Film auteur Danny Boyle’s rags to riches story is a genre-defining masterpiece. But first, a word, two words actually, from our sponsors: karma and dharma.
Karma is what you are born with, the stuff you can see, birthplace, family, body, etc… Karma is also the stuff you can’t see, i.e. destiny, the future you have created by your choices and actions from the now forgotten past. This includes your successes, your failures, your happiness and distress, as well as your income for life. This may be one of the most unpopular and ill received aspects of Vedic philosophy. Nonetheless, it holds true for all of us. As was quoted in the Sanskrit classic, Mahabharata, “Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequences of our past actions.”
So if Karma is what you are born with, then dharma is what you do with it. Free will is the choice to act virtuously in relation to your lot in life, or not. You get to choose if you are going to be a zero or a hero by the way you handle what comes your way. If you protect dharma, dharma will protect you.
Slumdog Millionaire is the superbly told story of karma and these two dharmic options. The hero is Jamal Malik a young man born in the slums of Mumbai. The zero is his brother Salim.
The film is the retelling of Jamal’s life and his one true love Latika. The context is a jail house interrogation. Jamal is arrested because he is suspected of cheating on the Indian version of, Who Wants to Be Millionaire, and is on the verge of winning twenty million rupees ($420,000 US).
The ensuing story of poverty, simple aspirations, tragedy, cruel gang lords, decency, and unrequited love is a marvelous, upsetting, and rewarding adventure to witness.
From a spiritual point of view, we see how two people can be given the same horrible circumstances and yet choose two very different paths. Jamal consistently pursued virtue (dharma) and time again he was protected by virtue. All the while his karma, both fortunate and unfortunate, pursued him relentlessly.
While the concept, destiny, may be a difficult pill for many to swallow, it is not as bleak as it appears. Pursuing our dharma offers a path to personal strength and peace of mind. It can be very freeing to realize that even though we can’t know what lies ahead for us there is joy in hoping for the best and strength in preparing for the worst.
Our destiny may be written for us, but our fortune is in the storehouse of love, patience, kindness, forgiveness and the celebration we have in our hearts. Sadly, this is a store house, which, for many of us goes forgotten and unused. But what is keeping us from breaking down the door and looting the love in our hearts? That would be the six dark shadowy figures known in Sanskrit as the Sad Garbha that guard the heart’s door: 1) selfish longings, 2) anger, 3) perpetual dissatisfaction, 4) delusion, 5) pride, and 6) envy. Throughout the film Jamal’s older and decidedly unvirtuous brother demonstrates all six of these traits. How we deal with these six enemies of the heart has everything to do with dharma or the choices we make. This is a film that powerfully brings out this idea.
It is so gratifying when art provides us with powerful experiences that prod and poke at our consciousness. When art does its job, it finds us thinking new thoughts without seeming to have told us to have new thoughts. Director Danny Boyle and writer Simon Beaufoy, working from a novel by Vikas Swarup, have managed to do just this with Slumdog Millionaire.
Recommendation: See it and tell me what you think…
Some of my friends have encountered people who have dedicated themselves to a spiritual lifestyle. After meeting them they have noted that they often seem the opposite of spiritual. These would be spiritualists are stressed, frustrated, insensitive, etc… “How is this possible?” they ask me.
This unfortunate but all too often observable contradiction is because people often go towards spiritual life as a refuge from life’s confrontation rather than a place to confront their lives’ refuse. Consequently the people you meet at yoga retreats, ashrams, spiritual conventions, and the like tend to have the same personality or similar characteristics they had before they took up spiritualism.
Our personalities are deeply structured emblems of our heart (shakti) and our history (karma). Personalities tend to change very little over lifetimes. This is partly because significant change requires soul age, which is the resilience that comes from many lives in a human form, what I call heart.
Mike Leigh’s new film, Happy Go Lucky is a study of personalities and soul age. His principle character is Poppy, a resiliently souled optimist, who is determined to keep a sense of joy and wonder about her. Her nemesis is an immature souled, paranoid, racist, victim of a institutional standards – who has now found a minute sense of control as a driving instructor. The other characters in the movie serve as marvelous foils to Poppy’s irrepressible good nature. The most interesting of which was a schizophrenic homeless man with the countenance of mature soul who has somehow been left behind, i.e. the right heart, wrong history.
But the most interesting part of the film was its total lack of anything remotely cinematic (at least by Hollywood standards.) The events and people portrayed were events and people of everyday life. The story was about as provocative as oatmeal. But as I have said, many times before, it is not the story, but how you tell it. Happy-Go-Lucky is a story well told.
As you allow Poppy’s very mundane life to unfold in front of you have a chance to explore the multihued fabric of Poppy’s world. While Poppy’s almost preternatural optimism carries her a great way we are able to see its limits and even its down side. For example, we have to ask ourselves, was she at least partially responsible for the driving instructor’s breakdown? Did she, in her over exuberance and insouciance, fail to assess the dark and tormented man’s emotional frailty? She had entered in to his phallic realm (the car) the one place he felt he had dominion and she unseated him completely. Yes, we saw her effort to peer into his troubled past, but did she go far enough to see the impact she was having on him. This is the responsibility of the more mature soul, and an important lesson of the movie. A lesson Poppy learns the hard way.
There is much to be mined from this delight of a movie. This includes an insight into the question of what does it take to be a good person? And, is it more than just a sunny disposition? (This does seem a good place to start.) It also takes a willingness to look into the soul’s of others and see what is it that they need. And that can be hard work, but hey, happiness is hard work.
Recommendation: If you are a fan of Mike Leigh, or if you like thoughtfully paced cinema, then you you will like this.