A week ago, as images of the terrorist assaults on Mumbai, India, began racing around the world, the man who wrote the Mumbai-set “Slumdog Millionaire” began questioning his work.
Screenwriter Simon Beaufoy wondered if the film was delivering “a rather naive vision of Mumbai” at a particularly painful moment. Even as Beaufoy, director Danny Boyle and their colleagues traded panicky e-mails with Mumbai-based members of the film’s cast and crew (all were well, it turned out), the collaborators wrestled with newfound concerns about their breathlessly paced R-rated fairy tale.
Danny Boyle, Loveleen Tandan
Dev Patel, Freida Pinto, Madhur Mittal, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan
(Fox Searchlight; US theatrical: 12 Nov 2008 (Limited release); UK theatrical: 9 Jan 2009 (General release); 2008)
Should changes or cuts be made?
Beaufoy said Tuesday he found his answer in his in-box.
“The e-mails from our friends in Mumbai were characteristically, fantastically Indian,” he said, “full of things like: ‘We will rise from the ashes! We will come back stronger! These people will never crush our spirit!’ I got my answer from the people who live there.”
The film, which has nothing to do with political terrorism, has undergone no changes or cuts since the attacks.
Adapted by Beaufoy from the Vikas Swarup novel “Q&A,” “Slumdog Millionaire” is about an impoverished young Mumbai man who finds himself on the verge of winning 20 million rupees on the Hindi version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Now playing at fewer than 100 theaters nationwide, the film expands to 600 North American screens Dec. 19. Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures, the U.S./U.K. co-production is widely expected to receive several Academy Award nominations come January.
According to Sheila DeLoach, Fox Searchlight senior vice president for distribution, “it’s taken off like wildfire.”
It’s not clear whether recent tragic events will slow this specialty title’s momentum. Film history may provide some clues. In November 1942, Warner Brothers released a Humphrey Bogart/Ingrid Bergman potboiler named for a Moroccan city relatively unknown to most American moviegoers. Then, in January 1943, Allied leaders, including Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, held what became known as the “Casablanca Conference.”
Suddenly the film’s title had currency.
Even with last week’s Mumbai bloodshed, “I’d argue it’s a similar situation with ‘Slumdog,’” said Columbia College film and video associate professor Ron Falzone. “In practically all the news reports of what happened in Mumbai, the reporters felt the need to remind us that Mumbai is ‘the former Bombay.’ The implication being, there is no fixed image of Mumbai in the public consciousness. So just like ‘Casablanca,’ the film is giving us an image of a place that is suddenly in the news.”
And against all odds, the exuberant Bollywood-style dance sequence that ends “Slumdog Millionaire” seems an appropriate expression of optimism, said screenwriter Beaufoy.
“Mumbai,” he says, “is still a hopeful place, for all its complexities.”