How did you get involved with Slumdog Millionaire?
In early 2007, I was casting for Mira Nair’s film on AIDS, called Migration, in Mumbai. (Ever since I assisted Mira in Monsoon Wedding, I’ve been approached for casting and assisting many foreign producers shooting in India.)
I got a call from the producers just as I was about to leave for Delhi where I live and work out of. In March 2007, I met producer Christian Colson from Celador Films in Mumbai. After reading the script and having followed the director Danny Boyle’s work, I got really excited. A week later, I was in Mumbai to set up office as casting director.
Was it a long search before you found the three children who played the lead roles in the first half of the film?
Loveleen Tandan with the actor who played Latika
It was very frustrating in the beginning. I had to have a cast ready before Danny would arrive three months later. First I took auditions and none of the children fit in to the role of children from slums—who could have the right combination of innocence and street wisdom. Finally, I went to slums and casted real children from slums. That’s how I found two of them—Salim and Latika. The character of Jamal, the main character that Dev Patel plays, is not from a slum. He had come for an audition.
How did your role expand being a casting director to a co-director?
I had formed the first rapport with the kids and I could communicate well with them. So the crew depended on me to extract performances out of them. Later on, I handled some shoots on my own. My involvement became complete after that.
You’re from Delhi and never lived in Mumbai, and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ is a completely Mumbai film. Did you have to learn or unlearn things?
Not really. Mumbai, like many other Indian cities, is very accessible. Perhaps more than other cities. I felt at home from the very beginning and as someone constantly working with actors, I had to depend more on my instinct and basic human communication.
Tell us something about working with Danny Boyle.
He had a vision about the film when he came to India, but he was open to changes. He is 52, but very childlike. The children who acted in the film had a great time playing with him. He doesn’t like controlled environments, and prefers natural locations and real situations to work in.
It has been received very well in the US and UK. What are your expectations from the Indian audience?
Danny, especially, is very sensitive about the way it will be received in India because for people here, its story and characters are so close home. People might feel that an Indian reality is misrepresented. I’m sensitive to that too, but it’s a film that has been made with humility and hard work. We worked hard to avoid misrepresentation and clichés. And it’s a good story, so I think it will do well in India too.
Slumdog Millionaire releases in India on 23 January