The main star of "Slumdog Millionaire" is the sharply contrasting city of Mumbai, said its director Danny Boyle on Wednesday, describing the Indian financial capital wracked by mass poverty as extraordinary in all its extremes.
After winning four Golden Globes earlier this month, Boyle told reporters "Slumdog Millionaire" was an honest look at the immense hardships faced by millions of Indians who live in Mumbai's slums. He also rejected criticism that it romanticizes India's grim poverty.
Two days before the much-talked about Indian release, Boyle said the film was a fairy tale rooted in reality. It tells the story of Jamal Malik, a poor youth who becomes the champion of India's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" television program as he searches for his lost love.
"The star of the film for me is Mumbai - an extraordinary city with all its extremes," Boyle said.
More than half of Mumbai's 18 million people live in ramshackle huts packed near train stations or in the shadows of modern high-rises. Being India's financial and entertainment centre, it is a city of sharp contrasts - immense wealth and heart-wrenching poverty; gleaming skyscrapers and enormous slums.
To the country's poorest, it is a city of dreams with thousands flocking to Mumbai from impoverished towns and villages in search of new jobs and better lives.
"Slumdog Millionaire" is expected to fill theatres starting Friday, despite upsetting many who say it focuses on the West's fascination with the country's poverty. About 400 million Indians live on less than $1 a day.
"I never thought I was writing a film about poverty," said Simon Beaufoy, who wrote the film's screenplay based on a novel by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup. "Really, genuinely in my heart, I was writing a film about a people with a massive spirit and a determination to overcome terrible troubles."
The cast of "Slumdog Millionaire" is almost entirely drawn from Bollywood - India's enormous film industry - and from the slums of Mumbai. Nearly a third of the film is in Hindi, a change Boyle said was made after filming started.
The film "came alive" with the Hindi dialogue," he said.
The Oscar nominations were to be announced a day ahead of "Slumdog"'s Indian premiere, but Boyle said he was not holding out any hopes. "We can't expect anything. Even if we fall over a cliff tomorrow we've done way beyond what we could have imagined."
Earlier this month, Slumdog won four Golden Globe Awards, including best drama and best director.
Boyle, who directed the 1996 drug drama "Trainspotting." said he would love to return to Mumbai to "make a thriller. A really dark thriller."