Danny Boyle interview, Part I

Which Danny Boyle will show up for the interview promoting his new movie “Slumdog Millionaire?” I’m wondering. Will he be diabolical, sardonic and head-butting like his brilliant “Trainspotting?” Nihilistic, mirthfully despairing and flesh-eating like his terrifying “28 Days Later?” Innocent and romantic like his heroes in “A Life Less Ordinary” or “Millions?” Or cowering, defiant and relating the story of his life with hilarity and razzle dazzle like his hero being given the third degree by the cops in his new movie?

None of the above, as it turns out. Just a nice guy, really, who makes (sometimes) great movies, like this one about a Mumbai street kid who wins the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and has to prove he’s not cheating by telling the story of his life. Never was waterboarding so entertaining!

PK: You seem to go back and forth between being optimistic and nihilistic. “Millions” was a film that had this sort of upbeat quality, but then “Trainspotting” or “Shallow Grave” and “28 Days Later.” How do you account for your good spirits in this film, the subject of which is so harsh?

DB: That was India really. I think I'm pretty optimistic anyway, despite sometimes what the stories might say, there’s a spirit in the films, most of them anyway, pretty optimistic. The one that isn't is “The Beach.” wasn't very happy making “The Beach.”  I kind of ended up there looking at a bunch of people  who I didn’t like. It’s a weird thing, when you find that, I suddenly thought, I don't like all these people and what they're doing here. What am I doing making a film about them?

So I tried to make it a film critical of them, but it didn't work out really. But I think most of the films are quite optimistic. Even if some of them haven't got obvious happy endings, there is an optimistic spirit in them.  I find that confirmed in India. I love the place, they had to drag me away in the end, couldn't stop filming. Despite all its horror and there is some of that there, I find it a wonderful place.  I love the people, I love the energy. I mean its not so much India, I shouldn't say India because I actually saw very little of India.  Such a massive place anyway. But I saw a lot of Bombay.  The city where we made most of the film and I really adored it actually and I adored what it did to me as a director as well because it does change you.  You can't just wade in there and say here's my next film its going to be like this, you kind of have to go with the place, you have to let it take you over, you can't control it, separate bits of it, you have to just shoot and then see what you've got because you can spend your whole fucking budget trying to organize it, you'll get nowhere because it doesn't work like that.   

PK: Do you stick to your basic script? 

DB:  We got a script and stuff like that which obviously gives you a narrative, but in terms of day to day work, it’s amazing.  It has all of these contradictions. It’s very difficult to pin down what they are and yet they're there the whole time and they're either destroying you because you can't cope with it, or you kind of go with it and it eventually gives you back what you need. So we always used to say it was like the ocean, it was like every minute, every billionth of a second it was different. It was moving, changing and yet it’s always the ocean, it’s always the same.  It sounds hippieish and it is. I'm not a hippie, I was a punk, but it does lead you towards those kinds of descriptions,. It's the only way your head can make sense of it. 

PK:  What was your first impression, the first thing that you saw that made you think, oh, I'm in a different kind of place right now? 

DB: I guess your first experience is the traffic really.  They just launched this car – this Nano car – which is like a really cheap car for everybody, that’s the marketing thing behind it, like a thousand pounds, and its quite a decent little car supposedly, but where the fuck are they going to put billions of them ? I don't know, there's no room anywhere as it is at the moment.  The infrastructure is just a disaster. So they're going to the moon, right. and they are like the fifth nuclear power in the world and yet there's no toilets, no roads, no infrastructure, they haven't done anything to the sewers since the British left, it’s like – for God's sake guys – and yet you can't – I mean you do criticize it on that front, but on the other hand you think, that's up to them.  What you can’t go there thinking, especially if you're British, "wow, we used to make a good job of running it didn't we." It's like, forget it, they've got they're own pattern and they'll only allow you access to it on their terms only.  

PK: It's a work in progress, I guess. For  the last 4,000 years. I must say that, after seeing the movie, especially the opening scene with a guy being tortured because he won a TV quiz show, it wouldn't be my first choice as a place to go as a tourist.  

DB:  Have you never been?

PK:  No. 

DB: Oh, it’s fantastic. 

PK: Do you think you'll have any problems with people in India because of your depiction of some of the more unsavory aspects?

DB: Censors? Yes.  We lied about a lot of what we were doing, so we're bound to have trouble, I think. Ironically, the torture scene at the beginning, we didn't lie about it. We asked for permission for that because we needed a police station and you can't be tricky with the police stuff, you got to be careful, get it right, because they can make a lot of problems for you. We showed them the scene and they said it’s fine. You can do the torture scene they said, providing nobody above the rank of inspector is involved, that was their only requirement. It gave you a glimpse of what it’s like in the police station. If you get arrested for anything other than a traffic offense, you have a good chance of getting a slapped around. 

PK: But no one above sergeant is involved, that is standard operating procedure? 

DB: Pretty much.  I mean the local guys we worked with confirmed that, I mean if you get picked up for something serious, you're getting knocked around quite a bit. 

PK: The electrodes and the whole bit. 

DB:  Well they don't see it like that.   We were in a few police stations, you can see the equipment there, they're not hiding it. It’s not anything they're ashamed of. 

PK:  You said there are other things you didn't lie about when making the movie that might be problematic. 

DB: We were, what would you call it, flexible, with the description of the things we were doing because they're sensitive about things you can't quite second guess. For instance, the torture scene, which we were expecting them to say no, they they were fine about. But then other things, like a very funny, very innocuous line, where the German tourist says "there's noting about dis in ze gayd buk" about the Taj Mahal and the kid says "Madam, the guide book is written by a bunch of lazy, ignorant, good-for-nothing Indian beggars." They won't let that line through. Because it's the image of the country and things like that. You just got to wait and see what happens. 

PK: One of the more striking sequences is where the Hindus stormed the Muslim enclave and just wiped everybody out. 

DB: Yeah. 

PK: Do you see that as causing a problem with the censors? 

DB: I don't think so. Those things actually do happen. I think the biggest problem with that is filming it.  You have to be very careful in filming it that people don't get the wrong idea because there are so many people moving around all the time, you can't inform people of what you're doing fully, there's just so many people, and the danger with it is that people get the wrong idea on the day and we were lucky we got away with it, in a way. 

PK:  People running around on fire must have caused some alarm.  

DB: Yeah. People who live there of course, have lived through it, and they regard it as part of the unfortunate history of the place as well, so it’s not like they're trying to eradicate it. You just got to be careful so people don't think something real is happening. Because it can get out of control quickly.  For most of the time, considering how intense the population is, the denseness of the population, there is a calmness that is beyond belief, they somehow manage to live together, to live on. Its just so crowded and there are so many people you just wonder how does this ever work! But it does, they find a way.  Its quite interesting because  though it looks very primitive a lot of it, this is what cities are going to be like. There is no city in the world that is getting smaller, all the cities are growing, just endless growth.  It will have to do that, otherwise you will have this incredible demand for scarce resources, like there is there, water and sewage, electricity and things like that. You're going to have to find a way of living together with that many people in that area, which is what they do, they manage to make it work. 

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