Brit director Danny Boyle, who’d never been to India before filming “Slumdog Millionaire,” tried to show auds the essence of the subcontinent. The film’s kinetic opening sequence, in which two boys are chased by cops through a slum in suburban Mumbai, seemed the best way to introduce the country.
“The city is in fast forward,” Boyle says. “Everything is rushing at you at the same time from all sides.”
The helmer is accustomed to being in control, but he realized early on that the only way to convey what it’s like to be in Mumbai, where most of the action in “Slumdog” takes place, was to follow the Indian attitude of fate (or destiny, as the film’s tagline says). “It sounds very passive to outsiders, but it’s very liberating at the same time,” he says.
Working with Boyle in India was casting director Loveleen Tandan, who also acted as second unit director and took on a major role as a translator of language and culture. “One of the most important decisions we made was choosing her,” says Boyle.
While Tandan helped find most of the cast, lead Dev Patel was recommended by Boyle’s daughter, a fan of the cult BBC show “Skins” on which Patel has a small comic role. The actor is of Indian origin but grew up in Blighty, so the director and the star discovered India together.
To communicate with the Indian cast and crew, Boyle says he learned some Hindi, but a lot of communication was nonverbal or via Tandan.
The casting director, who has worked on international features with a South Asian angle such as “Brick Lane,” “Vanity Fair” and “Monsoon Wedding,” is based in Delhi. As a writer and director herself, she told Boyle that the children’s dialogue would have to be in Hindi or it wouldn’t ring true. Boyle was left to tell Warner Independent that part of the film was going to be subtitled.
Boyle says he also needed someone to point out where he was going wrong. “The worst thing about being a director (is that) people say yes because they’re afraid” to disagree, he says. “You only find out later about your mistakes.”
Tandan and first a.d. Raj Acharya, who has worked more than two decades in Bollywood, also prevented cultural errors. For instance, the script called for a riot scene between Hindus and Muslims in which the attackers would be recognizable as Hindus wearing T-shirts of God Rama. But Tandan pointed out to Boyle that no one would carry religious icons when they were intent on violence.
Today, Boyle finds himself describing India in terms that he says make him sound like a hippie: “You can leave India, but it doesn’t leave you.”