitalism: one face is destructive in its obsession to take it all without consideration for humanity, morals, ethics, or even love. The other side of this force is altruistic because it gives, it thrives on risk and reaps the rewards from it and, most importantly, it offers the opportunity of equality. Both of these sides are embodied by two brothers, Salim and Jamal. Weather Capitalism is good or bad is a question that the movie doesn't care to answer. However, what this story does is confront the viewer with modern day capitalism and its complexity.
Before we can discuss capitalism in a Slumdog Millionaire, it is necessary to discuss both sides of this economic force. We can start by discussing the negative aspect of this system. Capitalism is rooted in the exchange of goods and services between individuals and between nations. This is the simplistic way to look at this highly complex system. Although, it is true it might have started this simplistically, the truth is that capitalism has evolved throughout the years and, with today's advancement in communications and technology, capitalism has changed dramatically into a new form of capitalism that operates through financial means - a capitalism that lends billions of dollars with no real collateral to back it up. This new capitalism is also global. This might mean that other countries might have the same opportunity to develop. However, the criticism is that capitalism and globalization have done nothing but further plunge Third World Countries into even more poverty. Capitalism has been accused of exploiting, creating inequalities, creating injustices, and destroying basic human rights. Many believe it "is a deeply entrenched ideology that has survived and benefitted from slavery, immigrant labor, and other forms of exploitation" (Machado 723). Because capitalism is a system with the only purpose of creating wealth, human rights and justice are not elements with which it deals. Most notably, these elements work against the very nature of capitalism as we know it today. As M.D. Litonjua states, it is "sweeping across the one world in the making, commodifying and commercializing human life and everything it touches - without moral mooring, without human values and considerations, without humane intentions and aspirations. It is a revived Social Darwinism (115)". In this sense, capitalism is a beast without conscience, preying on the downtrodden by the use of power and force and by implementing policies that only promote the benefit of that developed part of the world; it is a sponge that absorbs everything it comes into contact with of which benefits only trickle down to the few. This results in a system that "enable perhaps twenty percent of the world's population to reap the fruits of globalization, leaving eighty percent losers and victims of the unfettered global capitalist economy" (Litonjua 116 ). Thus, it is a force that seems golden but, beneath that sheen, is destructive.
The other side of capitalism is the one that promotes opportunity for equality. Because capitalism is unhindered by personal beliefs, politics, and prejudice, it offers the opportunity for success to anyone. Capitalism's impersonality promotes an equal opportunity for anyone willing to work hard and take risks. Thus, it is not a system constructed only for the rich but, it is a system invented for the creation of wealth which means that anybody is free to reach for a dream of luxury and wealth provided they have the ambition and risk-taking qualities necessary to climb up this golden ladder of prosperity. Like Skidelsky points out:
"In both capitalism and science, mankind discovers and proves a new power - the power to change his natural and social environment according to his will. Realms of life that previously lay under the ban of custom or religion are suddenly opened up to manipulation. We might regret this discovered power, but we can no more renounce it than we can return to childhood" (Skidelsky).
Again, we see that the importance in capitalism lies in its power to offer hope - real hope that can change living conditions. Thus, the American Dream has now become global in the sense that now everyone is offered access to this transformation.
Consequently, Slumdog Millionaire juxtaposes these two sides of capitalism in the characters of the two brothers, Salim and Jamal, which grow into symbolic representations of this dichotomy as
is transformed from a backward country into a westernized capitalistic society and, Salim is the representation of the threat inherent in capitalistic values and norms. One of the characteristics we notice in Salim from the beginning of the movie is his love for money. Salim likes wealth and is savvy in the way he pursues it. We see this when he takes his brother's autographed picture and sells it for a couple rupees. This moment in the film highlights what is important for Salim: wealth. Besides his apparent love for money, Salim's action is very telling of his lack of consideration and respect for his brother. This instance in the film is one of many actions in which Salim exhibits capitalistic traits. With the exception of saving his brother from being blinded by Mamman and with the exception of the ending, Salim consistently abuses his brother and earns his living through unfair practices and means. When he works for Mamman, his aggressive personality calls the attention of his boss who decides to put him in charge of the rest of the beggar children. Salim fits perfectly into this position of task master, yelling at the kids to work harder and threatening Lakita of dropping the baby if she didn't take care of it. He helps exploit them and becomes abusive with the rest of the children. This can be symbolic of capitalism's effective use of exploitation - the powerful, in this case Salim is given the power, exploiting the vulnerable, in this case the children who are at the mercy of Mamman. Another symbolic representation of this is seen when Salim and Jamal go to the Taj Mahal. Salim is the first to jump into a pair of sneakers left by some of the tourists visiting India . The sneakers are a manufactured product sold globally. They stand for business, money, American Culture, Western Society, and Capitalism. Salim wearing them is an indication of the path he is taking. Another symbolic event that captures capitalism at its best is Salim's use of a gun to rescue and, at the same time, abuse his brother Jamal. The Simon Colt, which is the brand of the gun, stands for western society. When Salim uses it to rescue Latika from prostitution and help his brother Jamal, it can be seen as capitalism's attempt to rescue those underdeveloped countries that have decided to adopt it as an economic system. However, he rescues them violently which can also be noted when we mention the many times Western nations, specifically the India , have interfered in other countries' wars, looking to implement their own ideals of democracy and capitalism. For example, the U.S. intervention in the Salvadorian Civil war which, in conclusion only opened the doors for Americanization and, with Americanization, it opened the doors to capitalism. However, when Salim wants Latika for himself, he cares little for his brother's feelings and, he takes by pointing this symbol of capitalism right on Jamal's head. Again, we see this event as symbolic of the many times Capitalism has imposed itself by force on those who are most vulnerable. Although Salim dies helping his brother reach his dreams, he dies inside a bathtub - a manufactured western product - and beneath hundreds of rupees. He becomes self-destructive and, this is the self-destructive quality of Capitalism when it is unchecked by any morals or ethics. In Salim's case, the love he had for God and his brother held a permanent check over his destruction and those of others. U.S.
On the other hand, Jamal represents the golden side of Capitalism. This is the side that has a dream and a goal to pursue. Jamal's dream is to find his beloved Latika. Although this is romantic, it is his risk-taking quality and his tenacity to achieve his goal that encompasses the whole film. Jamal embodies the good qualities promoted by capitalism. He is the poor, orphan boy with no future who, because of his sheer perseverance and his risky choices, becomes a rich man with the girl that he loves. He is Cinderella. He is the poor man, going from rags to riches. However, unlike his brother, he gets there by noble means. When Jamal jumps into the zest pool to meet his favorite actor, the viewer can see the tenacity in the character. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goal and, he is rewarded for it when the actor signs an autograph for him. He is also giving. When he meets his friend who was blinded by Mamman, he gives him a hundred dollar bill to help him. Life rewards him again, when in the show he is asked who the man in the one hundred dollar bill is. Similarly, capitalism has given transformation and opportunity to certain regions and,
- the setting of this story- is one of the beneficiaries of this. The transformation of Mumbai from a slum village to a cosmopolitan city is evident as the two brothers grow up. Finally, Jamal shows his risk-taking quality when he risks all the rupees he has won on the show to answer a question he doesn't know the answer to. This is gambling with the unknown but, what is capitalism based on? Capitalism is based on the risky choices of many individuals when they partake in the exchange of services and goods or, when a new business is opened. Jamal gambles everything he has and is rewarded with the correct answer. The show itself, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, is a product of capitalism and it rewards Jamal with money and with the woman he loves. Capitalism gives him equality but, Jamal earned his equality through the chances he took. India
A Slumdog Millionaire does not pronounce a judgment against capitalism. Rather, it shows us both sides of the coin. Capitalism provides an opportunity to anybody who wants to move up the ladder of prosperity. This system also provides this same opportunity to other countries that are underdeveloped. In some cases, this has worked and countries like
have seen the results of embracing capitalistic views. The call center featured in the film is important because forms part of India 's new step into the capitalistic world we live in. However, capitalism also takes and, as India is transformed, another side emerges which is darker. Mafias become prevalent and Salim becomes a part of this as well as a symbol of capitalist brutality. Thus, this film puts forth the dichotomy of the economic system that has now taken over the country and how it can be used to exploit its potentiality but, aware of the dangers that lurk within it. India
Litonjua, M.D.. "Third World/Global South: From Development to Globalization to Imperial Project." Journal of
Third World Studies vol. 27 (2010). 12 Dec. 2010 <http://web.ebscohost.com.libproxy.csun.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&hid=105&sid=70d396e0-8132-4512-ba1c-c5ffb4613140%40sessionmgr114>.
Machado, Daisy L.. "Capitalism, Immigration, and the Prosperity Gospel." Anglican Theological Review vol. 92 (2010). 11 Dec. 2010 <http://web.ebscohost.com.libproxy.csun.edu/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=105&sid=70d396e0-8132-4512-ba1c-c5ffb4613140%40sessionmgr114&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=afh&AN=54967293#db=afh&AN=54967293#db=afh&AN=54967293>.
Skidelsky, Edward. "The Wealth of Nations, Capitalism, Far From Being Natural and Inevitable, Can Only be Created through Political Intervention." New Statesman (2010). 11 Dec. 2010 <http://www.newstatesman.com/200002280050>.
Slumdog Millionaire. Dir. Danny Boyle. Fox Searchlight Pictures and Warner Brothers Pictures, 2008.