Saturday, 31 January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire Press conference at the JW Marriott in Mumbai

exclusive by Devansh Patel

"We've released the film in America, it got released in the U.K last week and now the holy trinity is completed this week by releasing the film in India because it is probably no where more important that it should be released than in Mumbai, this extraordinary city", said Danny Boyle when called on to the podium by his producer, Mr Christian Colson. The media gave a thunderous applaud to the award winning director on hearing the word 'Mumbai'. It was Danny's job that evening to remember every actors name as he called them individually by giving an interesting brief about each one. The first guy the director called was the screen writer who adapted Vikas Swaroop's novel Q and A and transformed it into this magnificient film, Mr Simon Beaufoy. Then he calls his three musketeers, the three guys who handles the entire production of the film. Next up on the stage was the casting director, Miss Loveleen Tandon who helped an outsider like Dannny rope in the best talent available in India. A.R.Rahman was in Cheenai and was unable to attend, but Danny confirmed his attendance at the Thursday's red carpet premiere. Next, the director got down to some serious business by introducing the actors of Slumdog Millionaire. The only actor Boyle knew very well before he came down to Mumbai was Irrfan Khan through the work of Mira Nair's Salaam Bombay and Namesake. He also mentioned Irrfan's pairing with Tabu was the talk of the town in the U.S for the level of performance both had given. Strangely, Danny Boyle, in the very same hotel where the press conference was held, J.W.Marriot, met one of the legends of Bollywood cinema, Anil Kapoor. Danny had previously seen Kapoor's work in Mr India and Taal by which he was impressed. But also humorously added that Anil was so helpful to the extras sitting in the audience of the game show that he turned as a part time director. The last two people, the two most important people on whom the film revolves then came up on the stage - Fredia Pinto and Dev Patel. Danny saw her first on the auditioned tapes sent by Loveleen. The director said, "She has dealt with the attention that's been caught on to the film with a grace that equals her beauty". Finally it was the turn of the reel Millionaire soon to be the real one with the way the film's performing worldwide - Dev Patel. Danny Boyle briefs us an interesting story on how this young talent is turning into a recognisable figure all over the world. "Yesterday, me, Christian and Dev turned up at the Heathrow Airport. We were flying by British Airways and the airlines had upgraded us to the first class. They did this because of Dev who has now become the public face of the film", said the over joyed Danny Boyle. But before we bring you the excerpts, in the middle of the conference, an announcement was made. A surprise was waiting for all of us. Some speculated it could well have been A.R.Rahman but the 3 cute boys and 1 cute girl who play the little Jamal's and little Freida were welcomed with a standing ovation. As Danny said way before he started his speech, "The real heores are always the ones forgotten. Today we remember them in the form of six special boys and girls from Mumbai who've contributed to Slumdog Millionaire immensely".

Can I just ask you how are you feeling about the prospect of an Oscar nomination on Thursday, 22 January?
Danny Boyle
- The most important thing for us is to be here right now in Mumbai. We are also very happy about our Golden Globe Awards achievments. You can't really expect anything. Tomorrow you may get knocked down by a bus which is not a very healthy feeling (laughs) because it can all end like that. But we have been really fortunate to be where we are and to be in front of the Mumbai media is an achievment. We have travelled a full circle and it ends where it all began.

There has been a little bit of criticism here by India's number one movie star, Mr Amitabh Bachchan. Could you please clear the air on that?
Danny Boyle
- Ironically, we have benefited from the great stature of Amitabh Bachchan. Americans have loved the scene where the little Jamal somehow manages to get through anything to get the autograph of his great hero Amitabh Bachchan. We've tried to include as much of the city of Mumbai in the film as possible. The thing I wanted my audience to take away from the film was this breathtaking resilience of people and the joy of people despite their circumstances. We've had the priviledge of making the film and presenting it to the world and everyone has the same priviledge of saying what they want about it. That's one of the things you learn as a filmmaker to accept criticism.

Don't you think the film tried too hard to concentrate on the poverty in India?
Danny Boyle
- We tried to cram in as much of the city as we could as we found it really, both in terms of some factual stuff and imaginitive leaps because it is a movie and not a documentary. Any picture of this city will be imperfect because it's much beyond the city, nobody can capture it. The city was the same but it was always changing and it's impossible to define Mumbai but land up benefiting from it.

Do you think the movie has created so much hype in India only for the reason that it has worked in the U.S and the U.K?
Danny Boyle
- The truth is that the world is changing very fast. It is quite clear and I don't want to sound too pompous, but this world has clearly become Asia centric just like the way the last century belonged to the Americans. We work in Hollywood and in the U.K film industry and now in Bollywood. It's an achievment. In no time you will be seeing more and more of these actors and their peer groups in both industries. Additionally, Slumdog Millionaire is a universal story. The reason it works is because the film signifies the relevance of one coming from nowhere with a dream and how he eventually gets there somehow.

Would you again come to Mumbai to make a film?
Danny Boyle
- I'd love to do another film here. I'd love to do a thriller here, seriously. All the time I've spent in Mumbai makes me think what a city this is. A perfect place to make a thriller story. It's got so many ingredients. Mumbai isn't a twenty four hour city and you can see the hustle bustle going around. I'd love to come back sometime and I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

There were talks three months ago that the film would directly release on the dvd. We are here three months later with awards, applauds, commercial success and more. Brief us how the journey has been.
Danny Boyle
- You are right. At one point we lost our North American distributor because they closed their company Warner Independent down, and we thought then that we could end up on a dvd. We actually got picked up by Fox Searchlight which is an extraordinary company. They are the reason we are in the awards season because they recognise the value of the film and they forced it to come out very quickly so we could take it to the Toronto Film Festival. Although the film includes the idea of destiny, in the West, and for us, it's kind of a charming idea but being here in India you learn to appreciate something that you cannot rationally define and understand which clearly applies, and it has applied to our film - the fate of our film.

How has the film fared in the U.S and the U.K? Have you got any figures?
Christian Colson
- The film has opened at number 2 in the U.K last weekend and the latest reports since yesterday have shown that we have gone up to number 1 now in the U.K. That is a very rare occurance for a Danny Boyle film. It has grossed as of now GBP 4 million in the U.K and around $40 million in the U.S in terms of ticket sales.

What's the release plan in India?
The film has an over-whelming response. We are going to be releasing the film in Hindi titled Slumdog Crorepati because we believe that the fundamental story is something that will appeal to all Bollywood lovers. We are going to release the film in all the metros and smaller towns, say around 85 cities with 400 prints.

Is it true that a special fund was set up for the slum children in Mumbai?
Christian Colson
- Yes we did. The distributors and the financers are very generous in making some money available for the slum children for their long term welfare after we packed up and finished our shoot for the film.

What made you zero in on A.R.Rahman and how did his music carried the film forward?
Danny Boyle
- I had the priviledge of working with that man A.R.Rahman. I've been travelling the U.S and the U.K and telling people how famous this man is. He has a tiny little studio in Tuffnel Park in London. We go out in lunch time to get a break from the music. We are walking along the road and somebody would spot him, ignore the trafffic, come near him and tell him - "Is that you? Are you A.R.Rahman?". The joy of people here in music is something I love more than anything. I used to have a driver named Harish who didn't speak much english but used to play all the hindi songs in my car. It was him who introduced me to all the Bollywood songs. Slumdog Millionaire is a very small film but because of A.R.Rahman, Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, the film boasts of a biggie. A.R created this fusion of hip-hop, disco, RnB and the world music which was phenomenal. One of the biggest buzzes for me was that last week, his album went to number 1 in the i-tunes album chart. That's not the soundtrack chart, its an album chart. Normally, you'd find Beyonce and Rihana to be there. A.R.Rahman was up there, could you believe it? I'd also like to thank Shekhar Kapoor for his contribution towards the film.

People really have this strong vision and belief in a field that is so collaborative that you don't always have a control on. Did you at some point lose that vision and control?
Danny Boyle
- I think I learnt as a director how much you can let the film go and benefit from letting it go, certainly in terms of the streets and the way we filmed on the streets. I had to pay tribute to my first assistant director who taught me how to work here technically and he would often frustrate the western crew because they expected him to behave in the way the first assistant director normally behaves. He knew much more importantly that the film was going to be as I wanted it to be and he had to work on the streets like he knew it inside out, which I'm sure he did. You lose things like continuity, repetition and minute control but what you get instead is this pulsating energy that runs through the Mumbai city. I also learnt from Loveleen the ability to listen to people who knew more than you about casting and culture. I also benefited a lot from Resul Pookutty, the sound guy. I gained by giving all these people some vision and control.

What was the most difficult thing about filming such a film?
Danny Boyle
- We shouldn't think that the film is a challenge. We should think that the film is an oppurtunity. The most terrifying bit was the kids, the seven year olds running besides the railway tracks with the trains. If they fall, you start thinking - What the hell am I doing here? But the tribute here has to go to our stunt master, Shyam. He made sure that no danger came to them at all. Their faith in him was absolute complete and that was the most terrifying thing for me as a parent.

Do you feel lucky that Bollywood has welcomed you with open arms?
Danny Boyle
- I have always been hugely welcomed by the industry here. We wrote to Amitabh Bachchan to take his permission to use his name in the film. We were sure that we would only be able to glimpse him ever so slightly and I always thought that he would be the wrong host for the game show in the film. We were also invited to see the recording of the show with SRK. He was very gracious and we had lunch with him too. But the actors in India are so busy that it's impossible to tie them down. At one point it became impossible to do the film without them. Then one day, Loveleen told me that Anil Kapoor was available and I should meet him, and it was this very hotel, JW Mariott in Juhu, where I met him in the lobby. I am proud of these actors here in Bollywood who've welcomed me.

What do you have to say about the quote from Mr Bachchan who thinks that the film is highlighting too much poverty?
Anil Kapoor
- I just want to say that I don't agree with Mr Bachchan and what he thinks. I respect the right to ones individual opinion because that's what democracy is.
Irrfan Khan - It's a story about human spirit. Poverty is just a backdrop. Even the book has the same backdrop of slums. But I sometimes don't understand why do we think that India is not poor. Why don't we accept the fact that there is a bit of poverty in our country. Let's not hide away from it. If we incorporate it into our story, then what's the big fuss anyway?

Is Bollywood knocking on your door and how did you manage to keep up to dancing in the film?
Dev Patel - We in the West, all think, that Bollywood is just about pretty faces but I understood that there is much more to it than just being pretty. They are so talented. If I was given to do a film here in Mumbai, I'd do it. By the way, I am a very bad dancer (laughs)

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