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Danny Boyle Talks Slumdog Millionaire

With Slumdog Millionaire Sweeping The Awards, Danny Boyle Talks Shooting In The Slums of Mumbai.

With the epic and resolutely fast-paced coming of age tale cleaning up at the BAFTAs and nominated for an impressive clutch of Oscars, Dazed Digital took some time out to share a cup of Darjeeling with director Danny Boyle...

Dazed Digital: As somebody who had never been to India before, was filming there a daunting prospect?
Danny Boyle: I figured out early on that you just have to be really open to the chaos of it all and then it rewards you – if you are a control freak, you’ll never get anywhere. There are patterns within the chaos that reveal themselves if you roll with it.

DD: It sounds almost like a spiritual experience…
DB: (Laughs) Well, I’m not a hippy but there’s this whole fatalistic thing in the belief system there, and I always thought that was very passive, but in fact, it’s not at all – it’s actually incredibly liberating. There’s so much humanity co-existing in India that you feel part of a cycle, and that allows you to deal with the terrible extremes. Of course, people go, ‘Oh isn’t it all bollocks believing in Gods and things like that?!’ But what they believe in India is a set of values inspired by their Gods, which allow them to co-exist. There are a billion people and the vast amount of the time they get on really well together – in our society we just wouldn’t be able to live like that, not with our social intolerance. Religion seems to have more to do with a sense of well being in India than with a sense of devotion. It’s part of people’s daily lives.

DD: The film certainly touches on the extremes of India, at times it seems almost like a conscious riposte to the more idyllic vision of The Darjeeling Ltd…
DB: That is absolutely true of the film. It’s complicated, though. For instance, some people have been deliberately maimed to make them better beggars, now you can’t just fill up with pity and horror if you are going to portray that, you have to come to an acceptance of it to get on with what you are going to contribute. Also, I don’t think you can make films anymore where huge western crews go in and take over. It’s better to take a small crew and absorb yourself. Like in the slum sequences – a big western crew would say, ‘There’s no way we’re going in there to film.’ But it’s amazing what it offers if you do, and the people let you in because they can see that you are doing it in the right spirit. One of the reasons I warmed to the slums so easily was because I got a sense of what it was like to be part of a community again. There’s a sense of belonging there.

DD: Do you think that is something we’ve lost in the west?
DB: So many of us here live on our own or in pairs, but they don’t think of life like that. Their houses are always open and the extended family really important. The Indian government are actually trying to move people out of the slums, because the slum land is incredibly valuable, but the local people won’t let them clear them out because their sense of where they belong is important to them. Sometimes they are forcibly moved, but they just drift back to the area and rebuild their homes.

DD: What was it like casting the young actors from the slums?
DB: Slum is such a pejorative word in our culture but actually these are very safe, family-orientated places, and acting is so natural to all the kids there – they watch so many films and do dances from the movies all the time. The good brother/bad brother thing is also the absolute mainstay of Indian cinema, so the little ones understood that whole relationship really instinctively and naturally.

DD: Do you think the younger generation in India are becoming more westernised?
DB: It’s definitely changing. All the call centres we filmed in were full of highly educated and incredibly ambitious young people whose taste in movies is avaricious. They are the ones really driving the economic changes, and there will be social and gender changes that come with that too. Of course, there is still quite a stratified society in India, and there are things like arranged marriages, with women often still being expected to be subservient. What it is to be gay in India I have no fucking idea… that must still be really tough.

DD: It’s an incredibly romantic film – were you attracted to the idea of making a romantic epic?
DB: I’m very romantic in my taste and I really responded to the love story between Jamal and Latika – I like the fact that he spends the whole time trying to find her. When you go to Mumbai, you realise how easily you could lose someone there – it changes all of the time. There is something spellbinding about that kind of energy in an urban place… I loved it. In the end, they had to drag me away.

This is an extended version of the interview published in the January issue of Dazed & Confused.