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India revels in acclaim for 'Slumdog Millionaire'

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"Slumdog ... is Boyle's gift to Mumbai," Shobha De, a socialite and author, wrote in the Times of India, earlier this month.

"Whether or not Boyle's film wins an Oscar or two is immaterial," Ms. De wrote, unabashedly admitting she had watched the film on a pirated CD. "It should be made compulsory viewing for anybody who wants to understand the shocking, ghastly subtext that deals with the 'other' Mumbai – the one that feeds on abject poverty and paradoxically enough, also on the soaring hope that this same poverty breeds success."

Many observers draw parallels of the film with "Salaam Bombay," a 1998 film by internationally acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair, which encapsulated the despair and desperation of Mumbai's street kids. Eventually, Ms. Nair set up the "Salaam Bombay Foundation," a charity dedicated to them. Her moving portrayal of street kids helped generate awareness and funds to improve their plight.

Some social workers and nongovernmental organizations hope that "Slumdog Millionaire" will do similar good for slum dwellers.

More than 60 percent of Mumbai's citizens are known to reside in slums. The most visible of them is Dharavi, a labyrinth that is home to more than 1 million people. A majority of them are migrants, and all of them – 17,000 stuffed into each acre – are scrambling for space in a sea of weathered iron shacks and mildewed tenements.

Cholera and other waterborne diseases are endemic in Dharavi. Sanitation facilities are scarce, with one toilet for every 1,500 people, according to the World Bank. Drinking water is in short supply; families of 15 share one water tap.

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