Goodwill Games

THE NEW Yorker’s film critic Anthony Lane once said that British director Danny Boyle “has energy to burn, but the effects are most ardent and spectacular when he stays close to home”. A worrying thought when you consider how far away from home Boyle is with Slumdog Millionaire. An adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s 2005 thriller Q&A, its protagonist is a teenager off the streets of Mumbai who wins a jackpot on a Kaun Banega Crorepati-style gameshow and is promptly arrested on suspicion of cheating.

In the rest of the movie we learn about the young man’s picaresque existence, which helped him answer questions on the game show, not very differently from the serendipitous idiot hero of Russian folk tales. Shot in Mumbai and Agra, the film stars Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and young British actor Dev Patel as protagonist Jamal Malik. For those who know Boyle only as the director of Trainspotting, this is a decidedly odd project.

But Swarup’s book was a strange cultural artefact in itself. With its dacoits, policemen, orphans and golden-hearted vamps, it had every ingredient that would appeal to a Bollywood director. Sriram Raghavan, director of Johnny Gaddar, has spoken of it longingly, regretting its loss to the great Boyle. But with its quixotic hero almost alarmingly at odds with the materialistic world, Q&A must also have appealed greatly to Boyle. In the past, Danny Boyle has had his protagonists turn on, drop out, look for the perfect beach, burn a bag of money and reignite the sun. Why wouldn’t he love a penniless hero who doesn’t want millions of rupees and only wants to be seen on television by the girl he loved and lost?

Swarup, India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa, sounds equal parts excited and confused about what has happened to his first book. “Film Four bought the option on the film before the book came out. The publishing world has subterranean networks where film scouts roam,” says Swarup. Simon Beaufoy (The Full Monty and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) was Boyle’s choice for scriptwriter. “I did have creative control. But when I saw the script it was so significantly different from my book that I had to either reject it wholly or accept it. I chose to accept it,” says Swarup.

Boyle is rumoured to have attempted, in vain, to cast Shah Rukh Khan for the role of Prem, the game show host. But then he watched Taal to listen to AR Rahman’s music. In Taal Boyle also found his host. (Rahman went on to do the soundtrack.) Anil Kapoor, is an interesting choice, at once the dude, Everyman and relic of Old Bollywood. Kapoor says he had never heard of Boyle and didn’t take the offer seriously. His 17- year-old movie-mad son Harsh’s heart stopped at the idea of his father refusing Danny Boyle. After reading the script, Harsh told his father he would run away from home if he didn’t do the movie.

Boyle suggested he channel the larger-than-life Tony Montana of Scarface. Kapoor also spent hours watching gameshow hosts; everyone from KBC’s twin gods to the annoying Chris Tarrant on the original Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Kapoor also spent time with Siddharth Basu. “I wanted to understand what my character did on breaks, in the green room, how he talked to his lover.” In his quiet way, Kapoor is pleased with this new experience. “Boyle gives you a very free hand. He also had the same encouraging attitude to everyone, from the lead actor to the spot boy.”

Swarup himself would have liked a world in which he could have two productions of the film (in both Hindi and English). “I owe so much to Bollywood,” he says. With his second book, Six Suspects, he is negotiating to make this possible. In September, Slumdog Millionaire goes to the Toronto film festival, but it will be released globally only in 2009. •


A "Hollywood" film I am actually looking forward to! It will be very interesting to see how Irfan and Anil K being directed by Danny Boyle turns out. I'm not a huge fan of Boyle's other films, they are too dark for me (and actually Shallow Grave is probably the film I've hated more than any other), but this sounds promising.

Did you get to see it?

September 3, 2008 at 9:35 PM  

the release is in Jan so not yet.:)

September 4, 2008 at 5:22 PM  

Newer Post Older Post Home