An Interview With Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire

‘I’m bloody underage to go anywhere’ - Dev Patel
BACK TO HIS ROOTS: Dev Patel

But 18-year-old Dev Patel did see the slums of Mumbai and they weren’t anything like he imagined they would be

Did shooting in India help you get in touch with your roots?
I don’t know how many people have asked me that — ‘getting back in touch with your roots’. We need a new phrase. See, we have this bread back home (in the UK) called Hovis Best Of Both Bread. You’ve got white bread and brown bread; white bread’s not supposed to be good for you and brown bread is good for you but no kid likes eating that. So, when I came to India, I thought they’ve made this bread that’s the best of both — it’s white bread with all the goodness of brown bread. Once I’d spent four months in India, I felt like that I was a British kid but I got to experience another part of my culture, which gave me the best of both worlds.

Have you seen any Indian films lately?
I was watching the trailer of this film on TV — Fashion? And it was very racy! I work in a racy teenage TV drama in the UK called Skins, and that was right up there with us!

Do you know the lead actress?
Priyanka Chopra? Yeah, I know her.

How much Bollywood do you know?
Oh, loads. I was on the sets one day and I didn’t realise how much I’d seen — my dad used to play this soundtrack when he dropped me to school in his car. So, it just came into my head one day on the sets and I went ‘Ek, do, teen’ and I said, ‘Hey, that’s one of Anil’s, right?’ And Anil (Kapoor) goes, ‘Aye, don’t be cheeky, okay?’ (Laughs) I was here earlier too, and I watched Ghajini. Aamir’s a great actor. And it shows how far Bollywood’s come. There are no stereotypes anymore.

How did your parents react when they knew you were going to India?
My mum actually gave everyone a heart attack because she was worried about a 17-year-old coming to a slum in India and staying away from home. But it was exciting, too. Before I was anything in acting, and when people from my community asked what subjects I’m taking in school, my mum said, ‘Acting,’ their faces dropped, and they went ‘What?’ But now I’m part of this film with people like Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan, and they’re like ‘Wow, what’re they like?’

Did you have any apprehensions about shooting in India?
The great thing was that Danny included me in the location scouts. When you’re reading a script in your bathroom in London, you just gotta imagine — and sometimes stereotype –— what slum life is gonna be like. But it was great that he took me there and dispelled my misconceptions. You get these charity ads in London to donate a pound a month to a child in India and you see this malnourished, depressed child on TV. I’d never been to a slum before and I got to see Dharavi, with a population of two million, and this slum in Mahim, and it’s not like that at all. It’s buzzing. And it’s people working — constantly trying to get about, there’s so much activity. And when you’re there, you witness a great sense of banter between everyone. Everyone knows everyone else. You see the kids walking past and someone passes this cheeky remark and they’re all giggling and laughing, and you know everyone’s been part of this big molecule.

Did you party in India?
Once we started rolling, there wasn’t that much time to party! And of course, I’m bloody underage to go anywhere. But yeah, apart from going on location scouts, they put me in a really dingy hotel. The guys saw this foreign kid with a bright red Bruce Lee Tshirt and trainers, and they’re like, we’re gonna make him wash dishes. And they took me down to the basement and I was there for four hours. I was one of these interns, and he was on his phone all day, and I was wondering when I was gonna get out. I literally did scrub dishes all day — that was surreal.

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