I'm sort of in the mood of writing reviews this week. Continuing from the previous post, this entry is a book review.
When the movie Slumdog Millionaire won this year's Best Picture oscar at the Academy Awards a few months back, I spotted the book on which the film is based in a bookstore. I thought I would give it a read before catching the movie although there's a likelihood that I could be disappointed with the movie later on. It is the sort of thing that happens when you watch a film based on a book that you have read.
Anyway, the original book written by Vikas Swarup was titled Q&A. Not really an inspiring title, I must say, but Slumdog Millionaire doesn't sound that enticing either.
Slumdog Millionaire is the story of a young man who works as a waiter in Mumbai, India. He is an orphan who goes by the name of Ram Mohammad Thomas. How he can have a name that reflects three different religions is neatly explained in one of the earlier chapters. It gives us, the readers, an early introduction of the racial and religious sensitivities prevalent in present day Indian culture.
Ram (or Mohamad, or Thomas, whichever you fancy) enters a TV quiz show called Who Will Win A Billion or W3B for short. The quiz follows the same format as the real-life TV show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the Indian version of which was hosted by the popular actor Amitabh Bachan. In W3B, the contestant can win a cool one billion Indian rupees (over RM72 million at current exchange rate) by answering 12 questions correctly.
Ram in fact, answers all 12, well actually 13 questions correctly but rather than getting the prize money, he is arrested and thrown into a prison cell. The police, acting in cahoots with the quiz show organizers, suspect him of cheating because there is no way a waiter from the slums of Mumbai can know the answers to all the questions.
The book starts with a prologue of Ram in the prison cell. His captors torture and beat him up, in a bid to force Ram to reveal how he knew the answers. But Ram says he just knows. The police is not happy and the torture continues...
This book is not about the story of the quiz show per se, but rather about the life of our protagonist during the different periods of his growing-up years in various cities in India. Vikas Swarup has brilliantly used the backdrop of a quiz show to tell us this story. The life story of Ram Mohammad Thomas is not presented chronologically but follows the sequence in which the questions of the quiz show are asked. The heading of each chapter is the value of the prize to be won for giving the correct answer, starting at 1,000 Indian rupees (roughly USD20 or RM72). The chapter then starts with a story of a particular event in Ram's life, told in flashback. At the end of the chapter, we return to the present... in particular, to the TV studio scene where the quiz show host, Prem Kumar, relays the question to the contestant. When we relate back to the story we were just told in flashback, we immediately understand why Ram is able to answer it.
And so the story goes, question after question, all correctly answered... and the host continues to be dumbfounded. The tension builds as the prize money climbs higher and higher. The show organizers become nervous and they contrive to trick Ram into answering the last question incorrectly. I will not reveal how this is done but it caused our hero to face a thirteenth question before he can claim the jackpot.
I have made a summary of the quiz questions with the corresponding multiple choice answers. Click on the graphic below if you wish to know what they are. You may wish to attempt them yourself because I have not indicated the correct answers. Some questions relate to fictional characters and/or events... so please don't dream of hitting the jackpot :-)
Swarup has cleverly weaved different subjects within the fabric of his story about the amazing adventures of an orphan in India. While the book has been renamed Slumdog Millionaire, it is not purely about struggling for a living in the slums of Mumbai. There are stories on forced prostitution, child-beggar syndicates, life of Bollywood's rich and famous, train robberies and even vodoo. Ram's adventures takes us from Mumbai to Delhi to Agra and back to Mumbai. There is a final twist to the tale. Ram did not enter the quiz show with the intention of winning the prize money.
Generally, I find the book a good read although there are inevitably a few passages that are difficult for me to picture because of the intricate Indian settings. I guess, such difficulty would not arise if I am a Bollywood movie fan, of which I am not. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book immensely.
Vikas Swarup is a diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. This is his maiden novel and it has made bestseller list. In this respect, he is similar to Afghan doctor-turned-writer Khaled Hosseini, whose first book, The Kite Runner, also became an international bestseller. The Kite Runner was also made into a movie, which I have previously written about -> For you, a thousand times over...
These two gentlemen is giving me hope that one day, I might be able to come up with my very own novel too.
Book title : Slumdog Millionaire
Author : Vikas Swarup
Publisher : Black Swan (paperback)
Published : 2005
Pages : 361
Differences between book and movie
I have not yet watched the movie, so I can't really say what the differences are. However, I have read some of the movie reviews and from these, I gather that there are quite significant changes. First and foremost, the hero in the movie is now called Jamal Malik, a Muslim. Secondly, the jackpot prize in the movie is IR20 million. Let me watch the film and perhaps I can update this post with my views on the movie itself.
Update 6 July 2009 : I have watched the movie over the weekend. While the underlying story is still there, the plot has many significant changes. To put it simply, the movie is good... but the book is better.
The general observation therefore, still stands... that I tend to be disappointed watching a movie that's based on a book that I've read. I wonder if the reverse is true, i.e. would I be disappointed reading a book whose movie version I have already seen? Perhaps I'll test this with `Angels and Demons'. I've seen the movie but I'm mulling about reading the book.