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
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
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
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?
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
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.
PK: Do you see that as causing a problem with the
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
PK: People running around on fire must have caused
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.