10.23.08

The Next 'Juno'? This Year's Indie Underdog

Tom Tapp talks to provocative director Danny Boyle about this year's much-buzzed about independent drama, Slumdog Millionaire.

Plus: Check out our Oscars page for more news on the awards, the nominees and the glam.

Slumdog Millionaire is the insider's pick as this year’s little movie that could. Like Juno and Little Miss Sunshine, it's a sometimes dark, sometimes comic underdog story from director Danny Boyle, known for his gritty UK successes, Trainspotting and 28 Days Later . This Dickensian tale follows an impoverished orphan named Jamal (played with blank-faced brilliance by Dev Patel) who goes on India's version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, solely because his unrequited love Latika (Freida Pinto) watches the show. Jamal makes it to the final question, but as we gradually learn, he has had to suffer a host of injustices and tragic life experiences to get there. While Slumdog Millionaire is a departure from Boyle's previous work with junkies and zombies, the film does have its own dark scenes portraying torture, prostitution and children blinded by acid. The Daily Beast's Tom Tapp talks with Boyle about the film's violence, how Pinto might face indecency charges in India, and why Slumdog may not pass the censors in Mumbai.

You can see the evidence of torture quite clearly just lying around. It's all very casual.

Video screenshot

What was it like shooting in Mumbai?

We took about ten Western crew and they moaned about the places I was taking them and about the shit on their shoes. I had absolutely no patience with them. They were getting sick and I had no interest at all. I went completely native.

Tell us about the opening torture scene and how you filmed it.

You have to apply for permission for everything you shoot in India, because the government there controls everything. What tends to happen is you lie a bit. I knew we had to tell them about this torture scene at the beginning of the film, but what they ended up saying was, "That's fine, provided nobody above the rank of inspector is involved." I'm not kidding you. I remember thinking, "Fuck! That means even they acknowledge if you get picked up for a crime above a driving offense, you've got a 50/50 chance you'll be tortured."

How is that reflected in the film?

I tried to show how casual the government is about it. One cop says to the other, "What have you been doing all night? You're supposed to have been torturing him." And the other cop says, "We'll give him a little bit of electricity, then, that'll loosen his tongue."

We went round quite a few police stations for research, and you can see the evidence of torture quite clearly just lying around, including these quite long leather wooden slappers. They're obviously used on the back of the legs and would really sting. There's handcuffs attached to the walls, where they chain people. It's all very casual.

At the end of the film Jamal and Latika finally kiss. Isn't it still verboten for Indian actresses to kiss men onscreen?

That's a big thing for a girl there. It's begun to happen, but there are only a few girls who will do it. Most of them still will not do it because there's a stigma attached to it. We shot that scene in a public place in Mumbai. When you do it in a public place like that, there are thousands of people watching, always. It's why Bollywood always works in studios. But we wanted to make the film on the street. So Freida, who plays Latika, had to do it out in the open. And because it's a movie she had to do it like 20 times.

There was that actress who Richard Gere kissed on the cheek at a political rally over there. They burned her in effegy.

Shilpa Shetty. He had to apologize because he didn’t realize, obviously, what he was doing to her by doing it. I mean, it's a bit like nudity or explicit sex acts for us in a film. Are you prepared to do it—full frontal? Which actresses are prepared to do full frontal? Freida was very brave. It's a big thing for a girl there because, where are you going to go after that? She's from Mumbai.

Her screen kiss is on the lips. Has there been any backlash?

Nobody's seen it there yet. At the moment we're applying to distribute it there. And the Indian government has to see it. We're sure that they'll ask for cuts.

What will they want to cut?

It's funny, the sound guy said to me, "You'll have to cut that line, they'll never let that line through." I said, "Which line?" He said, "When Jamal is playing tour guide at the Taj Mahal, a German tourist says to him, "Excuse me, none of this is written in the guide book." The kid says, "That guide book is written by a bunch of lazy, good-for-nothing Indian beggars." I was told they would never let that fly. It's fascinating-- they'll let you blind kids and torture someone, but they'll never let you criticize an official Indian government guide book.