Excerpts from Roundtable Interview With Danny
Director of “Slumdog Millionaire”
Dallas , Texas , November
Outlook: After our
conversation last night, I have to ask you about the deity.
DB: Yes, what did you
Outlook: Well, I
thought that was an interesting introduction of that element in the film.
DB: It’s the thing
you have to be the most careful with, because it’s the thing that they’re
most sensitive about. Religion is very sensitive in India
, because usually, if there are problems, it’s based on Hindu-Muslim
conflict. It was written in the script that the rioters,
who were Hindu right-wing nationalists, were attacking a Muslim slum.
The clue that’s linked to the narrative was on one of the t-shirts
that a rioter was wearing. The god Ramah is represented,
with the bow and arrow in the right hand, on the t-shirt. And
we got there and they said, “Oh, there’s no way anyone would wear such a
t-shirt. It’s incredibly disrespectful.” So
we said, “OK, let’s think back: how would this happen
as part of the riot?” And they said, “It wouldn’t,
because they would never take a representation of the god with them on a
mission of violence like that.” So it wouldn’t happen. So
then you have to think more laterally, and you try to make it almost a
hallucination that the kid has, that another child sees himself as a
representative. And we tried to make the riot be through
the eyes of a 7-year-old, because you can’t really depict it as a Westerner
going in. You can’t depict something as sensitive as that
in an objective way. You can’t comment on it.
You can’t place your attitude upon it. ‘Cause
it’s ‘way more complex than you’ll ever understand. So
we tried to see what it was like from the vision of a 7-year-old, it’s like
an hallucination, this image, and he’s able to answer the question (in the
quiz show) and it’s linked to the death of his mother. So
that was the idea. You have to learn all the time about
what you’re doing, you know?
Outlook: Those two
ladies who were talking to you last night at the reception, who are from India
, were saying that it’s monotheistic and polytheistic at the same time.
DB: Yes, well, it’s
like everything in India . We try to do it, I can hear you
trying to do it now, I try to do it as well. We try to
rationalize everything. You say, “Hang on a minute, if
it’s that, it’s a contradiction.” We try to resolve
contradictions, and solve them. But they don’t do that.
They embrace the contradictions. And that’s what
you have to do. There are such extremes of life, and they
all exist together. There is no way that you can easily
explain and clarify things. The solution---the answer---is
to embrace them all. So it is monotheistic, but it’s
pluralist as well. It’s like they have many, many gods,
and everybody you’re with has respect for the gods. You
would expect a part of society, particularly filmmakers, to be atheistic, or
certainly agnostic. You don’t get that at all.
Everybody I worked with---every time you went by a Temple , everybody
pays respect to the Temple . Always.
Outlook: Even the
DB: Well, the Muslims
have their own faith, obviously, which is different, but I’m talking about
Hindu temples, they would pay respect to. And there were a
lot of Muslims in our crew---it was a very mixed crew---there are a lot of the
big stars in Bollywood who are Muslim. The biggest star
right now is Muslim, so it’s mixed. You can never pin it
down. And that’s what you have to learn: that you can’t
pin it down. You have to accept that you’re not going to
be able to rationalize it. And they look at you, and they
wait for you to try to rationalize, and if they see you trying to do it, they
know you’ve got no chance. But if you hand yourself over
to the experience, they go, “OK, come in.” And it’s a
very generous place. And there’s lots of benefit you get
from it. I learned a lot about myself.
Outlook: Sounds a bit
like the main character, who learns to just embrace the experience, seemingly
without a lot of resentment: that was his life, that was
We tried to tell it from the inside, from the subjective point of view
of the character, really, rather than as a Westerner going in. ‘Cause
I didn’t want to judge, or anything like that. And you
can’t. The biggest thing that happens, is that you are
confronted, pretty much straightaway—I’m sure other people say this who
have been there---you do see things, and you think, “Oh God.” This
moral horror you’re feeling, it’s just overwhelming. But
you see people who’ve been maimed, to make them better beggars. Their
hands have been cut off. There’s a guy at the traffic
light where the hotel was, and every day he’s there. And
like the tourist in the film, all you want to do is give him a thousand
dollars, just to make yourself feel better. But they say,
“That thousand dollars goes straight to a gangster, who’s cut his hands
off in the first place. And you just reinforce that
system.” You have to see it from their perspective, or
try to. And from their perspective, that guy, it’s his
destiny. “He’s so appalling,” you think. But
he doesn’t see it like that. And for such an exclusive
society---there is a caste
system there---it’s an incredibly inclusive society. Everybody’s
bound together by destiny. Whether you’ve been dealt a
brilliant hand, or you’ve been dealt nothing, you’re all included,
you’re all bound together, by this one belief.
what they mean by “it is written”?
DB: Yes, and here,
it’s cues. To a Western audience, it’s “Ah, isn’t
that nice?” And there, it’s much more profound.
‘Cause it’s much more about the way all souls are connected.
Absolutely bound together. I sound like an old
hippie talking about it (laughs), but you can’t help it. When
you’re there, you sense it. If you stay open to it, you
can feel it. It’s really interesting. And
people say, “How can you go from the deliberate blinding of a kid to a
Bollywood dance at the end? How can you smoothly get from
there to here?” You can’t. But
that’s what the city’s like. Just represent the city.
All those elements are there. And if you want to
portray it even half accurately, you’ve got to include them all.
And there are no smooth transitions. It doesn’t
work like that. Everything’s just butted up against each
other. The slums are right next to the luxury buildings.
All on top of one another. It’s an amazing place
like tha t….we work so hard to smooth the edges off in our lives, political
correctness, health and safety…there, it’s all so raw. All
human life is there, that we have managed to sanitize a bit. So
for a filmmaker, it’s an amazing place to go to make a film.
Outlook: Thanks for
DB: Thanks very much.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace
Presbyterian Church, Greenville