On the eve of what could be the biggest night of his life, Jamal needs just one more right answer to win India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” but when the show breaks, he is arrested on suspicion of cheating and forced to explain how an orphaned former vagrant could possibly have such a breadth of knowledge. As he walks the police though his answers, the audience embarks on a thrilling, stylish, intoxicatingly operatic retelling of his life.
The film’s lotus blossoming layers were what enthralled visionary director Boyle.
“They sent me the script, and I said, ‘It’s about “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” and I thought, ‘I do not want to do a film about that,’” Boyle recounts. “The only reason I read it was because I knew Simon’s work from The Full Monty. After about 10 pages, I was completely mesmerized with it, and I knew I was going to make it. It felt very real and very honest.”
Sincerity and legitimacy were always Beaufoy’s top priority.
“Authenticity is very important to me,” the writer says. “I don’t think you can just parachute in there as a white middle class Londoner and say, ‘OK, slum dwellers, we’re going to write a story about this …’ I try to make the film from the inside out. I think it’s important to do that as a foreigner. You have to respect the people and the place.”
It was India’s vibrancy that inspired Beaufoy.
“You go there and the place is so full of extremes,” Beaufoy explains. “It’s way too hot, way too noisy, the color blasts at your retinas. It opened up a whole way of writing for me that I’d kind of forgot; really operatically grand melodrama. I was always concerned to put the most brutal next to the funniest, squeeze the extremes together.”
One of those extremes was Boyle.
“When I first met him I thought, ‘This guy’s really eccentric,’” Patel, the film’s star, remembers. “When he started talking to me about the love scene he was like, ‘You need her and you want her,’” Patel pants, stroking the air, “and I was like, ‘Whoa!’ And then, when I worked with him on set I realized, it’s not eccentricity; it’s passion for what he does. He doesn’t storyboard, so the way he has to articulate to everyone on set has to be amazing. With a storyboard you can say, ‘Look, the lights go here, this is the way it’s going to be.’ But he has to describe everything, and he’s so great at that. Danny’s a guy who’s stimulated by everything around him.”
Unlike some directors, Boyle is also a man who thrives on collaboration.
“I’ve never worked with a director as inclusive,” Beaufoy admits. “He wants the writer there for casting, for the whole shoot, in the edit room for every edit. I was there for the final sound mix. Now when has the writer EVER been in the final sound mix?”
But his respect for Boyle goes way beyond chumminess.
“Danny and his view of the world are really extraordinary,” Beaufoy says, “his whole unique vision.”
Boyle believes his vision comes from the admiration and optimism he brings to each new project he tackles.
“I’m a dreamer in that way,” Boyle shrugs, “although I choose subjects where I have to be brutal sometimes.”
Slumdog Millionaire releases in select theaters Nov. 12.