Slumdog Millionaire

15 April 2013
Written by Diana Kenny
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Diana Kenny reviews Q & A, the novel by writer Vikas Swarup & the inspiration for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, noting the book is well worth a read 

The 2008 film Slumdog Millionaire was a huge hit.  But as with many movies the book either falls behind or is far better than the film. So when presented with Q & A (the original title of Slumdog Millionaire) as the next read for our book club I was very much of the mindset ‘seen the movie don't need to read the book’. However, as I discovered, the book is an entirely different kettle of fish to the movie.

Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup's first novel was originally published as Q & A.  The idea behind the storyline was triggered by a report in a local newspaper about children living in the Indian slums using mobile phones and the internet - an indication that class barriers were breaking down.  

At the same time an English Major, Charles Ingram was accused and found guilty of cheating in the British version of the television show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”.  To quote Swarup: “If a British army major can be accused of cheating, then an ignorant tiffin boy from the world’s biggest slum can definitely be accused of cheating.”

The story line will be familiar to most - the quiz questions are able to be answered because of the life experiences of the main character.  The main character's name is changed in the film. In the book he is Ram Mohammad Thomas - shades of The Life of Pi with the three religions honoured - but interestingly Pi preceded Q & A by four years.

Swarup planned the novel around the questions and so the chronology is muddled but easily followed as the answers are ascribed to incidences in Ram’s turbulent life. Most of the questions are altered in the film and the prime motive for entering the quiz is different. 

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  As a ‘spot the difference exercise’ I then watched the film again.  It was an interesting exercise and although I remember originally loving the film, after reading the book it seemed somehow juvenile.

The author sees his work as a modern-day fable with ‘the underdog beating the odds and winning’. I found it a fascinating description of Indian life, not quite as grim as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and very readable.




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