Yes. I'm looking forward to it. It's my first time at the Oscars. It was my first time at the Baftas, the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild, my first English film, my first everything. It couldn't have been a better first.
But you've been acting for a long time.
Yes I have. In India I've been to all the award functions, but that was in Hindi; now it's in English so it's a much bigger scale.
Was there a moment during filming when you realised this film would be different?
I knew it would be a good film, a special film, when I started shooting. It's like when you play cricket and it's one of those days when you're on form and every ball pitched to you comes right in the centre of the bat and every ball you hit goes for a six. It's either a four or a six, that's what I told my wife, but I think the ball has gone out of the stadium. I can't find the ball.
Had you heard of Danny Boyle before the film?
No I hadn't, I swear. I didn't know who he was. My son educated me about him. Suddenly he became my agent. He said, "You have to do this film." He read the script first and said it was great. Then he made me call [Boyle] up.
It's been called "the feelgood movie of the decade". Do you think it is a feelgood film?
It is, but it's today's feelgood film. If you make a feelgood film which is complete candyfloss, where everybody is good and everything is beautiful and hunky dory, it won't appeal to the audience. This is like real life, the way the world is. There are hurdles, there are handicaps, hardships you have to face in life, but you hope for a great future. This film is Obama-like: people want to see the film, and they want to feel this film has changed their lives. It lifts them, makes them happy.
What do think of those who say it's the kind of film only a white man could make about India?
It's only one or two or three people who have said this in India, and that has been picked up by the west because the film is such a huge success. Slumdog is the top dog now, so there has to be a bit of backlash. That's fine. That's what makes life exciting.
Can a western film-maker ever get India right on the screen?
An outsider can see some things much better. In a very detached way. For example, Shekhar [Kapur] made Elizabeth. He's from India, but he looked at Elizabeth I in a different way, and maybe in a much better way than somebody British would do.
Does the rags-to-riches element of Slumdog mirror your life?
Yes. That's what I told Danny. I can identify with both of those characters. I feel like Jamal [the young contestant, played by Dev Patel]. I can see myself in him, and I identify with [gameshow host] Prem Kumar also. I also started from a very simple background. Bare feet. Running in the slums with my friends. Going through the rubbish.
So you grew up in the slums?
I can't say slums, but what they call a "chawl", a step up [from] a slum. You have these small cubicles, 100 or 200 sq ft, like holes, but they are made of concrete, and the ceilings are slightly different. For all of us there was a communal bathroom, so you have to stand in line. It's like two baths for about 10 families and two toilets for about 10, 15 families.
So how did you get from those beginnings to acting?
I ran away from my house when I was about 12 years old to audition for a film. One of my friends' fathers supplied extras so I went for an audition, but instead of becoming an extra I got a small part. I started with bit roles. Then I got the role of a leading man and that film became a success.
How is India faring in terms of the global recession?
India has the purity, the innocence. India knows what it wants. There is a direction. It has so much to offer. It has been completely untapped. We just need a great, dynamic, young leader to take India to a different level. It will become a great economic power, if luck favours. India is the centre of the world at the moment.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2017