promotional material for film

Sign Categories in the “Slumdog Millionaire” Poster

Movie Review Poster

After winning the Indian version of a popular television programme and accused of cheating, the central character, Jamal Malik, is forced to explain to the police how a boy from the Mumbai slums came to know the answers to some very difficult questions on the show. The film explores the stories behind his responses.

The critically-acclaimed “Slumdog Millionaire” was released in 2008, winning eight Oscars, including Best Picture, and four Golden Globes. When a film receives such terrific endorsement from the industry, producers will use the accolades on a “review” poster. These one sheets are issued at the same time as the full theatrical release posters, but will leave out the credits, billing blocks and other conventions to make room for the large-print reviews.

The deliberate use of signs to communicate this tremendous success makes this text perfect for analysis according to Charles Peirce’s categories of signs. Although this particular question focuses on his three categories, you could also refer to the signs with the terminology Peirce used in his triadic model of communication: representamen, interpretant and object.


Analyse the following print advertisement in terms of Charles Peirce’s sign categories: icon, index and symbol.

Slumdog Millionaire DVD cover
“Slumdog Millionaire” DVD Cover

Points to Consider

Some signs have a clear and immediate connection to the mental concept they signify while others only have an obscure relationship to the meaning they convey. Charles Peirce reduced this modality to three categories.


Icons have an obvious physical similarity to what they represent. For example, consider the Golden Globe award at the top of the poster. The blue silhouette immediately connects with the actual statue in real life. In your essay-style response, you need to explain how this icon persuades the audience that “Slumdog Millionaire” would be a great movie to watch? If the Golden Globes are not part of your framework of knowledge, a quick search online will get you to speed.


Symbols require some cultural knowledge for the signs to be understood because there is no physical or factual connection between the signifier and what it signifies. The five-star reviews are an excellent example of symbols because there is no obvious resemblance between their physical form and what they connote. Why have the producers added these symbols to the poster? How might they appeal to the audience?

Colours are often used to signal meaning, especially when they are part of a code, such as the traffic light system or the different lines on a transport map. In this text, what do the various colour codes symbolise?


Indexical signs should have some factual connection to what they represent. For example, what does the representamen of the colourful confetti signify? What does it suggest about the plot? You should also analyse the two characters and what they might represent in the story.

Further Study

For more practice identifying icons, symbols and indexes, you should try analysing this Kit Kat advertisement because its use signs to encode meaning is very clever. Of course, any media text from our semiotics exam practice page will help you develop your understanding of three categories.

Further Reading

Thanks for reading!