Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Chai-wala of Slumdog Millionaire

Post-Oscars media has me remembering just how much I loved Slumdog Millionaire. I didn't get out to see many movies this year, but I'm so glad I picked the one that walked away with Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, & the list goes on. Although I haven't ventured to India yet myself, I've heard many stories from my Indian-American friends. I had heard about the organized bands children begging to make a living, and about the pimps who exploit them. I'd also heard about the huge disparity between the rich and the impoverished, and about the caste system which is still deeply enmeshed in the culture. I'd also heard about forced prostitution, which was also detailed in the 2004 documentary Born Into Brothels which focused on the children of Calcutta's red light district.

One surprising cultural aspect depicted in the movie was the low social clout given to people who serve tea, chai-walas. As a teen, the main character Jamal works at a customer service center as their chai-wala. At work, people treated him with a slight condescending tone. And later, when he sat opposite the game show host, he referenced Jamal's job title as if it were a joke. He repeatedly made fun of him for being seemingly uneducated, by simply calling him a chai-wala. The word "chai-wala" was intended as an insult on his personal status and identity rather than a job title.

A quick Indian tea diversion... Tea in India goes way back, and is still tightly integrated into their modern culture. The most famous Indian tea comes from the Darjeeling region, located in the foothills of the Himilayas. Darjeeling tea, endemic to this region, is known for the naturally slight fruity taste and light astringency for this world class black tea. The other popular region of tea growing is located in the Blue Mountains (Nilgiri Mountains), which also gives name to this tea type - Nilgiri. Our Nilgiri tea is amazingly robust, nearly impossible to over-steep, and remains fragrant and flavorful for multiple steepings - gorgeous burgundy leaves and liquor.

But back to Slumdog... viewers can't help but root for this underdog hero, Jamal. His unwavering heart wins you over from the very beginning. My favorite memory of the whole movie is when he's presented with the opportunity to meet his childhood idol; he jumps into the pit of a public outhouse in order to escape the baracaded door and runs to meet his hero. Covered in sewage, his determination gets him an autograph on the photo of his hero that he carries around with him, and he walks away triumphant. This photo captures the split second before he makes the decision to jump into the sewage pit, full of hope for this chance encounter. I love it!

(photos of the film taken from imdb.com)


  1. i am so in love with this movie. I just recently saw it and it was amazing. Thanks for this recap :)
    I also got my samples last night and wrote about them in my morning post and sent you an e-mail! Thanks so much! everything is amazingggg

  2. any tips for an overly bitter darjeeling? could the tea be old?

  3. Hi Michele, I would suggest playing around with time & temp - try using a lower water temperature and steeping only 3.5 minutes. Let me know what you think...