Case study: Slumdog Millionaire

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

One film, two classifications

Slumdog Millionaire 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 cinema release was classified 'R13: Contains violence and offensive language' on 12 January 2009.

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.

Classification Office R13 decision

Classification Office decision

R13_label.case studies

R13: Contains violence and offensive language

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.

Overseas classifications for Slumdog Millionaire include MA15+ (Australia), 15 (United Kingdom), R (United States), and M18 (Singapore).

The Blu-ray edition

R16_label.case studies

R16: Contains violence, offensive language and content that may disturb

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 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.

Classification Office R16 decision

Glossary

Dominant effect

The main impact on the audience, viewer, reader, or player.

Classification

A legal statement about who can have access to a publication. A classification can make a publication unrestricted (G, PG, or M), restricted (RP or R), or objectionable (banned).

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 requested from the Office.

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