Monday, June 08, 2009

A few moments with Loveleen Tandon

Post-inauguration at the Indian Writers’ Festival on Friday evening, everybody wanted to have a few moments with Loveleen Tandon (the ‘lovely’ Lovleen Tandon, as the evening’s host put it).

People went — "The co-director of Slumdog Millionaire (SM) is 'so hot'"!

“She looks more beautiful than her picture!”

“She looks better than Freida Pinto!”

“Why didn’t you act as the heroine of Slumdog Millionaire?” someone said protesting.

“Why don’t you take yourself as the heroine in your next film, the one you are directing?” someone ventured with a suggestion.

“So that it bombs even before it is made,” said Loveleen jokingly.

When she smiles, she radiates a genuine warmth.

Lovleen was courteous throughout, making small talk with people, answering their questions on Slumdog, posing for their pictures. She was a picture of humility and confidence.

In a brief chit chat, she explained why Anil Kapoor was cast as the host of the KBC show in the film. She said that director Danny Boyle wanted someone for the part who had actually hosted the show. Shah Rukh Khan would not do it because he would look for the main part—not suitable at all. Amitabh is over 60—they wanted someone who could feel threatened by Dev’s character, and anyone above 60 would not feel that way. So Anil Kapoor.

Though Dev Patel was not cast by her, she also explained Dev’s ‘jarring’ accent in an otherwise believable ‘masala’ film. She was all praise for the Brit boy—sees in him great talent. He tape-recorded accents of various crew members (including Loveleen's) and each one turned out to be different. So there was no single Indian accent! “I advised Dev to be natural, without being fake,” she said. And that worked for the film. Only the Indian audiences could tell about the accent, otherwise it went down without much problem with the foreign viewers.

The money came from UK, so the film was primarily for UK (by extension, Western) audiences. I remembered reading an editorial in the UK film magazine, Sight & Sound, which described how the success of SM could save the Channel 4 (its funding was about to be cut down--revenue squeeze due to the downturn).

Casting for Slumdog Millionaire

Loveleen was casting for Mira Nair’s Shantaram (headlined by Johnny Depp) and the project was stalled due to some reason. Earlier, she had done casting for Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding and The Namesake. Then she got the job of casting for SM.

She went to numerous schools in various parts of the country looking for kids to play the roles of slum children. The middle class school kids could not act the parts of slum kids without looking and acting fake, she said—because they had never seen that kind of life. Finally, Loveleen suggested Danny that they should cast actual slum kids. She got hold of some and made a scratch tape for Danny. Danny and the producers liked the stuff and gave her the go ahead.

Language became another issue—the slum kids followed Hindi and Loveleen had established a great rapport with the kids. When Danny tried to direct them, said Loveleen, it didn’t work. So, Loveleen was asked to step in as a co-director. “It was a big stroke of luck,” she said.

Loveleen also revealed that in the original script, Jamal's (Dev's) interrogation was to be done by a police commissioner. She said that in India a police commissioner would not have the time to interrogate a quiz show freak. Danny and others finally saw her point and that's how Irfan Khan came in as the interrogating police officer (inspector).

These days she is working on the script of a film. She will direct the film when it is ready to be shot.

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