Motion Pictures: “Film/Genre” Book by Rick Altman


It is worth noting that theorists have long been trying to resolve the issue of inaccurate genre affiliation of motion pictures. The lack of a strict terminological base and the difficulty of categorizing movies led to the fact that the same film can be attributed to different and even opposite genre categories. The purpose of this paper is to analyze critically the ideas proposed by Altman as applied to the domain of genre and discuss what genres can teach the audience about nations.

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General Discussion

To comprehend the way genres can describe nations, it is necessary to deconstruct the assumptions made by Altman in the chapter called “What Can Genres Teach Us about Nations?”. In general, when determining the genre of a film, a set of movies united by one category is taken as a basis. The formation of such a corpus is built on two different methodologies, which are semantic and syntactic approaches.1 Interestingly, Altman believes that a film genre is an unspoken contract with the audience. In this case, it may be assumed that movies effectively manipulate the psychology of perception, using the archetypes and myths of the collective consciousness. In particular, such a formulation suggests the presence of a common cultural consensus. Works are analyzed on the basis of this approach, the conventions of which, according to the general opinion, correspond to a particular genre.

The author suggests that genres and nations are tied together closely, and this bond is reflected in the texts the nation selects.2 He further offers an interesting discussion of the fact that disparate audiences will comprehend and evaluate texts (either audio-visual or any other forms of texts) in a different way. This means that a nation may select a specific genre intentionally to bring forward the most pressing or urgent issues. Meanwhile, different viewers will deconstruct a movie (or text) in their individual manner, given the social context and constructs characteristic of their environment.

Critical Analysis

At this point, it is crucial to juxtapose the evidence from the film Rang de Basanti (Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, 2006) with the ideas put forward by Altman in his writing. It should be emphasized that this movie does not simply reflect the events of that time. It also demonstrates the devastating setting to which the national movement deprived of the communist component leads.3 The film shows that the inevitable results are poverty and lack of prospects, the suppression of peaceful demonstrations, and the unwillingness of the bourgeois government to address the needs of people. The moral of the story may be concluded to an idea that nationalism, which has not evolved into communism, inevitably decays and turns into a monster that oppresses and suppresses the nation.

Altman proposes an idea that nation, as well as genre, is ready to be transformed. The core idea of the movie Rang de Basanti coincides with the insights put forward by the critic. Moreover, the echoes of creolization may also be observed at different levels of the film. The main characters of the movie are typical representatives of the Delhi youth and, at the same time, a characteristic cross-section of multinational and multi-confessional Indian society.4 Initially, they were apolitical members of their community who gradually woke up from social lethargy and faced the problem of choosing between two options – to accept the existing order or try to change it. The main heroes push the boundaries of their worldview to the broadest limits and decide to start altering the world by changing themselves in the first place.

It may be stated that the discussed movie exhibits the remnants of colonized minds. The main heroine, who is a foreigner, is the person reminding the newer generation of the need to take immediate action to change the world in which they live.5 The movie is an illustration of a greater issue faced by the postcolonial world. Society freed from the oppressive power is only theoretically independent.

Curiously, like any other film, Rang de Basanti is a repetition of certain visual patterns due to which the viewer receives a large amount of information. After observing the characters, their physical characteristics, clothes, and behavior, the viewer can immediately understand their role and distinguish them from the secondary heroes. In addition, the audience may note certain chaos in social connotations and genre systematics, which additionally reflects a certain degree of anarchy on different levels of the state. Based on the postulates put forward by Altman, it may be assumed that the choice of the genre allows drawing conclusions about the social and spiritual preferences of the nation.6 The genre hides in itself a narrative about existential values and a measure of freedom, which every viewer understands in their own way.

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It is worthy of noting that the reviewed text expands the discussion of semantic and syntactic analysis of the genre. Altman also includes a pragmatic note to it by stressing that genre serves communicative purposes. Through a debate on the shifting semiotics of nationhood, he outlines the idea that a nation is open to change as much as a genre is.7 He concludes that genre is an uninterrupted conflict between multiple notions that are closely related to one another.

The approach proposed by Altman allows the reader to consider the film genre as a cultural dialogue that engages the viewer in a discussion of certain issues. Disparate viewers independently evaluate the film’s originality and the problems that it raises from the point of view of their individual worldview.8 Importantly, filmmakers use certain plot-thematic and visual templates to retain their target audience, but the expanding framework of genre allows reflecting the evolving national dialogue and understanding the self-identification of the nation. Rang de Basanti is a project that belongs to a more complex genre than a standard musical melodrama since it combines elements of romance, historical insight and offers an insightful social and cultural discourse. These aspects set a new direction in cinematography and expressed relevant socio-political ideas, which were opposed to economic optimism.9 As suggested in the text by Altman, the analyzed movie has a communicative function and reflects social contradictions through its cinematic qualities.

Concluding Points

Thus, it can be concluded that the writing by Altman offers an insightful discussion of the way genre can describe a nation. It suggests that genres and nations are ready to be reformatted. The choice of a specific text is reflective of the moods and values dominant in society, and it is the task of the audience to deconstruct these messages. The movie Rang de Basanti illustrates the ideas proposed by Altman and offers the audience an opportunity to comprehend the life of the multinational and multi-confessional Indian society better.


Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute, 1999.

Ilott, Sarah. New Postcolonial British Genres: Shifting the Boundaries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Mallot, J. Edward. Memory, Nationalism, and Narrative in Contemporary South Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Paranjape, Makarand R. Altered Destinations: Self, Society, and Nation in India. London: Anthem Press, 2009.

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Roy, Anjali Gera. Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and beyond. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2010.


  1. Rick Altman, Film/Genre (London: British Film Institute, 1999), 195.
  2. Altman, Film/Genre, 206.
  3. Anjali Gera Roy, Bhangra Moves: From Ludhiana to London and beyond (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing, 2010), 168.
  4. J. Edward Mallot, Memory, Nationalism, and Narrative in Contemporary South Asia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 107.
  5. Mallot, Memory, Nationalism, and Narrative in Contemporary South Asia, 107.
  6. Sarah Ilott, New Postcolonial British Genres: Shifting the Boundaries (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 5.
  7. Altman, Film/Genre, 205.
  8. Altman, Film/Genre, 204.
  9. Makarand R. Paranjape, Altered Destinations: Self, Society, and Nation in India (London: Anthem Press, 2009), 55.
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