Around 2005, long before the worldwide recognition and all the adulation and awards, Danny Boyle’s adaptation of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q & A was just another project in the making. It was when Simon Beaufoy, the project’s screenplay writer decided to come to Mumbai, the city in Swarup’s novel, to see for himself the various hues and shades of the mega polis.
Simon had already won acclaim for his work in The Full Monty and knew his way around his city, London, very well. But he was completely at sea in the land of million mutinies. This is when he was introduced to Paresh Parekh – actor, casting director, dramatics lecturer and a pukka Mumbaiite for 14 years.
In an interview with Bollywood Hungama, Paresh, who is currently working as a creative director with Frameboxx Animation & Visual Effects, shares experiences that formed the backdrop of Slumdog Millionaire‘s powerful, Oscar-winning screenplay. “When I was introduced to Simon in early 2005, I was working as a theatre teacher at M.P. Shah High School in Vile Parle (W), where I was directing plays with normal and mentally challenged children. After reading Q & A, the first place that I took him to was a slum right next to Pawan Hans. Simon was shocked at what he witnessed – a complete township equipped with everything from small cinema halls as popular as multiplexes, a mini hospital, places of worship and even grocery and wholesale markets. The only thing missing were the basic amenities. People cooked and dumped at the same place.”
Over a period of the next 10 days, Simon and Paresh toured the city together in the scorching summer heat, exploring every nook and cranny. Sites like Asia’s biggest slum Dharavi, hutments on the banks of the filthy Mahim creek, the Mulund and Gorai dumping grounds, a red-light district in South Mumbai, the revered Haji Ali and Siddhivinayak temple and the iconic Victoria Terminus dotted their itinerary.
“I introduced Simon to Indian culture, relationships, religions and the joint family system. He was shooting everything. Simon culled his understanding of Mumbai from the numerous cutting chai sessions at Dharavi and interactions with people of various strata and ages,” says Paresh.
Ask him about what the British screenwriter took away from the trip, and Paresh says, “All that Simon saw here has been captured in the movie quite well. The negative side of the city has been used very artistically… like in the scene where the brothers are accosted by Ankur (the beggar mafia boss) at the Mulund dumping ground.” In fact, many places visited by the duo are included in the film – Pawan Hans slum, Mulund dumping grounds, red-light area and VT station.
Paresh further shares an anecdote on the reason behind the brief cameo by Amitabh Bachchan. “Simon wanted to know about Bollywood, apart from Shah Rukh Khan whose star status he was already aware of. He also wondered how the 60-year-old Big B was still so famous with the masses. So I took him to Gaiety theatre in Bandra for a Bunty Aur Babli show. Amongst the hoots and whistles of the crazy audience, Simon fell in love with the ‘Kajra Re‘ song.” The kids playing cricket on the airstrip, the temporary toilets in the slums, the idea of a school, all things clicked. “All these elements are there in the movie as very good drama,” exclaims Paresh.
On the credit he never received for Slumdog, as the project according to Paresh shifted to another Line Producer in 2008, the NSD Delhi graduate says, “I was approached by Danny Boyle and Simon on their second visit to India in 2008 to get on board as the casting director but I already had a full-time commitment with Frameboxx and therefore could not join the team.”
“I was part of the pre-production under a different line producer (Rakesh Mehra, line producer for Bollywood films like Naina, Straight and Hollywood films like Armageddon, The Warrior). Why will someone bother about who helped Simon in the scripting?”
Moreover, in reply to Paresh’s e-mail after the BAFTA award, Simon asserted, ‘Thanks so much for your kind words, Paresh. Glad you liked it (the movie). Thank you for playing your part in the creation of the movie. Couldn’t have done it without you.’ This is due acknowledgement to their camaraderie, opines Paresh.
Did Paresh ever think that the film would make it to the Oscars? He ripostes, “It was just another project. Assisting a screenwriter certainly was a novel experience for me. The fact that the screenplay is the most important part of filmmaking is something I have understood by working with Simon.”
With the Slumdog-mania behind him, Paresh is now awaiting the release for Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya, for which he is the casting director. Meanwhile he is content in teaching animation students the nuances of acting. “I am quite happy right now,” he quips as he leaves us for his students with whom he will share the exciting experience of bringing the real ‘slums’ to one of the most crowd-pleasing feature films of contemporary times.