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CONTEMORARY MEDIA ISSUES : Global Slumdog (OCR Media Conference 2009)


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Roy Stafford

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CONTEMORARY MEDIA ISSUES : Global Slumdog (OCR Media Conference 2009)

  1. 1. A2 G235 Section B: Contemporary Media Issues Global Media What kinds of media are increasingly global in terms of production and distribution? • How have global media developed, in historical terms, and how inclusive is this trend • in reality? What kinds of audience behaviour and consumption are increasingly global? • What are the arguments for and against global media, in relation to content, access, • representation and identity? Candidates might explore combinations of any two media in relation to the above prompts. Suggestions for work on two media from Roy Stafford 1. Slumdog Millionaire and the conjuctural moment of global film 2. Manga and otaku culture What are global media? I’ve taken global media to be concerned with media forms that are produced in several different production contexts around the world, which then circulate in more than one market and in so doing influence production in the second market. In this way the medium is increasingly globalised as domestic industries mutate through a process of interaction. In terms of film, up until now the predominant form of change in the international film industry has been of a hegemonic Hollywood across most markets slowly absorbing new talent and ideas thrown up by smaller commercial industries, which have in turn often imitated and stolen Hollywood material. In this paradigm, Hollywood has had little contact with the major film industries of India and has recently found itself to a certain extent rebuffed by renascent industries in Japan, South Korea and the ‘three Chinas’. This growing challenge to Hollywood has been met by the activities of the major US studios in seeking production deals with South Asian and East Asian producers. In historical terms, this represents something of a return to the 1960s when Hollywood studios attempted to create co- production deals in Europe, especially in Italy and with Japan, but the current engagement with India and China is new. However, the early attempts to engage directly with Indian producers on films such as Saarwariya (2007) and Chandni Chowk to China (2008) has so far proved strikingly unsuccessful. It is in this context that the distribution and exhibition of Slumdog Millionaire has been so striking. In terms of manga, anime and associated aspects of otaku culture, there is a different context. For want of a better term, the international ‘comics and graphic novel publishing industry’ has historically seen large scale operations in the US, Japan, France and Italy. These industries have been dependent to a large extent on a domestic market, although American comics have distribution in the UK and other English-speaking countries since at least the 1950s and an increasing number of comic book adaptations have been released by Hollywood studios for the international market. Videogames too have spun off from ‘superhero’ franchises. The overall market has been transformed, however, by the arrival in the US and Western Europe of Japanese manga and anime. These have begun to influence producers in the West and it is important to recognise that much of the spread of manga culture is via the 1
  2. 2. activities of fans rather than that of media corporations themselves which are responding to demand. What makes Slumdog Millionaire so different? An Indian property – an Indian novel, Q & A, written in English by Vikas Swarup; A UK production company, Film 4, and its partner, Celador, the owner of the rights to the TV format at the centre of the novel, WWTBAM; A UK scriptwriter, Simon Beaufoy and UK director Danny Boyle Indian musical composer, A R Rahman UK dept heads and Indian crew One UK actor plus stars of Bollywood and parallel cinema plus non-professional actors An Indian shoot and shared post-production India/UK A Hollywood studio as North American distributor via its specialist label A British/French distributor in the UK An Indian subsidiary of a Hollywood studio as distributor in India Appearances at international film festivals, culminating in awards in the US and UK Given a budget of either $10 million or £10 million (sources vary), Slumdog has been a major commercial success. As of 3/3/09 box office grosses were as follows: US $100 million UK $37 million After these, the biggest markets have been France, Australia, Italy, Spain India (Hindi) $2.6 million India (English) $3.4 million Note that the film has not been a big hit in Hindi markets, but has done very well in English language markets (don’t forget it is still a third Hindi in the English prints). Since tickets for Hindi halls are generally likely to be lower priced than the English language screens, it still means a sizeable audience of around 8-10 million Indians (plus pirated DVD viewings etc.). 2
  3. 3. Cinema in India There are many myths about Indian Cinema, not least the confusion between Hindi Cinema, Bollywood and Indian Cinema generally. There are around 800-1000 films produced each year in India. • The largest number of films are produced in the four South Indian languages of • Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam. These four regional industries account for more than half of all Indian films. The highest profile films with the most promotion and usually the biggest box office • (by revenue) are the 200 or so Bollywood films made in Hindi. The remaining 200 films are produced in other so-called ‘regional’ languages, • including Bengali, Marathi, Bhojpuri etc. Some of the films made in Hindi, Bengali and Malayalam plus occasional Tamil and • Telugu films and several made in English are classified as artfilms, specialised films or ‘Parallel Cinema’. Bollywood film producers increasingly export films to the diaspora of NRIs (Non- • Resident Indians) in the UK and North America as well as Africa and other parts of Asia. Other Indian film industries also export films, especially the Tamil industry to Malaysia, Singapore and again to the UK and North America. Indian cinemas in most major cities play films in several languages – usually Hindi, • English and the regional language. Slumdog Millionaire was released in English and Hindi versions. American films • such as March of the Penguins have also been dubbed into Telugu and Tamil. What makes Slumdog unique is that its typical Danny Boyle style was influenced by • several Indian film industry characteristics including Parallel Cinema and South Indian films as well as Bollywood. Slumdog style Danny Boyle has built up a reputation, largely based it would seem on his successful British pictures (Shallow Grave (1995), Trainspotting (1996) and 28 Days Later (2002)), for highly stylised cinematography and fast cutting. A feature of his work has been partnerships with cinematographers and editors prepared to work in his style (much of which recently has been developed using digital cameras). Anthony Dod Mantle, DoP on Slumdog was with Boyle when he experimented with early digital cameras on UK television films in 2001. Mantle was also a major player in the so-called Dogme movement starting in Denmark with Festen in 1998. A distinctive UK/Danish approach was adapted on the Slumdog shoot after Boyle had studied a range of Indian filmmaking styles (discussed in Sight & Sound, February 2009). These included Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay (all of her Indian films in fact) Aamir Khan’s films as actor and director and Ram Gopal Varma amongst others. To illustrate some of the techniques and narrative ideas that might have influenced Danny Boyle, we could look at extracts from: Salaam Bombay, Company (Ram Gopal Varma, 2002) and possibly an example of work by Mani Ratnam. 3
  4. 4. Slumdog and Reception Studies Slumdog has quickly become one of the most discussed films of recent times. This is perhaps less to do with the film in terms of its narrative (although audiences seem genuinely entertained by its ideas and their presentation) and more to do with its status as a cultural object. The critical and industry discussion of the film started as soon as it was released in the US in December and at the time of its UK release in late January this intensified into a debate in the press and the media more generally. This in turn was revived and extended at the time of the 8 Oscar triumph in February. At the same time, the film created a mixed response in India (again affected by Oscar success with some Indian commentators caught between wanting to condemn the film for being ‘not Indian enough’, but at the same time wanting to celebrate Oscar success for A R Rahman (twice) and sound recordist Resul Pookutty. Some of the UK reaction is covered in the itpworld blog on ‘Danny Boyle and the critics’ (all blog references below) and David Borwell’s long US-based analysis is on his blog. The reactions of Indian bloggers are featured on the Culturazzi website (itpworld and Culturazzi work closely together). There are a range of debates around the film, which I will argue make it a candidate for a global or possibly ‘globalising’ product. One of the debates focuses on ideas about realism – is the film denigrating India by showing the reality of poverty or denigrating it by offering a ‘Western view, a tourist’s view rather than a realist view? These are mutually exclusive arguments frequently presented. A second argument surrounds the extent to which the film draws on existing Indian Cinema (in all its manifestations) and mixes it with Western styles. This is my position, but others argue forcibly against it. Much depends of course on the width of viewing experience of the critic. (Bordwell is quite good on this.) It is worth remembering that some Indian commentators may not watch any other Indian films outside of Bollywood. The extent of the release in both English and Hindi versions of the film is important, as is the success of the soundtrack album in reaching a wider Indian audience. The next stage of research may well be to try to discover how the film has been discussed outside North America/UK and India. How will it play in East Asia and in the markets where Hindi films have traditionally been popular in Africa and the Middle East? These comments take us back to two of our four objectives for the units: What kinds of audience behaviour and consumption are increasingly global? • What are the arguments for and against global media, in relation to content, access, • representation and identity? I would contend that Indian cinema audiences are moving towards to a mode of cinemagoing that is more closely aligned to that of North America, Europe and East Asia, i.e. through the new-build multiplexes, now with digital projection. However, there is a distinct divide between the poor and the new middle class and between the rural and urban audiences. There are thousands of traditional cinemas in India in which audience behaviour will be much slower to change (see Indian research into audience behaviour quoted in Understanding Audiences and the Film Industry, 2007: 158). At the same time, satellite TV (often pirated), VCDs and DVDs (also pirated) may be supplying poorer audiences with greater access to films (as well as ‘World Cinema’ to upmarket audiences). Is this a ‘good thing’ or a ‘bad thing’? Students should discuss what they think the consequences might be, but it is important to recognise that concepts of Hollywood hegemony and ‘cultural imperialism’ need to be interrogated very carefully. Hollywood is approaching the newly emergent Indian media conglomerates with rapidity, but also some 4
  5. 5. trepidation. (DreamWorks was effectively bought by the Indian major, Reliance, not the other way round.) In an Indian context, issues over identity may be played out much more in a Hindi v Tamil/Telugu stand-off or fears that a ‘globalised’ and unified Indian national identity might threaten as a regional power to overwhelm Pakistan and Bangladesh. The other aspect of this debate, which students may be part of is the role of the NRI audience in the UK. To a large extent, Bollywood films in the UK are still playing to a ‘diasporic audience’. Both Hollywood and Bollywood seek that potential crossover hit – an Indian produced film that attracts a general UK and US audience. Slumdog is arguably nearer to that goal than the Hollywood co-produced Indian films so far released. References cinema ‘Indian Cinema: The World’s Biggest And Most Diverse Film Industry’ is a pdf of material for student’s on the website of Cornerhouse Cinema, Manchester Kaushik Bhaumik (2006) ‘Consuming Bollywood in the global age: the strange case of an ‘unfine’ world cinema’ in Stephanie Dennison and Song Hwee Lim, Remapping World Cinema: identity, culture, politics and film, London: Wallflower Press K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake (2004, 2nd ed) Indian Popular Cinema: A Narrative of Cultural Change, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books K. Moti Gokulsing and Wimal Dissanayake (eds) (2008) Popular Culture in a Globalised India, London: Routledge Alkarim Jivani (2009) ‘Mumbai Rising’, an interview with Danny Boyle in Sight and Sound, February Roy Stafford (2007) Understanding Audiences and the Film Industry, London: bfi Roy Stafford (2008) ‘Enter the Dragon – Hollywood and the overseas market’ in Media Magazine 26, December Bollywood and Beyond, BFI pack and VHS compilation tape available (along with other books on South Asian Cinema) from 5