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Danny Boyle's Mumbai: 'A City In Fast-Forward'

When he set foot in India, British director Danny Boyle entered what for him was uncharted territory. His mission: to turn the novel Q and A into the film Slumdog Millionaire.

It's a rags-to-riches story in which an orphan boy from the slums of Mumbai makes it big on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

The story unfolds as the kid, Jamal Malik, explains how an uneducated 18-year-old could know all the answers: It's his life's journey to date that has made him so street-smart.

"What matters to the characters in the film is who they love, who they hate, what their ambitions are, what their aims are," Boyle says.

And where they live. As he tells his story, Boyle captures India's commercial capital at the height of its transformation. He says what may be a slum one day might be a skyscraper the next.

"They're building this city; it's just exploding," Boyle says. "It's like Las Vegas or New York being built on the top of what was absolute, abject poverty, and the city is in fast-forward. And when you get there, you have to jump and start running with it."

Also in this story, Boyle discusses:

• How everything that happens in India is linked to the idea of destiny

• How as an outsider there, he tried to be careful not to film only the obvious

• Why people in the Mumbai slums were insistent the film crew not keep calling them "poor"

• The idea of India as a country of contradictions: "The guy whose destiny is staggeringly wonderful — you know, he wins the game show or he's a big Bollywood star — still remains deeply, deeply connected to the guy whose hands have been cut off in order to make him a better beggar."

Click the red "Listen" button above to hear the full interview.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.