Portraying Persistence: The Importance of Cinematic Techniques in Slumdog Millionaire

In the film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, directed by Danny Boyle, Jamal Malik features on the Mumbai version of the game show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’ where he is one question away from winning twenty million rupees by using past experiences to answer the questions. In a desperate attempt to find his long-lost love, Latika, Jamal uses past experiences to answer the questions on the show, despite being accused of cheating and having to face the challenge of proving his innocence. In the opening sequence of the film ’Slumdog Millionaire’, Jamal Malik, is introduced to the viewers as he is being interrogated by a policeman who firmly believes Jamal has cheated his way through the show. Throughout the time Jamal is beaten, electrocuted, slapped and drowned, he is persistent in proclaiming his innocence and is willing to prove that he knew the game show answers and did not cheat. In the opening scene, amongst the rest of the film, the subjects of perseverance and hardship are explored. The visual and oral features of diegetic sound, non-diegetic sound, camera shots and camera angles are used by director Danny Boyle to portray the important message that persistence is key in the face of adversity. Through Jamal, a key character in the film ’Slumdog Millionaire’ the audience understands the important message that if you are willing to persist when faced with adversity, it can lead you to success.

Diegetic sounds are used throughout the opening sequence by film director Danny Boyle to expose the horrors of Jamal’s interrogation experience and highlight his unfailing determination. This occurs when a diegetic amplified electrifying sound is played during the time where the interrogators are torturing Jamal. The amplification of the electrifying sound highlights that it is an important part of the scene and ensures the audience pays extra attention. In amplifying the electrifying sound, the audience is given a grim detailed image of the pain being inflicted on Jamal at the time of the torture. By watching the opening cuts in the scene, the audience has prior understanding that Jamal is being electrocuted as a means of admitting to how he cheated on the game show – even though he did no such thing. The fact that Jamal proclaims his innocence, even when faced with such hardship such as electrification, portrays him as a courageous and persevering character within the film. The audience admires Jamal for staying true to himself and is inspired by his willingness to withstand such hardship and pain. Sympathy and concern is also evoked as the audience worries for Jamal’s safety. Later, Jamal’s determination to withstand the torture pays off when the interrogators believe that he was telling the truth and let him continue on the game show.

Later, Diegetic sound is used in the opening scene, when we hear the game show audience laughing and clapping at Jamal’s success. The diegetic sound adds to the suspense of the scene, and viewers become aware about how popular the show is and therefore that there is a large amount of pressure on Jamal to succeed in the show. It is a contrast to the previous sound, where Jamal was faced with electrification and hardship. Instead, the laughing and clapping highlights his success of being allowed back onto the show and there is suspense within the audience as we see how Jamal will carry himself through the competition. The audience is reminded again how staying true to his own word and remaining determined led him to be back onto the game show: with the shows audience watching, laughing and cheering him on. It also foreshadows the idea that Jamal will win in the end. The audience feels overcome by the sudden change of scene from the basement, where a series of gruesome torturous sounds were played, to a loud and bright arena, where we hear the audience’s excitement. The effective contrasts in diegetic sounds used by Boyle within the opening scenes highlight that although obstacles may come in ones way, it is important to persevere and remain strong in order to be successful.

In the opening sequence, Boyle exposes the non-diegetic sounds that highlight the consequence of the forms of hardship Jamal is experiencing. For example an amplified non-diegetic ‘tick tock’ sound is used at the beginning of the opening sequence to add tension to the film. The amplified sound makes the audience understand that it is an important part of the scene and therefore forces us to pay more attention. When we hear the tick tocking, we associate it with a clock and therefore can understand that time is running out. Boyle uses the tick tock sound to put us in a similar position to how Jamal is feeling – being put under a large amount of pressure and having to remain calm and determined in order to answer the questions and continue on the game show. Although he is put under such pressure and must be exceedingly nervous, he perseveres and answers the questions. The audience feels a buildup of tension and find it nerve-racking that they are placed in a similar position to Jamal. Later, we understand that Jamal’ calm, collected and determined manner through the show ensured his position at the last question to win 20 million rupees and later find is ‘ultimate-prize’ Latika.

In Slumdog Millionare, Danny Boyle uses camera shots to highlight Jamal as a determined character. As a child, Jamal’s determination is shown when he undauntedly jumps into excrement to receive an autography from his favourite actor. A close up is shown of Jamal holding his nose with one hand and his picture of Amitabh above his head in another. Through a series of previous camera shots, the audience understands that Jamal has been locked into the toilet and now wishes to get out to meet his favourite actor. Through the effective use of the camera shot, the audience understands that Jamal is willing to be covered in excrement in order to receive what he desires – the autograph. Later, a low angle long shot of Jamal at the top of the hill covered in excrement highlights his impending victory. The audience understands that through facing the challenge of jumping into the excrement, Jamal has got the autograph he so badly wanted as a reward. In addition, his literal journey of climbing up the hill reflects his journey of overcoming his obstacle and rising above the challenges he faces. As a result of Boyles effective use of camera shots, the audience understands that Jamal is willing to endure hardship in order to succeed in life. This foreshadows his earnest quest for Latika as a young adult throughout the film and his brother’s role in preventing Jamal from attaining his ultimate desire. The effective use of camera shots within this scene and the rest of the film highlight the important idea that lifes challenges can be overcome with perseverance and as a result can lead one to success.

In the opening sequence, Boyle exposes Jamal’s vulnerability as a result of being a contestant of the game show through camera angles. For example, a dutch angle is used at the beginning of the opening sequence to show the audience that someone is looking down over Jamal. The audience understands that someone is influencing Jamal and has power over him. The angle highlights that Jamal is in desperation and is portrayed as ‘weak’. The fact that Jamal has been put into a weaker position gives the viewer the impression that the one who has power over him, in this case the interrogator, may inflict pain on Jamal. This evokes a curious atmosphere between viewers as they wonder who the person in power is and what they may do to Jamal. We also feel sympathy for Jamal, as he has been put into a weak and vulnerable position we begin to worry for his safety. Later on in the opening sequence, our suspicions are confirmed as we view Jamal being tortured. Jamal is able to remove his ‘weak’ image and prove his success in the face of a false-image and the hardship he is put through as we view him suffering through the torture and continuing through to the next round of the game show. A bird’s eye view angle of Jamal in the game show’s atmosphere is shown to prove that Jamal is intimidated. The camera angle positions Jamal in the centre of hundreds of audience members watching him and as a result director Boyle highlights Jamal’s bold personality. Jamal has chosen to put himself on the game show and has put the intense amount of pressure on himself to answer the questions in order to find Latika. The camera angle of Jamal shows the audience that he is determined to answer all the questions, just as he was determined to get on the show in the first place. As a result, his perseverance has led him to answer specific questions in the game show correct and later get him to the point of being one question off winning 20 million rupees. This evokes a curious atmosphere between the audience as the suspense is building we are unsure what will happen next in the show. We are also happy for Jamal as he has been courageous enough to get onto the game show and determined to answer all the questions in order to find his long lost love Latika. Through Boyle’s effective use of camera angles, Jamal is positioned as vulnerable whereas in both situations his determination has been able to lead him to success. Again, the important message within the film is confirmed that persisting towards a goal one may encounter obstacles, but is important to push through in order to reach success.

In Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle successfully uses visual and oral features such as diegetic sound, non-diegetic sound, camera shots and camera angles in the opening sequence to portray the perseverance Jamal exhibited in proving his innocence and finding Latika, his long-lost love. The visual and oral features confirm the important message within the film is that determination in the face of hardship leads to success. Through the character of Jamal, the audience is able to relate this important message to their own lives – with each individual encouraged to persevere through when faced with adversity, stay true to their own word and reach their full potential until they achieve goals set in their own personal lives.

Cultural Dimensions in Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire is a movie that invokes various cultures at work within India including Muslim/Hindu tensions, British colonialism and American pop culture in the form of the framing device of an American game show. Based on an Indian novel, the movie also adds another layer of cultural bias when it is based on Oliver Twist. Furthermore, there is a class structure in the movie that contrasts the poverty of the protagonist with the game show of the middle class existence. Even within the poor culture, there is a subculture of crime that is respected by the members of the poor class, but is largely ignored by the middle and upper class people. The criminals in Slumdog Millionaire are similar to the Ryan Reynolds character in Adventureland. He is the repairman for all the rides and among the teenage workers who are working at the place for their summer jobs, he is the highest class member of the fair. Yet, among his peers he has low status.

According to Edward Hall, culture is “an unconscious framework of shared meaning which makes communication possible but makes intercultural conflict inevitable.” (Shaules, 2007, p. 27) The screens of intercultural knowledge are constantly being challenged in this film as Dev Patel’s Jamal is being asked how he could know certain things, while being ignorant of simple cultural artifacts. However, one of the things that makes the film fascinating for American audiences is how some of these cultural artifacts are more familiar even if they are the more complicated questions.

Early in the movie, Jamal flubs the question for the national emblem of India and the police chief notes that his five year old daughter could answer the question. Jamal responds by asking about the cost of certain food in his neighborhood and other questions that the police cannot answer. When they cannot answer, he replies that even five year olds in this particular place know these answers. As a child of the slums, he is ignorant of certain cultural artifacts and very cognizant of others.

In fact the whole movie is informed by the cultural artifacts of India, which includes the shared experiences of going to the movies and the distance between tourists and Indians at the Taj Mahal. At the end, the fact that Jamal’s girlfriend does not know the name of the three musketeers is very indicative of the way that culture behaves in a covert manner that allows for people to know cultural tropes without knowing their origins or contexts.

Hofstede’s five dimensions are important in discussing this movie. Power/Distance is very much a part of the culture of this movie and it even frames the movie since Jamal’s performance at the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is distrusted due to the fact that he is on a lower strata in the social order. He is a Muslim who grew up in the slums and early in his life he was orphaned. Even his brother Salim has reached a higher scale on the P/D by proving himself to be more vicious than Jamal.

Hofstede’s second dimension of Individualism (IDV) is more interesting in the context of this movie because India has a low individualism with many relations being based on caste and family ties and community. “This refers to the strength of the ties people have to others within the community. A high IDV score indicates a loose connection with people. In countries with a high IDV score there is a lack of interpersonal connection and little sharing of responsibility, beyond family and perhaps a few close friends.” (Mind Tools, 2013) Yet, Jamal is forced by circumstances to work in a highly individualized framework. Throughout the movie, he is cut off from his family and friends. His mother is killed in the Bombay riots and his brother continues to betray him even as the woman that he loves is sold into sexual slavery. Hofstede’s “Masculinity” dimension is an interesting one but it seems to be arbitrary and based on Western gender roles form the 1950s.

As a movie for Western audiences, the more sensitive Jamal is the hero of the movie even though he is much less traditionally masculine than his brother. His brother is the one that shoots people and dominates many situations. Selling his girlfriend into sexual slavery is portrayed as something that is sad, but also something that seems reasonable given the circumstances. India is in the midst of a national dialogue concerning gender roles, with two gang rapes happening to women who dared to board buses.

The Uncertainty/Avoidance Index is depicted in the train scene when the brothers are stealing food and doing everything that they can do to make money and live. They are con artists who are always hustling and the MIA song on the soundtrack provides an undertone of excitement. India is in a time of great transition and its ability to accept change and risk has allowed it to welcome a great economic recovery. The brothers in this scene become metaphors for the Indian economic culture of innovation and change. However, India is still a culture that has a high UAI on a structural basis.

I am actually not sure why Hofstede suggests that people communicate with UAI cultures by expressing their emotions through hand gestures and raised voices. It seems like a stereotype that covers people who come from hot-weather climates like Italians, Jews and Arabs with the joke “what do you call a broken hand? A speech impediment” attached.

Finally Long Term Orientation is one of the major forces in the movie, where the absence of family is a tragedy and the characters replace their mother with gangsters. Even though the movie is about Jamal’s self-actualization, his happy ending involves forming a family unit with his childhood crush and then dancing a Bollywood group dance number.

There are several cultural identities that Jamal has throughout the movie. He is Indian but he is also poverty stricken. His Muslim cultural identity emerges in the Bombay riots when his mother is killed by Hindu radicals. The cultural bias of the Hindus is at its most extreme and deadly at this point. Cultural bias is also apparent in the opening question where Jamal knows the face on the hundred dollar bill even though he doesn’t know Indian currency. Jamal knows the $100 bill because he is in the subculture of begging and has come in contact with western currency more than Indian money.

Cultural patterns are the interrelated cultural traits that are put forth in a culture. “the Westerners are assumed to be members of low-context cultures, and need direct and explicit verbal messages because they share little background information or context. And they have strong orientations to value individualism, equality and assertiveness in their social interaction and interpersonal communication. The Easterners, on the other hand, are believed to be high-context, and do not require much in-depth background information since most of the information is already in the individuals. And they, due to their history and tradition, tend to respect collectivism, hierarchy and interpersonal harmony in the society.” (Qingxue, 2003) In one scene the brothers show two tourists the impoverished area of India while a group of children steal everything in their car. The scene has a rather obvious payoff when the tourists see that their car is robbed and Jamal says “You wanted to see the real India. Here it is.” The tourists respond by stating that they are real Americans and then give him money.

When Jamal and his brother are reunited, Jamal and his brother talk about the gangster from the slum. Jamal is speaking to him but Salim is looking away and smoking. The verbal communication reinforces the family bond since Salim is not allowing Jamal not to get away. In the next scene Jamal watches Salim as he prays, goes to work and acts like he owns everything. Jamal leads him to his childhood lover as an adult. An interesting part about the scene where Jamal is praying is that it serves as a non-intentional communication with Jawad.

For the most part, this movie fits in with the co-cultural theory in which the major leaders of India are the American businesses and cultural mavens who are communicating with the Indian business leaders and authorities. Meanwhile there is an entire culture of India that is not viewed by the dominant members of society and this subculture of crime and poverty has its own cultural tropes and patterns that are not necessarily the India that most tourists will see. The “real India” scene is fascinating in that it provides the one insight that those Americans will have of India and they choose to throw money at it.

Works Cited

Mind Tools (2013). Hofstede’s cultural dimensions: Understanding workplace values around the world. Mind Tools. Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_66.htm on Feb 20, 2013.

Qingxue, Liu (Apr 2003). Understanding different cultural patterns or orientations between East and West. Investigations Linguistic

Shaules, J. (Oct 2007). Deep culture: The hidden challenges of global living. Ontario: Multilingual Matters Ltd.