‘Millionaire’ director speaks to The Villanovan

Ben Raymond

Jamal Malik is one question away from winning 20 million rupees. How did he do it?A. He cheated B. He’s luckyC. He’s a geniusD. It is destinyDirected by Danny Boyle (“Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later”), “Slumdog Millionaire” is the rousing coming-of-age story of Bombay slum kid Jamal (Dev Patel), who against all odds becomes a contestant on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Jamal’s venture is not for prize money but to win back the love of his longtime friend and love interest Latika (Freida Pinto), who is a devoted fan of the show.The narrative chronicles Jamal’s rough-and-tumble life in the slums, showing how each event, be it a triumph or tragedy, inexplicably provides him the answers on the “Millionaire” show.Boyle’s direction is pulsating – a sly, sexy mélange of finesse and grit, adrenaline and pathos, madness and method. Chris Dickens’ film editing is slick and swift but nonetheless comprehensible. The film rarely lingers; there are constant cuts. But instead of becoming bewildering (as many films are that use chop-shop editing styles), the fast-paced cuts are not at all a gimmick, adding to the film’s appeal.Director of Photography Anthony Dod Mantle (a longtime cohort of Boyle’s) is at the top of his game. The lighting palate glows with brushes of effervescent color set against the dystopia-esque grays and browns of the landscape. Magentas, bright oranges and chartreuses punch into the composition.The film positively flies. Mantle weaves in and out of the Mumbai alleyways with matchless ease. Rooftop to rooftop, train car to train car and in the narrowest of urban mazes, Boyle’s and Mantle’s lensing is as gorgeous as it is frenetic.Boyle, in his infectious cockney accent and expletive-ridden vocabulary, commented on the challenges of the film’s production in the chaotic streets of Mumbai.”It was bloody insane, man,” he said. “No control whatsoever. We were in everyone’s way, and they were in ours. No matter how politically correct you think you are, you’re an invading army.”You just have to run with it,” he said. “You accept it. You can’t fight it, or you’re [toast].” Only, he didn’t say “toast.”Boyle was asked how he maintained continuity in the frenzied locale.”Continuity? Continuity? [Forget] continuity!” Only, he didn’t say “forget.”Newcomer Patel delivers a magnificent performance as the film’s improbable hero. He has already garnered numerous awards from critics’ circles and is on the shortlist for an Oscar nomination this coming January. And he deserves each and every accolade for a brave turn that will not soon be forgotten.Pinto is also a marvel. One of India’s most popular actresses, she achieves a new level of stardom with her bewitching performance.But the highest praise must go to the smallest of cast members: the children who play Latika, Malik and his brother Salim when they are youngest.Boyle had planned to cast these parts to established Bollywood child-actors. But when he arrived in the slums of Mumbai for principle photography, he could not help but cast its native “slumdogs” for the parts.”When we went to the slums, that’s when it became real,” Boyle said. “I saw these wonderful kids and knew I couldn’t make the film anymore without them.”This meant that nearly a third of the film suddenly required subtitles, as none of the children knew a lick of English.”I told FOX Searchlight about this,” he said. “They wanted the film to be completely in English, but I knew it had to be made with these slum kids. No [darn] way I was doing it otherwise.” Only, he didn’t say “darn.”Boyle spoke briefly about his relationship with production studios.”I’m trusted to about 6-7 million pounds,” he said. “After that, I’m on my own. And I like it that way. Less money often means more freedom. I always stay as much an ‘independent’ filmmaker as I can. Whatever the [cupcake] that means.” Only, he didn’t say “cupcake.””Slumdog Millionaire” stands at the pinnacle of ballsy moviemaking in an era of cinema that collectively needs to grow a pair – and fast. Few pictures are so uncompromising and so intrepidly devoted to excellence.Beginning to end, top to bottom, in and out, it’s a delight.Boyle’s picture is crafted with an undying passion. It has a spirit, a haunting omnipresence in the heart of the viewer that remains long after the credits have rolled.The film inspires in every possible way – an avowal of everything good in the art form. It’s moving, volatile, brooding, romantic and enthralling all at once. It captures the heart and soul without becoming saccharine – an uplifting cinematic portrait whose optimism and verve are wholly believable.Boyle’s film is so “real,” it’s almost as if you can reach out and touch it. As peculiar as the plotline is, it is surprisingly accessible, suspending disbelief throughout its unfolding.The film is so lively, it almost seems conscious. As the film rolls, it also converses. Boyle’s film achieves a level of intimacy between picture and audience unseen in contemporary moviemaking. “I’m not a big fan of art that deliberately excludes people,” Boyle said. “Film should be a far more inclusive art than it is right now.””Slumdog Millionaire” is a vibrant, life-affirming modern classic, a masterful cinematic bildungsroman rife with romance, passion and intrigue – nothing short of an inspiration.It is an unqualified triumph and the best picture of the year.