Nov 7, 2008

Entertainment - Hollywood meets Bollywood in Oscar hyped 'Slumdog'

NEW YORK: Hollywood and Bollywood rarely meet. But in the new film ``Slumdog Millionaire,'' the two international epicenters of filmmaking find an un
usually fruitful cinematic union.

The connection comes by way of British director Danny Boyle, who shot the film in Mumbai, India, with a cast of mostly Bollywood and local nonprofessional actors.

Filming with handheld digital cameras and working with a small crew from London, Boyle plunged into the slums of Mumbai to capture the city's vibrancy not like a foreigner, but like a chameleon.

``The normal thing you do as a film director is you take a bit of life, you stop it, control it, and then recreate it endless times to shoot it,'' said Boyle. ``We did some stuff like that, obviously, but it feels a bit fake. It's got that kind of atmosphere thing that you can't quantify. Some of it's sound, but some of it's also visuals. If there's not that randomness about it, you don't believe it.''

The story of ``Slumdog Millionaire'' itself is a bit unbelievable. It's about a teenager (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai who ends up rising to the top of India's version of ``Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.''

A doubtful policeman interrogates him, accusing him of cheating. But his reasons for knowing each answer reflects his life story - a kind of truthful version of ``The Usual Suspects.'' To do this, the part played by Patel also needed to be cast for two younger children - as did two supporting roles.

The casting headaches and the international production could have easily ended in disaster, or at least a poor movie. But ``Slumdog Millionaire'' has been hailed (Rolling Stone called it one of the year's best) and is getting a full Academy Awards push from Fox Searchlight, which also distributed the Oscar underdog ``Little Miss Sunshine.''

Hollywood blog Movie City News' ``Gurus o' Gold,'' which compiles the Oscar prognostications of 14 leading industry insiders and critics, has ``Slumdog'' as a favorite for a best picture nomination.

The 52-year-old Boyle is known for the variety of his work, from 1996's druggie drama ``Trainspotting'' to 2002's horror film ``28 Days Later'' and last year's sci-fi space adventure ``Sunshine.''

But the last time that he took cameras to an exotic foreign land - for Leonardo DiCaprio's ``Titanic'' follow-up, ``The Beach'' - things didn't work out as well. The movie was panned and Boyle doesn't recall it fondly.

``If you go in as a bit of an invading army, it's much more difficult to adjust appropriately because you're just too big,'' said Boyle. ``I've done that before. I went to Thailand to make `The Beach' and I went with a huge crew. Three months in Thailand, who'd say no to that? But in terms of making the film, I'm not sure that's the way to do it these days.''

Producer Christian Colson said sending ``hundreds of Europeans'' into India didn't make sense.

``It would have been very expensive, but it's also dumb,'' said Colson. ``We're traveling to one of the major filmmaking centers of the world - why do that?''

This time, Boyle kept the crew smaller and was working with a modest $15 million budget. He also enlisted casting director Loveleen Tandan, who helped so much (with work in the second-filming unit and local knowledge) that Boyle gave her a co-director credit in some markets.

``Danny never came in with a set of expectations,'' said Tandan. ``He just went for it and was open. It's not about Bollywood or Hollywood or London. It's just him that made the film unique.''

About a quarter of the film's dialogue is in Hindi - generally an impediment to US box office success. The decision to go with subtitles was not originally in the all-English script by Simon Beaufoy (``The Fully Monty''), who loosely adapted Vikas Swarup's novel ``Q & A.''

But finding young English-speaking Indian children who could still play poor, uneducated characters proved near impossible. So their dialogue was sh
ifted to Hindi just four or five weeks before production.

``That was a massive liberation,'' said Colson, who financed the film privately. ``If we'd had to persuade a studio of that decision, we'd still be arguing about it now.''

Bollywood's ways of making films can differ greatly from Hollywood's. Films are made incrementally - often just a few days at a time - to fit the schedules of the very popular stars. Financing is also done piecemeal, with producers paying more only after seeing early results.

``The film is sort of made in an Indian way,'' said Colson, adding that they did have a schedule and all the money in advance. ``I think it's in the soul of the film.

``Marrying that culture to what we're used to, I think it would have been very difficult 20 or 30 years ago. It's changing now.''

That marriage is most evident in a big, Bollywood-esque dance number that Boyle said just felt ``natural'' to include.

One way the cultures failed to mingle was in casting the lead. For the teenage Jamal, Boyle only found muscular and ``butch'' actors from Bollywood. He cast the scrawnier Patel from London.

``The hardest thing I found on this film was getting out of that foreign mind-set,'' said Patel, whose only previous credit is the British teen drama ``Skins.'' ``Getting into the mind of a slum kid was really hard.''

Boyle said the Oscar buzz for ``Slumdog'' has been ``an amazing vehicle'' to finding attention for an independent film that might not have otherwise gotten much attention. But months after his experience in Mumbai, he's still buzzing about it.

``There will be more and more of that hybrid stuff going on that connects Bollywood and Hollywood. Without a doubt,'' said Boyle. ``It just looks natural that it's going to happen.''

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