The book, Slumdog Millionaire, written by Vikas Swarup was previously published as Q and A. With the success of the movie, the book was re-published under the title that was used for the movie. The book is about an Indian boy who has grown up on the streets of India. This boy goes on to a quiz show where, to the astonishment of most everyone around him, he is able to answer the questions correctly based on his life experiences.
We find Ram in jail because he has been arrested for cheating on the game show. It is assumed that he cheated because how could a boy from the streets possibly know anything. Ram states that as children growing up on the streets that “the brain is not something we are permitted to use.” Ram is saved from torture by his lawyer to whom he then spends the rest of the book explaining how he knew all of the answers to the questions.
Even though Ram is still young when he is telling his story, you get the impression that due to his rich experiences that he has already lived a lifetime. Because he tells bits and pieces of his life story according to the order of the questions of the quiz show, we learn about his life in an out of order sort of way. It reminded me of a Momento feel where you have to put together the pieces of a puzzle to see the whole picture. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel. There are times where it feels like it is too good to be true that Ram would be in the right place at the right time to gain the knowledge that would allow him to answer the questions correctly. Also, if someone asked me how I knew that Colt had been the creator of the revolver, I wouldn’t necessarily give a thirty explanation of all the details that would lead up to me holding a gun in my hand and studying the name written on it. So, the vehicle of the storytelling was somewhat contrived to me. But, I did enjoy the storytelling and became totally engrossed in the story. Interestingly enough too, even though we already know from the very beginning of the story that Ram has won the game show, I still felt the need to keep reading so as to see what becomes of his life at the end.
The 2008 film, Slumdog Millionaire by British director, Danny Boyle, was widely acclaimed, at least in western culture, and received a number of Academy Awards. After finishing the book, I saw the movie again for the second time. I was happy to see that the main character, named Jamal in the movie, was played by an actor, Dev Patel, who also co-stars in the HBO series, The Newsroom, which my husband and I enjoy. The movie is like the book and yet different from the book. The basic storyline is the same: a boy growing up in the slums uses his life experiences to answer questions on a game show. Some specific events and details are the same but quite a bit from the book is left out and quite a bit is changed to make the film more film audience friendly. For example, the character named Salim in the book is Ram’s best friend and never crosses him while Salim in the movie is Jamal’s older brother who ends up succumbing to the darker side of the streets. There is a love interest in the book but a search for her does not define the main character’s entire existence as it does in the film.
I read that, more so with the film than with the book, there was some major pushback and criticism from Indian filmmakers and other Indian academics because the story put the slums of India in an inaccurate and unfair light. One famous Indian filmmaker stated that the film “underlines and endorses what the west thinks about us. It is falsehood built upon falsehood.” My take is that not everything need be taken so seriously that it becomes a black and white statement of the way things are, have been in the past, or should be in the future. Essentially, what I mean is that it is a pretend story about how a kid from the streets of India luckily is able to answer all of the questions on a quiz show and not a biography.
As I listened to the book, I was surprised by the narrator’s ability to so effectively differentiate the many different accents and personalities of the many characters in the book. The book was not terribly long at a little over 10 hours and was a very riveting listen. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a story about an underdog and to anyone who I know enjoyed the film.