Slumdog Millionaire: A Bollywood mask on Western Homogenisation Gretel DilucaThe visual symbols at work in the film Slumdog Millionaire (2009) work to portray not only a globalised India, butalso use intertextuality to create a platform which has rapidly become part of global culture over the last decade.The use of reality TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ as a critical part of the plot within the movie shows justhow interconnected the world has become. The film was a box office hit in 2009, nominated for ten Oscar awardsand winning eight of them as well as an Academy Award. The question was sparked by many critics, was it aHollywood film with Bollywood flavour, or a Bollywood film which is finally accepted by the global film market?Regardless of the answer, one thing is clear, Slumdog Millionaire (2009) transcended cultural barriers, crossingseamlessly from Indian to Western cultures and forming a worldwide audience.Slumdog Millionaire (2009) has the flavour of a Bollywood film, from the music, colour, film montages, use offlashbacks and dance, one can distinctly sense the soul of Indian film (Chiru-Jitaru, 2009, p. 93). The inclusions ofthese elements are strong examples of the transculture shift which is seen in the global marketplace (Speck & Roy,2008, P. 1198; During, 1997, p.808). Due to globalisation there is speculation that cultural barriers are being erodedby the homogenisation of the Western-European culture which is dominating the global expansion ( Holton, 2000, p.140; Speck & Roy, 2008, p.1199; Sangupta, 2010, p. 560). This is clearly seen in Slumdog Millionaire (2009) where wefollow the Indian characters across their journey. The overall climax of the film is linked to the crucial moment wherethe main character, Jamal is successful at a Westernised game show. One interesting thing to note about the themesin Slumdog Millionaire (2009) is the similarities between Indian and Western idealised outcomes. In both traditionalIndian film, and in Western film, the connection between love, money and success is significant (Chiru-Jitaru, 2009,p. 94). Slumdog Millionaire (2009) follows a young orphan boy, from his undesirable beginnings, to the point wherehe has risen to become a millionaire. Why? To get the girl. When did he get the girl? When he was successful. Thistheme is common in many films across cultures, especially in regards to Indian and Western cinema (Chiru-Jitaru,2009, p.94). This similar romanticised view of success allowed Slumdog Millionaire (2009) to successfully negotiateboth cultures and connect with viewers from both Indian and Western-European backgrounds (During, 1997, 811;Scott, 2004, p.39).
Other examples of this transculture and globalisation, which has not been met warmly in India, are the depictions ofstereotyped India. Slumdog Millionaire (2009) capitalises on everything about India which is familiar to the West(Scott, 2004, p.38); telephone call centres, the tourist attraction of the Taj Mahal, the vibrancy of colour, the music,and the extreme divide between poverty and affluence. This has been criticised are creating a movie which showsIndia in the light of the ‘superior’ West (Sangupta, 2010, p.560; Magala, 2010, p.153). The use of visual symbology toaccentuate the divide between affluence and poverty, and India and West are noticeable in a number of waysthroughout Slumdog Millionaire (2009). Firstly, one will note that the Indian slums depicted in the film have noWesternised appliances or any markers of Westernised wealth (Magala, 2010, p.155). To build on this symbologyabout affluence is the principle of ‘branding’ (Barker, 2008, p.343). During the filming of Slumdog Millionaire (2009),multi-billion dollar companies, Coca-cola and Mercedes Benz requested that none of their products be shown inscenes of poverty (Brodesser-Akner, 2008, p.14). They did not want an internationally recognized brand, such asMercedes Benz, which is associated with wealth world-wide, to be seen in scenes which devalue the brand namethey have developed for themselves. They had no such objections to their brands being displayed in areas ofaffluence during filming or in connection with characters of affluence (Brodesser-Akner, 2008, p14.). This use ofvisual signs in an Indian film to reinforce consumer patterns in Western cultures is another demonstration of thewide-reaching effects of globalisation (Scott, 2004, p. 41; Askegaard & Kjeldgaard, 2006, p. 234; Lukose, 2005,p.916). Not only do these visual codes reproduce ideologies about brands, but it also provides a code for classdivision within society.These codes for class and ethnicity are built on in the scenes involving the Taj Mahal. All the tourists are portrayed aswhite, and affluent. Jamal and Salim steal their shoes and act as tour guides, making the class divide and ethnicdivide blaringly obvious. Another scene is when Jamal takes his American guests on a tour of the ‘real India’, andtheir car is stripped. When the local driver begins attacking Jamal he is disrupted by the American’s who give Jamal a$100 bill in the name of ‘American justice’ (Magala, 2010, p. 155). The use of well-off Western and Europeantourists as well as the use of branding to support widely accepted perceptions of different global product linesintertwines with the overall plot of becoming successful through interaction with the West.Jamal is not a ‘slumdog’ millionaire, he only achieves his chance at success by exiting the slums and obtaining a life inthe globalised Indian industry (Sangupta, 2010,p.563) . Essentially the whole film tells its own story, Jamal issuccessful in his accomplishment (finding love) by participating in Westernised framework of the definition of
success, and Slumdog Millionaire (2009), the film itself, is successful in the West because of the way it adheres to theperception of Western supremacy. This is evident in the way the film is shot, the way the producers and directorshave used a Westernised gaze to build an opinion of India as a third-world spectacle (Sangupta, 2010, p.562). Eventhe characters are used in this coding to create a superior West. Sangupta states that “Boyle’s lionising of a ‘localhero’ who embodies the virtues associated with Western culture and Northern ‘development’ is strategicallybrilliant” (p. 612). The character of Jamal is played by a British-born actor, and the grown up Latika is played byL’oreal model, Frieda Pinto; hardly local actors, but young people who possess all the characteristics of anincreasingly global youth culture, which is noticeable in the film (Askegaard & Kjeldgaard, 2006, p231).The production of Slumdog Millionaire (2009) can also be seen as a way to assert the supremacy of Western culture.The use of the camera to produce a voyeuristic view of Mumbai slum-life to a Western audience reinforces thedivisions between ethnicity and class (Garoian & Gaudelius, 2004, p. 299). The extensive scenes of desolation,poverty, lawless-ness and cruelty provide quite a negative backdrop for messages relating to Indian slums. SlumdogMillionaire (2009) has been criticised for producing a “white man’s India. Not quite snake charmers, but it’s close, it’sa poverty tour” (Sengupta, 2010, 610). For many Western viewers, the slums in Slumdog Millionaire (2009) will bethe only view of a slum they ever encounter, and so they will form their perceptions on Indian slum-life based on theimages in this film (Garoian & Gaudelius, 2004, p.307). In essence, it is the power of western film to produce imageswhich create a third world subjected to a superior westernized gaze. The Bollywood/Hollywood feel of SlumdogMillionaire (2009) has been seen by critics as a blatant example of the Western perception of superiority (Chiru-Jitaru, 2009, p. 95). The Western production crew is praised for their work, while the Indian screen writer, and theIndian author on who’s work the movie is based, are rarely mentioned. Slumdog Millionaire (2009) has achievedwide acclaim on the Western and European film circuits, while at the same time battling criticism in India for itssubtle depictions of a third-world India ‘saved’ by the Western globalised industry (Sangupta, 2010, p.612).The message behind the ‘sweatshop to the boudoir’ portrayal of Indian call centres (Magala, 2010, p. 154), anoutsourced form of labour from the West, which is desired and even aspired to in the Indian labour market (Holton,2005, p.930); can be viewed cynically. Ironically, it is during his work in the call centre that Jamal is first exposed tothe Western game show “Who wants to be a Millionaire”, the show that catapults him to success. What does thissay about the cultures depicted in the film? One can argue that Slumdog Millionaire (2009) does more to promote
the globalised industry promise of India, than it does to promote the story of a triumphant underdog (Chiru- Jitaru,2009, p. 98; Magala, 2010, p.155). The codes, symbology and visual depictions within Slumdog Millionaire (2009)loudly promote the glorified West and the benefits that a homogenized Western globalisation has on the third-worldcountry of India (Speck & Roy, 2008, 1202; Sangupta, 2010, p.598; Magala, 2010, p.155). As is stated by Salim at1hr:11min: “India is at the centre of the world”. Slumdog Millionaire (2009) uses complex visual symbology and coding to contextualise messages of class andethnicity in a globalised world. The issues of a Western homogenization of culture and the consumer ideologies atplay on a global level are interwoven into the film. Cues such as branding, job aspiration, the use of a Western gameshow platform, recognised tourist attractions and the actors chosen contribute to the underlying cultural messagesdepicted in Slumdog Millionaire (2009). Globalisation has catapulted India into the middle of a consumerist capitalistWestern regime and this is reflected in Slumdog Millionaire (2009). The film essentially uses popular stereotypes ofBollywood, to achieve in Hollywood, manipulating Indian culture to subtly promote a superior West.
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