The object that I have chosen is a film called Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The movie, directed by Danny Boyle, received 8 Oscar awards for excellence in the fields like Direction, Cinematography, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Original Score and Original Song. The movie is an adaption of a novel ‘Q & A’ written by the proclaimed Indian author and diplomat, Vikas Swarup.
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The movie is set in an Indian backdrop and the story revolves around an uneducated Muslim boy named Jamaal, and about his journey from the slums in a typical ‘rags to riches’ background. The story begins with Jamaal and his brother’s life in slums, and how they were left homeless after a Hindu Muslim riot which kills their mother. It continues with their journey to other cities and finally ends at Kaun Banega Crorepati (Indian adaption of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’) where he wins the contest using the knowledge he had picked up during his impoverished life. Other than the several accolades, the film also faced criticism for the ugly potrayal of India and the abusive language that was used. In the following paragraphs, I would be analyzing the movie in terms of genres that it potrayed.
Genre is a French term used for ‘type’. It is a term that has existed since very early times in cinema. Some frequently used genres are romance, crime, comedy , fantasy or actuality, drama, thriller, horror, suspense, cowboy, art/ independent(class note). Basically it is a repetition of certain features while making a film, that later act as a genesis for its identification under a specific genre. But gradually, it was realized that such a narrowed down approach of filmmaking and categorization lead to productions that were repetitive and predictable. Thus arose the need for genre films to be not just ‘more of the same’ but also something different.
This lead to an interesting phenomenon of categorizing the same movie in various genres like drama, action, mystery etc. Such movies are called multi genre films. It has been claimed that the more recent movies target consciously for genre cross-over. This concept of cross-over results in multi genre films that can be described as postmodern in terms of cinema. The amalgamation of genres leads to mixing of the already existing genres and thus generates new possibilities. The mixing together of genres is often referred to as bricolage, and such films are called hybrids. In bricolage, one can often observe elements of various different films that are grouped together.
” Why? Why limit a film to one set of emotions when it has the potential to explore so much more? ” – Danny Boyle
The concept of multi genres can be clearly seen in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. The genres identified are romance, drama and crime. The story told in the film seems to be a retold from the movie ‘Salaam Bombay’, which is story of a young boy Chaipu who is left homeless and lives on the streets of Bombay. The story is about how he survives by doing odd jobs at a very young age and struggles to overcome the harsh reality of the metropolitan that is Bombay. One can easily draw a parallel between Chaipu in ‘Salaaam Bombay’ and Jamaal’s character in Slumdog Millionaire (Infact the first reaction of Indian audience to Slumdog Millionaire was its comparison to Salaam Bombay). The other elements of the movie such as the underworld, crime and Hindu-Muslim riots in the city of Mumbai have been portrayed in a far more realistic way in movies Satya [INSERT YEAR] , Sadak and Bombay. The ending of the movie is rather happy where Jamaal finally reunites with his ladylove and also miraculously wins the show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire’. These joyful endings have been prevalent in cinema for a long time. The theme of the movie is formulaic and seems to be a repetition of the previous movies based on the same lines.
Genres can also be discussed in relation to industry, market and the audience. The industry makes film as long as there is a demand from the audience. The categorization of films into genres basically enables the industry to divide the range of movies that be made and thus sets a clear demarcation. The study of movies of different genres in the market gives a good idea of the response of the audience and thus on the basis of this study of most profitable response, movie of the same genre are made. A particular type of genre movie tries to specialize at the majority of the levels so as to maximize the possibility of profits. Analyzing Slumdog Millionaire in this light we can notice that the use of locations, props, actors has been carefully chosen according to the genre and script of the movie. As the movie is about a young, homeless, uneducated Indian boy and all the hardships he goes through, it was very crucial for the movie to use the appropriate locations and props. The location chosen for the shooting was the city of Mumbai itself. The young star cast of the are the in fact children of the slums which lends a very original effect to the movie. The director very cleverly chose the other actors as well keeping in mind the International and the Indian audience. The actors are mostly debutants and fit completely in the non-glamorous portrayals of the roles. The international audiences have a stereo typical image of the Asian cinema and the director has kept this in mind while choosing the various aspects of the movie
Genre films have a deep impact on the social and cultural contexts. These films act as ‘ cultural products; which might carry the dominant and prevalent ideologies of the society in which they are produced. Though more than often films are not a reflection of the real society but instead are based on common perception of the society.
The following two texts relate to the genre in movies. I have tried to analyze Slumdog Millionaire in the light of these two texts:
“Moral issues are raised, questions are asked and answers given. We are invited to evaluate a character’s actions and imaginary solutions are offered to real problems within the society”
If we look at the movie Slumdog Millionaire, it has showcased many problems like poverty, crime, trickery and deception in a rather exaggerated way and in the end the solution offered an imaginary solution would make sense only in a fantasy land. An instance of the imaginary solution in the movie is that the boy who grew up without any education whatsoever starts tricking non hindi speaking tourists with impeccable English and later in the movie locates his brother using a computer. This is just something fantastical which fills people with hope and optimism, and makes them believe that there is a solution all problems. This is something that definitely does not happen in the real world, but the movie came out at a time when the world was witnessing one of the greatest recessions of all time, and almost everybody faces a bleak future. At this time, the movie gave the solution to the society that it so much wanted to believe.
“It could be claimed that such films (genre movies) are not ‘reflections’ of society but are particular perceptions of a society. How we see such films might ultimately be determined by whether or not recurring patterns and themes can be identified”
In Slumdog Millionaire, the director has made use of the emotions of audience. It is made in way that it draws sympathy from the Western world and re-affirms their age old opinion about India. The plot in the movie doesn’t speak about anything that a modern developing economy boasts of (a common example of this is the fact that many foreigners still think of India as a land of snake charmers in US, whereas I am yet to see a single snake charmer in my 24 years of stay in India). Genre films sometimes challenge dominant ideas, question cultural values and this just leaves a more positive and optimistic effect on people as they do not find themselves helplessly tied to a society’s belief system. In this context the film Slumdog Millionaire challenges the fact that an uneducated and lowly placed person in society can get as big a success as winning the mega jackpot. This theme subtly re-assures the audience that despite their short comings, they could also be the next Jamaal. Also, in an underlying theme of the Good overcoming the evil makes the movie adjust to the perception of the audience. The fact that Jamaal even after being embroiled in so many nasty incidents and pot holes of crime and vulgarity, remains good, and ultimately wins the jackpot. This plays on the audience’s wish to see the ending that they sub-consciously believe in, and want to see on screen, even if that doesn’t make much sense in reality.
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To conclude, we can say that Slumdog Millionaire is a movie that was packaged very deftly into the genres that were decided for it by the movie-makers. From the point of view of culture, audience and industry, the movie weaves itself perfectly into the landscape it aspires to project itself into. The movie was hit on a global scale, and after analyzing the intelligent inter-play of genres, the underlying ‘rags to riches’ theme, satisfying the audience’s sub-conscious desires irrespective of location and releasing at a time when the world was in recession, seems but a powerful potion for a massive on on-screen success.
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