If you’ve been tracking edgy cinema, then you don’t have to Google to know that he’s 52 and British. He aspired to become a priest but became an A-lister with the feisty
(1996), and is now on the plaudit circuit with his ninth film
that’s located in Mumbai. And going by the big-time awards and nominations that the film has already attracted, it’s more than likely to be a contender for top prizes at the Oscars early next year.
That much you know. I know not though that he’s in Mumbai on a Monday morning. His PR armoury cries itself hoarse that he’s on a ‘private visit’, not quite realising the exotic images that such a description throws up. Then a call, a shriek, Anil Kapoor playing goodwill ambassador, and I’m all there, gobbling up private time with Danny Boyle:
How’s it going?
(Very British, friendly, bemused) Very good. We had a lovely party for the kids who were in the movie. I hadn’t seen them since September, I was buzzing around the U S and Europe. Had to see them before Christmas really. Today, I head back to London, I’ll be back three.. umm four weeks later for the India opening.
Are you apprehensive about the India release?
I don’t know umm.. really. In the U K, we open on January 9 and then here (January 23). Apprehensions.. they’re there inevitably, because it’s my take on Mumbai.
So far, all those who have seen the film have been complimentary.. (laughs) polite maybe. What the critics here will have to say will be enlightening. I don’t know if everyone will agree. I don’t expect them to.. that’ll mean I’ve made a boring film.
How would you rank the chances of
Slumdog Millionaireat the Oscars?
I have to keep myself very modest about the Oscar hopes. I would love A R Rahman to be acknowledged most of all. The reception to the film has been extraordinary at every turn, it was not expected.
You’re evading the question about the Oscar prospects. Are you superstitious?
(Laughs) Yes, sure I’m superstitious. In fact, some of the kids’ parents were telling me not to be modest, to please be ambitious. But we British have a very strong superstition about testing fate. I’d rather not.
Mine is a small film made with love. And you have to remember that in America, many big films are made with the eventual goal of competing for prizes. I haven’t seen most of them though.
You haven’t seen
The Dark Knight?
That I have, of course. It’s made by a good British director (Christopher Nolan). And Heath Ledger’s performance is mesmeric on its own terms.. and not posthumously.
A R Rahman nearly didn’t happen.
That’s because everyone’s so, so busy here. It’s not like this is the west.. famous actors don’t do three films at the same time. Here, the talent has to juggle time.. and Rahman did.
He’s the equivalent of Beyonce Knowles and Michael Jackson, the nation is devoted to his music and yet he’s so grounded. He’s a beautiful man.
Aah, did you pick up the principle of modesty about the Oscars from him?
There you go testing me about the Oscars.. naughty! I’d just like to say that arrogance, anarchy and ego always hover around show business. Succumb to them and you self-destruct.
What exactly happened with casting Shah Rukh Khan as the host of
Who’ll Become a Millionaire?
Like I said, everyone’s ever so busy here. Shah Rukh was very gracious though, he allowed us to come on the set of his TV show.
Then it was Anil Kapoor who’s never been in a western film though he speaks fluent English.. and he’s a fantastic actor. He’s a heavyweight actor.. on the top of his form.. and yet he takes risks. There’s a little dance he does that was entirely his idea.. and everyone has loved it.. even what they’ve seen of it in the trailers.
Trainspotting, you showed a guy’s head being shoved into a yucky toilet.. in
Slumdogagain there’s a pile.. a hill of .. er.. shit.
(Laughs) That’s so, so British. We British are obsessed with toilets. See any British film and you’ll see a potty.
Like Mary Ellen Mark’s book on Mumbai’s red light area cages, you could be accused of exploiting the city’s poverty..
Some people could say that.. but please, that’s not the intention at all. Life is tough here, that can’t be hidden or ignored.
Have you seen
Yes, years ago. And obviously, there will be some similarities. I do love the work of Shekhar Kapur and of Mira Nair.. in fact, she even lent us her casting director.
And are you familiar with Los Olvidados (1952) and Pixote (1981), both dealing with the tougher side of childhood?
Nope.. I should have perhaps.
Had you ever stepped into a slum before shooting the film?
Yes, in Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. And then Dharavi, the Juhu slum and Gilbert Hill. There’s grace amidst chaos, business amidst extremes.
Do you intend to do something for the slum children you’ve featured in the film?
Yes, we’ve already got a couple of underprivileged kids into school, they’re progressing well. They will have to study till they’re 16.. a trust has been set up. The kids have given us a gift and we hope to give them the best gift we possibly
It isn’t quite clear whether the film is based on Vikas Swarup’s book
Q and Aor not.
The central idea has been taken from the book.. of a slum kid winning a quiz show. It’s been taken from that point and then invented by the screenwriter (Simon Beaufoy).
Which films and books have influenced you?
(1979) for sure.. of books, I’d say Primo Levi’s
If This is a Man
.. and for the last year I’ve been reading
repeatedly, another film could be adapted from that book. And recently I saw
Taare Zameen Par..
the kid was extraordinary.
Guess what my last question is?
I give up already. What?
Go on, you’re testing me just like your country does. (Cracking up) If we get a mention, I’ll let you know.