With the high-profile release and nominations for Slumdog Millionaire, the spotlight is shining on the country’s largest slum — but this has not cheered residents or others who want to show the more positive side of the area.
Reality Tours, a company that has been offering guided tours through the interiors of Dharavi for the past three years should ideally be happy with the kind of response they’ve been getting these days. Demand for these tours is on a rise. But not necessarily for the right reasons. “It is the poverty they probably want to see,” smirks Krishna Poojari, organiser. Poojari’s tour conditions are very strict — no cameras and only six persons at a time.
Sam Cameron from UK recognises his sentiment. He recently went on one such tour and came out with a sense of respect for the area. “You could learn a lot from the people in the slums. They have a sense community that is way stronger than what we ‘civilised’ people have. Every single smile is returned. It is a positive community. The movie has highlighted only the negatives,” he says.
For Poojari, who has practically lived in Dharavi, the movie was a huge disappointment. Over the weekend he set up a makeshift cinema hall in the Reality Tours office. A laptop was propped on a stool and a screening was held for a batch of children.
“They had never heard of the film but the moment the title flashed, I saw a few disappointed faces.” Fifteen-year-old Vishal Shinde discreetly asked Poojari why the movie was called ‘Slumdog’. “Dog means ‘kutta’ right? But these kids are just like us,” he asked. They were rather disappointed with the way their lives were displayed. “Our festivals are so grand. The weddings are very interesting. Nobody showed that. Most of us don’t like to talk about the riots and they have highlighted them,” he says.
Mark Styles who accompanied Cameron on the tour was apprehensive before he entered the area. But he has stepped out with an admiration for the dwellers. “There is nobody in the place who is sitting without work. There are makeshift schools in every corner where students are studying and helping their families simultaneously,” he says.
He agrees that the people require better amenities, but Dharavi for him is braver than whole of Mumbai. Styles realises what the movie is going to do to this tour. The slum will suddenly be glamourised. “There will be people who will want to know what scene was shot where. It is more like ‘I’ve watched the movie, done the tour and now I bought the Tshirt.’ It will turn into a Safari,” he says.
The residents have already started spotting a bunch of 20-30 foreigners who come to the area to look for the ‘Jamal Malik’ they saw on screen. However, Poojari is very clear about his take. “Let the numbers increase but I am sticking to my guns. I want the people to see this side of Mumbai. They are people with respectable lives. Dharavi is not a spectacle,” he says.
Deepa XXX of Mumbai Magic tours conducts similar tours in Dharavi. She talks about a model of a village in Gandhi Bhavan that shows Gandhi’s ideal living villages.
“Communities in Dharavi live in a similar manner, with women working and children playing in the courtyard. Come to Dharavi and not once will you see anybody begging. They might do it on the signals but not here. Dharavi demands that kind of respect and it gets it,” she says.
Cameron agrees, after the tour Dharavi isn’t a slum anymore but a billion dollar industry. “The work here is magnificent. There are plenty of organised industries here. Dharavi is nothing like what they have potrayed in the movie,” he insists.
Around the corner a bunch of Dharavi boys sit. They know what the movie is about. They have seen it. “You wont find a millionaire here. Go looking somewhere else,” they yell out at the tourists.