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In Slumdog heaven

Exuberant director high on 'alive' Mumbai and the kids who made Millionaire happen

British director Danny Boyle dives into making movies with the same kind of exuberance many film fans feel lining up to see them.

He made a name for himself with the stylized black humour of Trainspotting in 1996, then kicked zombies into high gear in 2002 with the modern horror classic 28 Days Later. He charmed audiences with the offbeat, get-rich-quick fable Millions three years after that.

Slumdog Millionaire, Boyle's latest, is a title many people need to hear twice to grasp. Aided by Indian co-director Loveleen Tandan, Boyle shot this hard-hitting, hard-to-classify movie -- it has comedy, drama and romance -- in Mumbai, India, many months before the recent outburst of terrorist violence.

Boyle talked recently about the movie, the tale of an 18-year-old orphan (Dev Patel) from the slums of Mumbai who finds himself one right answer away from winning 20 million rupees on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

Q. Were you concerned at all about pegging this on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? A few years ago it was hugely popular, on TV two or three nights a week. Now it's faded a bit, at least in this country.

A. I wouldn't want to make a movie about the game show. Here's one of the wonderful things that Simon Beaufoy, who adapted it, did. The spine of the novel is the show. There's no love story in the novel. What he did is replace that spine with the love story in the film. The real spine isn't the show. The show is actually a disguise. The game show becomes a tool that you use to get to where you want.

We hear the term must-see where moviegoers are concerned. Is there such a thing as a must-make factor for a director? How much do you have to fall in love with a project before you commit to it?

You imagine that you do it on each project. The truth is you can see with a bit of perspective that some bring a more intense feeling than something else. The experience of doing this, both reading the script originally -- that feeling of plummeting, falling into the script, where you just know that you're going to make it -- you don't get it every time. But I got it on this one, and I got it on Trainspotting before.

What was shooting in Mumbai like?

The people just are alive. It feels more alive than anywhere I've ever been. The problem is what to leave out because you want to include everything. It's just buzzing. It's in fast-forward economically. Even if it wasn't, there's so much going on. They love life so much and how they live it that they're offering you up stuff all the time.

How difficult was it for you to find these actors?

The place is full of actors of all ages because they love movies, probably even more than Americans love movies. They're just obsessed with movies. So even little kids, seven-year-olds, have seen movies. They know their movie stars and they know little moves from the movies. The older one (Freida Pinto) -- she was a girl I saw on tape. It's a snag thing in the back of your brain. You just think, "I bet that's her. I bet that's her."

I couldn't find (the male lead) there. Most of the guys are kind of heroes in waiting. They're all buff and built and ready to take their shirts off in the waterfall in the Swiss Alps before they do the dance song. It just looked wrong to me. My daughter said, "See this guy Dev Patel, who's in 'Skins,"' which is a TV show in London.

What was it like when you met with Patel?

He was a very funny actor. When I met him he was very serious, as well, about the whole process. So you take a risk. That's the great thing about not taking a huge amount of money. You can take risks.

You always seem to work well with kids. Do you feel a special connection to them?

I love working with them. It's organic, like India, really. There's two sides.

When they get it right, it's just effortless and so true and so believable. It's jaw-dropping. They carry no baggage. They're not bothered about what they look like. They're not bothered about, "Does this make me a nice guy? Does this make me a bad guy? Will people like me more if I say it this way?"

There's none of that. They just do it. Of course the downside is that they get tired and disinterested. You can't focus them with money or caffeine. You can't charm them. They're just kids. They like playing, and they don't understand repeating things. They say, "We've done it once. That's it."

What was your reaction when your film landed the Toronto Film Festival Audience Award in September?

When you begin to establish yourself as a filmmaker, you tend to forget how important film festivals are. It's a good reminder that the chance for a film to just play before an audience is more valuable than anything in the end.

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