Even as the world celebrates the eight Oscars that “Slumdog Millionaire” took home tonight – including the coveted Best Picture and props to A.R. Rehman’s infectious soundtrack – in its native Mumbai, the film remains a hotbed of controversy and a musical metaphor for India’s conflicted view of itself. It is hailed for shedding light on Indian slums, and yet condemned for exoticizing them. It calls Indians to cheer in pride (a film about our slums WON at the OSCARS!), while simultaneously hanging their heads in shame (a film about OUR SLUMS won at the Oscars!). It is either proof that India has finally arrived in the mainstream, or evidence of the film industry’s neo-colonialist agenda. Like the very city it depicts, “Slumdog Millionaire” is a land of contradictions.But to get mired in the “is-it-or-isn’t-it pro-India” debate misses the forest for the trees, and robs the film of its subtle but powerful spiritual message. At its heart, “Slumdog” owns the paradox and discovers meaning in the contradictions. At its core, it is the story of miracles hidden in those contradictions¸ of choosing to see a divine author’s hand behind the writing on the wall. It is God – or, according to “Slumdog”, *destiny* – in the details.
How does Jamal Malik know all the answers? They’ve been there all his life, waiting for him to notice. And that is the beauty of “Slumdog Millionaire.” It calls us to embrace hope in the face of the hopeless, to recognize purpose in the seemingly senseless. “For one who sees Me in everything and everything in Me,” Lord Krishna says in the sacred Bhagavad Gita, “I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” Oscar wins or not, that is worth celebrating.
Vineet Chander is the Coordinator for Hindu LIfe at Princeton University and communications director for ISKCON.
This post previously appeared on the website Beliefnet.