He entered the realm of legends with Trainspotting and his most recent film took him deep into the heart of Mumbai’s slums. Rumour has it that Danny Boyle pretty much recreated Dharavi while shooting for Slumdog Millionaire in the outskirts of the city. He insists he shot on location. It’s all academic because, if the buzz is to be believed, he’s made a brilliant film. And it’s about time, since the last time a foreign film was set in a slum was when Roland Joffe came to Kolkata to shoot City of Joy and actually built an entire slum, complete with an airconditioned set of rooms for Joffe and Patrick Swayze to cool their heels in. The other recent Western director who came to India was, of course, Wes Anderson for his vague and incoherent Darjeeling Limited. He didn’t win himself much love, especially from his Indian crew who found him aloof to the point of rude. Not so with Boyle and it’s easy to see why when you see his interviews. At the Toronto Film Festival, the packed house stayed till the end, applauded at the end of the film and then again at the end of the credits. Here’s a snippet from the question and answer session that followed:
DANNY BOYLE: They sent in a script and they said it’s a film about “Who wants to be a Millionaire?”, the game show, and I thought, to be absolutely honest, I thought I don’t really want to make a film about that. Because it’s on the telly every week and I don’t know if I actually approve of it as a show. And I saw his name, Simon Beaufoy, and I knew Simon had written The Full Monty which is a brilliant piece of writing and I thought I should read it out of respect for him and I started reading it. Twenty pages in, I knew I was doing it. It’s the best way to make a decision, you have this kind of common sense amnesia where you don’t think about what it’s going to be like, will we ever be able to cast it, will we get enough money, just forget all those problems you’re going to have and you just go yes. And I was in, really. We met up, we went to Mumbai. It seemed like a great idea so we set off to do it. Your feeling when you read that script as a director is what you want you guys to feel when you watch the film. That’s your job really, in a away. You want to kind of portray it as vividly as possible. And it’s a privilege to work in india.
Where did you find the actors and the beautiful children?
DB: Cute children, eh? There’s plenty of them there, I’ll tell you. It’s quite tough actually for these guys because obviously it’s a bit of a pressure trying to follow cute kids. … It is like here and France. People love movies in India. They come out of the womb with movies printed on their heart. It’s true. I can only tell you it’s not like in the UK, we don’t have that. We don’t really care about movies the way you guys do. (Yeah we do!) (laughter) I knew there would be somebody here. By the way, we beat Croatia 3-0. Not really care about it. We care about music, that’s my theory anyway. In India, the kids, you know the way you’d sing a song from a big movie like the Titanic and you’d be singing the song in the shower? The kids dance. They’ve got no inhibitions about doing a bit of acting. They’re quite happy about doing a bit of acting. So they were relatively easy to find. It’s obviously difficult to get some to feel like they could progress to the 14 and then the 18 year old you know progression like that it’s tricky. So that they look like each other. But in terms of talent, there’s no shortage of it really.
What is the timeline for the dvd release for the film?
DB: Are you a pirate? It’s amazing the piracy in London. They release these huge movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and you go to the Tesco car park on the Friday afternoon, the day of its release, and there are these Chinese guys are all there with Pirates of the Caribbean. They’re never going to stop. I shouldn’t be saying this. There are men in black, dark outfits watching us. It’s released in North America on Thanksgiving Day, US style. And in the UK, it’s released by a company called Pathe, and they will release it in January. I guess it’s [the dvd] meant to be available a few months after those dates.
Were the slums built or where did you shoot them?
We tried to do most of our work out on location. That was one of the kind of philosophical things, the aesthetic things we went in with, to try and shoot on location. There were enormous problems with doing that but enormous rewards as well. So we shot a lot of it in Dharavi, which is the biggest slum in the world supposedly. It’s an enormous place with 2 million people living in it. It’s an extraordinary place. Slum is a very pejorative word in the West and it’s very surprising when you get there how extraordinary these places are. They’ve got huge communities, very self-reliant, industrious spaces. They’ve got schools. They’re very simple schools but they’re schools and people work hard to try and get their kids into these schools to improve their chances. You’re just full of admiration for them. And all they want, they’re happy to let you in, they just don’t want you to betray them as being poor and pitiful. They’re just sick of being shown like that. So we tried to tell the story from the inside and capture how much life there is in there.