It’s a movie about underdogs, and those who made it like to think of the project that way - as the “little film that could.”
But “Slumdog Millionaire” has earned 10 Oscar nominations and won four Golden Globes (including best director for Danny Boyle). It has honors from the Screen Actor’s Guild, the Producer’s Guild and every critics’ group under the sun, prompting Oscar prognosticator Jeffrey Wells of Hollywood-elsewhere.com to pronounce, “Slumdog’s Best Picture (Oscar) win is locked in ... a done deal.”
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)
All this acclaim has director Boyle, of “28 Days Later, “Trainspotting” and “Millions,” reducing his life to “manipulating white shirts and black ties ... I’ve never worn as many suits in my life, or I should say, I’ve never worn a suit as many times as this last month or so.”
Boyle, 52, professes shock and awe at the reception of his low-budget film based on Vikas Swarup’s novel, with a script by Oscar nominee Simon Beaufoy. But is this tale of a child of Mumbai’s slums whose hard life experiences pay off on a TV game show still a movie “underdog?”
“It has a great idea in it - the underdog who comes out of nowhere, really, and finds a way to win. It’s not about the money to our hero. It’s about his heart. And making the film is like that, too. It has a life outside the cinema screen, and for those of us who made it, outside of the box office. People get caught up in the journey on screen and the journey of the film itself as it becomes this underdog that wins all these honors.”
Not that there hasn’t been backlash. “Slumdog” has caused soul-searching in India itself, with some Indian commentators maintaining that no Indian filmmaker or studio would have dared to show poverty and cruelty the way the Brit Boyle has. Others have attacked it as “poverty porn.”
“There is an advantage to being an outsider,” Boyle says. “I live in London, and I kind of ignore the city. You just want to get on with your bit of that city. Same with India. You live in it, there are things you won’t focus on. Part of that would have to be the slums.
“But this collision of cultures that you get from this film - or from Ang Lee making a Jane Austen adaptation or Shekhar Kapur making ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ - it’s a great thing.”
Boyle is not worried that his “feel-good” movie won’t be loved by all. A filmmaker who has steadfastly worked on the fringes of the mainstream, he welcomes the criticism.
“You upset some people. Naturally. But you embrace that. I’ve learned that if you get the chance to make a movie, part of the responsibility that comes with that is learning to accept what people think about it, even those who don’t cherish it the way that you do.”
Come Oscar night, Boyle will be beaming, he says. He may be the favorite in a field that includes David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”), Gus Van Sant (“Milk”), Ron Howard (“Frost/Nixon”) and Stephen Daldry (“The Reader”). But he’s braced for “the emptiness, what the poet (Philip Larkin) called ‘fulfillment’s desolate attic,’ when you’ve broken through and then it’s all gone, all the attention.”
All the attention, all the acclaim, all those nights of wearing the suit and graciously accepting the applause - all that did, Boyle says, was get people to come see the movie.
“You know, if it stopped tomorrow, I’d have no complaints. If nobody else decided to see ‘Slumdog Millionaire,’ we could be happy for it succeeding beyond our wildest dreams.”