Words cannot being to express my love for Dev Patel, the young lead actor in Danny Boyle’s 2008 hit Slumdog Millionaire. Having classified myself as a severe Anglophile since around 9 years old, I actually knew about Patel from the hit show Skins. In a film about underdogs and overcoming insurmountable odds, the specific gem about Slumdog Millionaire rested on the underdog ensemble that made up the cast. They were all looking to make something of themselves, few were known and the entire cast was new to the Hollywood world — but they came together and created a multi-award winning film.
Dev Patel was 17 years old, a year into Skins and one fan with a very important last name… Boyle. When Danny Boyle began casting for Slumdog, it was his daughter who suggested he look into the young Indian kid on her favorite TV series. Freida Pinto, Lakita in the film, had never acted on screen before. Two out of the three youngest actors portraying Jamal, Salim and Lakita were actually from the Mumbai slums; they didn’t speak a word of English and had almost nothing to their name. But it didn’t matter that this cast was inexperienced, or that the lead role was given to an English teenager who had only visited India once, for a family wedding, and had no idea how to mimic a Mumbai accent; what mattered was that they wanted to do something special, they wanted to represent a true India to the world.
I spent last night watching several interviews of Dev Patel and Freida Pinto (mostly because I think Dev is insanely adorable — watch him act like a little kid on The Graham Norton Show back in February) and I found an interesting clip from the Today Show, while the two stars were doing early press for the film.
Freida Pinto, a native from Mumbai, talked about how the film was an accurate representation of the slums. And of course, there was this in the comment section:
Ignoring the fact that phharsh120 used the word “awesomer”, I think we’ve come across the true issue surround this film, which is how India is portrayed. There is a lot of debate between whether or not the film showed the best representation of India. I’ve personally never been to India, but I believe that if the Indian stars in the film (specifically Pinto since she has lived in Mumbai) believe this accurately reflects the joys and struggles of India, then good. We need to be done with representing countries in a way that hides the flaws. That isn’t reality. That isn’t India’s reality. India’s reality is that the slum they used to film hosts almost 2 million people. It’s dirty and poverty stricken in the technical sense, but people can also live full and happy lives there.
The novel Q&A, by Vikas Swarup, is the story behind Slumdog Millionaire. Written by an Indian Diplomat, the story covers the hardships and terror the slums bring every day. But in an interesting twist, Danny Boyle, a British director was brought onto the film. There was an Indian director listed in the credits, Loveleen Tandan, who worked as a consultant to best represent India and also to translate part of the film into Hindi. I think that if there was an Indian with so much say and influence on the film, if Danny Boyle started doing something ignorant or untruthful, Tandan would have stepped in.
Something I thought was particularly interesting about the Indian culture portrayed in the film was the music. Traditionally Indian, and complete with a Bollywood dance sequence at the end, the music helps to embody the Indian culture and it provided a more mainstream audience than Indian music was typically used to. But the scene on the train, when Salim and Jamal are steal food and just riding the rails, the song that plays is Paper Planes by M.I.A. — a British rapper with Sri Lankan parents. Culturally, yes M.I.A. and her music has connections to the area more than say, an American rapper, but I would have expected them to highlight Indian music, instead of an international hit by a British artist.
Since no Indian film is complete without a Bollywood dance, I’ll leave you with clips of Dev Patel making fun of the dance moves on several talk shows.