Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Well Thumbed Book: Q&A or Slumdog Millionaire

by Karen Adler

When friends and family exclaim that they love Slumdog Millionaire, my first question is, which version? Not many know that Slumdog Millionaire, the movie, was adapted from Slumdog Millionaire, the book.

Vikas Swarup originally entitled the novel Q&A, as the book, like the movie, centers around a poor man who by chance ends up on a popular game show, and, despite his lack of education, manages to get every question right. How does he do it? The book and the movie have different answers to this question. In the film version, young Jamal is determined to get on TV so the love of his life, Latika, will know where he is and be able to find him. The move illuminates the desperate conditions in the slums and follows the sometimes horrifying tribulations of a man trying to make it on his own, when everything is against him.

For anyone who’s already seen the movie, I have to warn you: the book takes a much more lighthearted tack on the story. In the book, the main character is named Ram Mohammed Thomas, and his beginnings are as odd as his name. Unlike the movie, the book isn’t structured chronologically. To me, this makes more sense; it’s unlikely that Jamal would have learned the answers to the game show questions in order. Instead, the book is organized around the questions of the game show, little vignettes that reveal how he knew the answer to an obscure question. His brother and mortal enemy of the book is instead his bumbling, happy-go-lucky best friend. (This change took me forever to figure out when I watched the movie; I was hopelessly confused as to why his friend seemed to think they were brothers. Although the book has a much more optimistic tone, it too shines a light on the back alleys of India, and is, I think, more authentic in many ways. No matter which version you prefer, it’s worth seeing both to get the full picture.

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