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Danny Boyle interview, Part II

Meanwhile, the conversation with Danny Boyle, whose “Slumdog Millionaire”  now seems to be on every pundit’s Best Picture short list. But there also are some, such as the ever reliable Armond White, who think the film is an exploitative sop to liberal guilt. Here Boyle continues to sing the praises of Mumbai, despite the poverty, corruption, crime, injustice and mutilated children his film depicts.

PK: . ..another horrific thing is the guy who enlists the orphans into begging and then puts their eyes out and the gangsters and all that; as shown in the film it just seems to be kind of dicey environment altogether. 

DB: I'm sorry if it comes across like that, although those thing are true, they do happen, it’s actually an amazingly wonderful place to visit I think.  And it kind of builds something into your life that will be absent otherwise.  It gives you the respect, values that we've kind of lost a bit, I think really. 

PK: Such as? 

DB: Communal value – there are these extremes there, terrible extremes obviously and it’s one of the reasons that good storytelling can go on there, because you've got these extremes, but they are connected, not separate, like we tend to separate our extremes I think. 

And I think it is true that if they build a tower block, at the bottom of it is a slum, where the people live who built it, and the people who live in the tower block don't try to chase them away, they sort of feel connected to those people who live underneath. And like the star of our show, Anil Kapoor, very rich man, very big success story, the responsibility he feels towards the poor, he is very interconnected, it’s not a pr thing or individual moral thing, it's a social thing that they all feel. You know, they all feel interconnected. And I've lost sight of that, but you can feel it, they're very close. It’s an extraordinary thing really. I think it influences this idea they have, destiny, you know - this thing it is written - which can to our eyes can look really passive and very accepting, but it doesn't actually work like that because although you might accept that your hands have been chopped of when you're a kid to make you a better beggar and you see people like that, people come up and knock on the car windows and you can see! Their hands have been cut off! It's not an accident and it’s not a disease, it’s been done deliberately, you can see it. But in that acceptance, you must also understand that, Anil Kapoor [the famed Indian actor who plays the gameshow host in "Slumdog"] has accepted his destiny as well.  Which in our eyes is much more glamorous blah blah, but he still feels a responsibility towards that person, he is still connected towards that person, it’s quite difficult to explain, you sense it when you're there, really. 

PK: Did he come from a lower level of society? 

DB: Anil? 

PK: Yes. 

DB: Not so much, although he did portray, he is known like that, because he portrayed that in his early films, he was, there is an extra resonance to casting him in this film which we can't appreciate, but they'll get in India, which is that he was, as he says in the film "I'm a slum kid myself, I'm the only one who knows what it’s like to come from nothing and to get everything." He portrayed a couple of people like that in his early films. Although he himself comes from a film-making family. He would never be described as being from a poor family.  

PK: Many people have described the film as being Dickensian, I think you have described the film in the same way. But aside from the story telling there is a kind of call out to reform  in Dickens, and pointing a finger out injustice and so forth, do you see the film also doing such a sort of thing? 

DB: I don't think you can, I was very conscious in going there that I didn't want to bang a drum really, I didn't first of all, want to make a film about white people in India and I also then, as a western director I didn't want to make a film that kind of was objective or judgmental really, to try and make the film from the inside out really, from the view of the people themselves and tell the story that way.  So in that sense it isn't. There are obviously some extraordinary things going on there, the police are corrupt, like I say, there is no – the infrastructure is inadequate, there's lot of things for them to tackle. 

PK: Poor people are exploited? 

DB: Poor people are exploited… Well I have to be very careful in how I answer that because I went to this one place, Dharavi, which is a big slum there, there was this guy and he recycled huge vegetable cans of oil, I mean they've been recycling in a way that we've only begun to recycle, they've always recycled, it’s part of the pattern of life, you see people throw things away, and you think – don't throw that on the street – but they do it because there is a whole other level of people who pick it up and recycle it and they're sort of like, bound together. He recycles these things – the area this was in was just in a shack - when you went in it was like a cathedral, all of these drums everywhere, like, thousands of them being recycled, in different stages of being recycled.  And I said please can I come and film here and he said, no you can't because I've let “National Geographic” in here twice before and they've taken photographs — and in fact subsequently I found some of the photographs of “National Geographic on this place, I found them on their website, amazing place.

But he said, “I've asked them twice not to say that we're poor and, he said, every time, they depict us as being poor. So I've decided to stop any filming or people taking photographs anymore. You can have a look around. I don't regard us as being poor and I’ve  provided work here for about 25 – 30 people for twenty years.” And he said, "we're very proud of what we do, this is an industry, it’s self sufficient, it provides work, it’s profitable, and it’s doing a good thing.  Why should you call me poor?” I was affected by that  and that really affected the film, the spirit of the film.  It's like I said  – you can't take your value judgments there. You can’t just say,  they're poor, there's so much poverty here, because they don't see it like that. And they have to solve it themselves.  There are over a billion people there, which is enough people to start a planet, never mind a country, it’s like – they will, they have to! And that's what is happening at the moment, the focus is shifting to them sorting their problems out and it’s rather than us coming in, IMF style, and saying: DO THIS DO THIS DO THIS, you won't be poor! You will be fucking poor because we still have poor of our own, in a different way, although maybe they'll be less of you who are absolutely poor. But you have to let them sort the problems out. So I won't argue that I could go in there and be judgmental. I would defend my right not to be judgmental. 

PK: The film is not to get people stirred up about how unjust things are in India, but to be entertained by their stories or to be exhilarated by the universal human values? 

DB: Yeah, yeah, if you like. I mean the values of the story are universal.  His romanticism, his like underdog status, that dream he has that he will fulfill, whatever is put in his way he will go through together. 

PK:  It’s kind of like “A Life Less Ordinary,” same sort of romanticism. 

DB: I guess so, I guess so, I mean it’s made by the same filmmaker, so I suppose there would be. 

PK: I thought that was a very underrated movie.

DB: I liked that, not many people liked that. Girls like it quite a lot. I think it’s more irrational than people normally see things as, but in a lighthearted way, not a particularly heavy way.

PK: Then there’s “Millions.” There you have saints appearing. You wanted to be a priest when you were younger?

DB: Yeah, I wanted as a kid. My mum wanted me to be a priest, which is not absolutely the same thing, but -

PK: You didn't have a vocation -

DB: Don't think so, certainly not the way it turned out, certainly not that way inclined anymore. But my mom was a very devoted Roman Catholic and part of the aspiration of being a roman catholic is to get your eldest son to join the priesthood it’s part of like a destiny - so she would see destiny as something like that happening, but it didn't happen.

PK: You didn't have much of a spiritual inclination after that?

DB: No - I mean, I don't believe that things are black and white. Like I've been reading Richard Dawkins's stuff, he's real heavy, he's very heavy against God and he argues it brilliantly too.

PK: A fundamentalist atheist

DB: Absolutely, yeah, he really is. He argues it beautifully. He's sort of covered every corner except that the point about spirituality is that there aren't any corners, that’s the whole thing about it, it’s beyond corners, in a way.  You certainly feel that in India as well, where they see spirituality as being everywhere in life. It’s not narrow about God, not one deity - they have lots of deities, they also see spirituality everywhere, they did this amazing thing and I’m sure we used to make fun of them  about it because when you go there, they don't knock down trees. If there is a tree they build a building around it . You go in a building and there's fucking trees still in there coming out of the side of the building and they build a motorway but they won’t uproot the tree.  It will go around the tree or through the tree, but the tree will stay there protected from the motorway.  They did this 20 years ago and I’m sure 20 years ago we would go there and laugh at them for their quaint idiotic ways, but of course now we realize that their values have come into focus in a way, so there is a lot to learn a lot to value. Their respect for life, as a vegetarian society basically — Hinduism is a vegetarian religion, really. It’s the best vegetarian food in the world - boy, if you're a vegetarian...

PK: Are you?

DB: I'm not actually, but you eat very well, there.  You aren't eating a lot of meat, most of the time.

PK: Are there cows walking around?

DB: The crew whom I got to know really well said I bet you show cows walking around in your film. They would laugh at me - we'll bet you, because you can see, they're very sophisticated people that work in the film industry, they look at Western films, films that go there and they always show cows walking around the street and so one guy says to me "I bet you're determined not to show a cow walking around the street.”  But there are loads of cows and everyone gets out of the way. Traffic, people - everyone gets out of the way. 

PK: I do not recall a cow in your film.

DB: I deliberately did want one. There is one wandering through the rubbish, but that’ in the corner of a shot.

PK: No elephants either.

DB: There are elephants. They tried to ban them from Mumbai actually, they tried to take them out, there've been a few violent incidents, but you still see them a bit.

PK: They probably aren't more dangerous than an SUV being driven by an average American.

DB:  Especially if they’re DUI.

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