The Challenges Of Filming 'Slumdog Millionaire' Tabrez Noorani was in charge of logistics, schedules and meetings while shooting Slumdog Millionaire. He tells NPR how making a film in India is different from filmmaking in the U.S. and describes the extreme challenges of shooting in a Red Light District and at a train station.

The Challenges Of Filming 'Slumdog Millionaire'

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. The sleeper hit of the season is "Slumdog Millionaire," a film set in the slums of one of the world's most densely populated cities, Mumbai. Today, the film opened in India and yesterday, it was nominated for 10 Oscars. When director Danny Boyle accepted his Golden Globe for Best Picture, he thanked his line producer in India, Tabrez Noorani. Noorani was in charge of all the logistics - scheduling, meetings, permits - and many other responsibilities while the film was shot in India. He was born in India, and he got his chops in film school in Los Angeles. I asked Noorani, what's different about shooting in India?

Mr. TABREZ NOORANI (Line Producer, Slumdog Millionaire): Indian sentiments are very - they're very emotional people. So if they say you're shooting at a school, and if the principal has not been informed that you're going to be shooting there for the whole day, it becomes a respect thing and an ego thing. And you can have every single permit but that's pulled, and you're unable to shoot. Obviously, there's lot of things that happen under the table.

NORRIS: You mean envelopes are passed.

Mr. NOORANI: Exactly. But a lot of the time, it's not only about money. It really ends up being about respect and the way that you treat people. And in this case, absolutely, I think, it's one of the reasons why we were able to do what we did is because Danny and Christian Colson were the way that they were, which is enormously respectful wherever we went. And immediately that's recognized, especially in the slums.

NORRIS: It's that simple. You show a little bit of respect to...

Mr. NOORANI: Absolutely, it comes back. (Laughing)

NORRIS: Doors start to open. It sounds a bit like you're almost a diplomat. Like, the U.N. could come calling and perhaps use your services in some heated republic.

Mr. NOORANI: I get enormously - sometimes I get enormously frustrated, and my partner is in Delhi, and he is very, very good at this. And he keeps telling me whenever we're in situations like this, he's like, you have to forget that you're in L.A., and you have to go there physically, you can't pick up the phone. And that's another thing that - if there's a problem at a location, and you have to go and talk to a government official, it's not cool to pick up the phone and talk to them. You have to go. They'll make you wait, but it's the very act of you going to them that will solve your problem.

NORRIS: So that the whole L.A. idea of I'll-have-my-person-call-your-person, that wouldn't work in India.

Mr. NOORANI: Exactly. No, absolutely not. And that is why the preproduction is usually a lot longer in India than in other countries because things take a lot of time, and it really requires you to physically go pretty much everywhere.

NORRIS: What was the biggest challenge for you in working on "Slumdog Millionaire," perhaps one of the scenes that you read in the script and thought to yourself, how in the world am I going to be able to pull this off?

Mr. NOORANI: There were few of those when I first read the script, but what scared me was always the train station. We're shooting at VT Station.

(Soundbite of music)

NORRIS: What we're hearing here is music. It sounds like you could be in a dance club. So maybe you could - for those who haven't seen the film, describe what it is that we're actually seeing on screen.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NOORANI: Basically, this is the end sequence where the couple kiss and two trains arrive and literally, thousands of people come out of the train, and they all break out in this amazing dance sequence.

NORRIS: It's a line dance. They're all dancing in unison.

Mr. NOORANI: Yeah, they're all dancing together, and everything is lit. And on the white shot, you see pretty much six platforms, which means that you need to light every single platform. And in order to light all the platforms, we actually have to light only when the railway station wasn't working, which was from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. every morning. So that took about eight to 10 days to do, and it was, again, slightly risky because the lights had to be placed in between electrical wires. So our crew had to go in every night and very carefully place lights in between the wires.

NORRIS: And they couldn't cut the electricity to do that.

Mr. NOORANI: No, they weren't allowed to cut the electricity. And then once that was done, it was physically hard to get these thousands of extras, first have them rehearse somewhere else, then have then come in and get the sequence done in a matter of two hours. So we shot over a few nights, but it was quite an ordeal.

NORRIS: How important was it to have a certain authenticity in this film when the brothers confront each other in the skyscraper? How important was it they actually be high above the ground in a skyscraper? When they went to a red-light district, how important was it that you actually went to a real red-light district in Mumbai as opposed to just re-creating one in some other neighborhood?

Mr. NOORANI: The truth is, I thought that we were going to re-create it. I, at times, encouraged Danny to re-create it because you do not want to go and shoot in the red-light district.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NOORANI: It borders on being unsafe, especially with the foreign crew, and so...

NORRIS: When we talk about a red-light district, tell me what it is we're talking about. Why is it so unsafe?

Mr. NOORANI: You're talking about hundreds and hundreds of brothels, and you have a lot of gangsters, you have unruly crowds. They don't really want people being there. They don't want photographs being taken. The cops will not encourage you to get a permit there. They'll make it very, very difficult for you to shoot there. Just because it's not a conducive place setting up a camera, it's not really a friendly place. And also the - you have a mob mentality that can very, very quickly emerge if anything bad happens. And in this case, we had lots of pushing and shoving and at some point, someone was shoved, and one of the English crew retaliated to protect our crew members. And that was it, we had to stop shooting. That, you know, that was the last take. But at that point, we stopped, and we went inside. But it's things like that that can very quickly spiral out of control.

NORRIS: Hollywood has a certain fascination with Indian film right now. What do you say to a Hollywood producer or director that's considering shooting in India?

Mr. NOORANI: I think that the key thing is to have patience, and to be able to change your way because you cannot come to India and expect things to run the way they do in L.A. - or anywhere else in the world. And when the certain directors, you know, who come here and they have, a few have, and they're very rigid and they want to work in a particular way, and that they want that piece of equipment and they want the trailer to be a particular way, it's just not going to work. They'll have a miserable time. So I would say, it really is a fantastic place to shoot, especially now because things are getting so much easier; the government is relaxing a bit. But you need to trust and have the patience to shoot in India as well.

NORRIS: Tabrez Noorani, it's been a pleasure to speak to you. Thanks so much.

Mr. NOORANI: You're most welcome. Thank you so much.

NORRIS: Tabrez Noorani is the line producer of the Oscar-nominated film, "Slumdog Millionaire." He joined us from Mumbai.

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