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Film case study - Slumdog Millionaire

One film, two classifications

The cinema release of Slumdog Millionaire was classified 'R13: contains violence and offensive language' on 12 January 2009. The film was a high profile movie intended for cinema and DVD release and went on to win 100 film awards including 8 Oscars and 7 Baftas.

The Blu-ray edition of the film intended for home-use had extra material, particularly a short film, Manjha, which has the theme of sexual abuse. It was classified 'R16: Violence, offensive language and content that may disturb'. This classification was made on 27 May 2009.

The plot

The film tells the remarkable story of a young Indian boy.

The feature centres on Jamal, a poor boy from the slums of Mumbai, who enters the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Rather improbably, the 'slumdog' answers the questions and becomes a national hero. The night before Jamal is set to return for a chance at the big prize, the police intervene, certain that he has cheated. In the opening scenes Jamal is tortured but maintains that he knew the answers. His jailers then play a recording of the show and Jamal's story begins. Jamal's life until he is a young man, and that of two other recurring characters - Salim, his older brother, and Latika, the girl he loves - is told in flashbacks.

Classification considerations

The scenes of torture were noted in the classification decision.

Scenes of torture in the film were highlighted as particularly concerning. However, the decision also noted the film's overall uplifting effect:

The dominant effect of Slumdog Millionaire is joyful and uplifting... There are moments of violence, heartbreak and tragedy but this is basically a romantic story with fairytale touches... The main issues considered are violence and cruelty. The content outlined above is mainly treated with restraint: even the shootings are not represented in bloody images. However, two scenes have a much stronger impact than others listed: the opening sequences where Jamal is tortured and the blinding of a boy in order to make him a better money-earner are both disturbing.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2009

Classification Office decision

The R13 classification was given due to scenes which would distress younger people.

In the summary of reasons for classification, it was noted that children watching these horrific scenarios would be likely to be considerably distressed. In contrast, teenagers and adults would be more likely to be caught up in the excitement and exuberance of the unfolding story. It was determined that a restriction to persons over the age of 13 years was sufficient to prevent injury to the public good.

The overseas classifications for Slumdog Millionaire are: Australia MA15+, UK 15, USA R, Singapore M18.

Classification Office R13 decision for the cinematic and DVD versions of Slumdog Millionaire (PDF, 107KB)

The Blu-ray edition

The Blu-ray edition has extra content which warranted an R16 classification.

In May 2009 the Blu-ray edition of Slumdog Millionaire was submitted to the Classification Office. While the feature film on the disc was identical to the cinematic version already classified R13 by the Classification Office, the Blu-ray edition included an extra short film, Manjha. The characters and story in the short film are not related to those in Slumdog Millionaire.

The classification decision says:

The short film Manjha deals with sexual abuse in a manner that gives the piece a high impact. The story is harrowing and the boy's revenge is shocking. An already high level of emotional intensity is heightened by the use of black-and-white film stock. The extent of highly offensive language, used aggressively and in conjunction with dialogue explicitly referring to violent sexual acts, is a major component of the dominant effect of the film.

This material is likely to shock and disturb children and younger teenagers. The explicit nature of many of the references may also have a harmful effect on the development of sexual behaviour and attitudes in young people who do not have the experience or maturity to deal with such material. The original classification of Slumdog Millionaire therefore requires alteration. A restriction to older teenagers, 16 years of age and over, and adults, is required to avoid injury to the public good.

Office of Film and Literature Classification, 2009

The Blu-ray version of Slumdog Millionaire was classified as 'R16: contains violence, offensive language and content that may disturb'.

Classification Office R16 decision for the Blu-ray version of Slumdog Millionaire (PDF, 82KB)

Other film case studies

Slumdog Millionaire poster

Visually dazzling and emotionally resonant, Slumdog Millionaire is a film that's both entertaining and powerful.

Critics Consensus, Rotten Tomatoes

Useful links

Stills from the film

A still image from the film of Jamal answering game show questions in a TV studio
Jamal (Dev Patel) answers questions in "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"
A still image from the film trailer of a young man wearing a Slumdog Millionaire T-shirt
Slumdog Millionaire T-shirt
A still image from the film of young Jamal looking up at the sunlight shining through gaps between wooden planks
Young Jamal (Ayush Mahesh Khedekar)
A still image from the film of Jamal and Latika embracing on a train station platform
Jamal and Latika (Freida Pinto) are reunited
A still image from the film of a large group of people doing a choreographed dance on a station platform
A triumphant Bollywood-style dance completes the film

Classification

R13 classification label
R13: contains violence and offensive language (film)
R16 classification label
R16: contains violence, offensive language and content that may disturb (Blu-ray)

Glossary

Dominant effect
The main impact on the audience/viewer/reader/player.
Summary of reasons for classification
A summary produced by the Office detailing the reasons for giving a particular classification to a publication. These can be re-quested from the Office.
Classification
A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).