The Brit director talks Slumdog Millionaire and success. We ponder his potential Oscar success and plans for the future
You shot on the streets a lot for the film – even at the Taj Mahal among tourists. The Taj Mahal is a romantic place but we didn’t have a good time shooting there, we got driven out. You get permission to film, but the Taj Mahal is run by this mafia of tour guides. After a couple of days of filming, they saw what we were doing – a scene about a rogue guide – which we hadn’t admitted. It got a bit mad, fights broke out. I remember seeing the Steadicam guy, this big bloke, slip off his gear and wade in!
You had to be prepared for anything? Yeah, you can’t plan it. You can spend your whole budget controlling it if you want, but you won’t get anything out of it. When we did that, it felt fake. You’ve got to go in with the right attitude.
Were you nervous about telling an Indian story? It’s a big worry. Your attitude has to dictate that you’re not a white guy going in there, doing it your way. And you are, so it’s absurd. But you have to try to tell it from inside the characters. We shot the majority of it in real places. Some bits we couldn’t – there’s a scene with the god Ram that would be too touchy in a slum – but most of it was real.
This couldn’t be more different from your last film, Sunshine, a sci-fi film shot entirely in a studio. Were you dying to do something different? At first they sent the script and I didn’t fancy it as it was about Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? But I saw it was written by Simon (Beaufoy – The Full Monty) and thought I better read it so I could write a decent reply. I loved it. It was partly a reaction to making Sunshine because that was so controlled. Sunshine took three years and I wanted to do something quickly and with a bit more abandon.
The last time you went east was for The Beach. I’d made a big mistake on that and taken too many people. You become like an invading army. It’s great fun for everybody. For the crew, it’s like: ‘What? Three months in Thailand? With per diems? Two days off a week? Can I bring my mate?’ This time, we took 10 of us because there were loads of Bollywood crew we could draw on.
Your depiction of police brutality is frank. How did you get away with that? A lot of the stuff we lied about, but we had to submit the torture scene to the authorities. When the police are involved, you have to be upfront. They wrote back saying it was fine as long as no one above the rank of inspector was involved! The guys on the crew said if you do anything more than a traffic offence you’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting a bit of slap. It’s commonplace so they don’t even think about it.
Was the closing dance scene, on a Mumbai train platform, in the script? No, it wasn’t, but when you’re in India, you’ve got to dance, you have to. It wasn’t a nod to Bollywood, it’s more that when you’re in India you have to dance. It’s natural to everyone.
Some of the story is extreme.
There’s a fairy-tale element, but I’m a realist. I take realism and push it a bit. But British films are basically realistic. Working on the streets helps. But you only ever capture some of it. I wanted to keep shooting. In the end, the producer left India and shut the bank accounts. It was the only way to get me to leave.
Five To Try There’s undoubtedly a big buzz around Danny Boyle right now, but have his films always hit the mark? Time Out revisits some key moments in his career.
Shallow Grave Boyle’s directorial debut is a gruelling but ultimately rewarding psychological thriller.
Trainspotting The classic adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel developed a well-deserved cult following.
The Beach Another book adaptation, this time from Alex Garland’s bestseller. But the screenplay veers too far from the original material – disappointing.
28 Days Later Boyle surprises with a genuinely terrifying zombie fest.
Sunshine This time he takes a stab at sci-fi, but the reception was lukewarm.