Slumdog Millionaire (or Q&A): Book vs Film

Film or TV? - Film.
Famous or Obscure - Famous.
Better on page/screen - Screen for me.

A few weeks back, in a second-hand bookshop, I first discovered the source material for Danny Boyle's Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. Previously titled Q&A (you can see why they changed the name) the book was going for 50p, so I thought I'd give it a try. Written by Indian author Vikas Swarup, Q & A is the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas, a waiter from Mumbai who enters a quiz show and finds himself the first ever winner of a billion rupees. But how could a kid like Ram know the answers to all of those questions? He must have cheated, say the authorities, and he is promptly arrested. The story unfolds as Ram explains just how he knew each of the answers - each of them were learned from life.

Slumdog Millionaire has the same premise as the book and begins in much the same way: with it's young hero, Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) dragged away for brutal questioning before he can answer his final question to win a million. Eventually he is allowed to explain himself  - in the book to Smita the lawyer, in the film to the thugs who've previously been torturing him. In Q & A each chapter aligns with a question in the quiz, giving us a snapshot of any given point in Ram's life. In Slumdog Millionaire, although we do jump back and forward on occasion, the questions run mostly chronologically. I'm very boring in that I like my stories to follow a straightforward time frame - otherwise I get confused - and for this reason I preferred the way the film did things. Although I guess the book's way is more realistic: if you accept the fact that these questions came up at all, it's unlikely that they'd run in the order things actually happened.

Although the book's premise was the same as in the film, the questions asked (and the stories behind them) were often very different. Although we keep returning to the quiz show questions, there's not really a running storyline in Q&A. It's very episodic and Ram is the only constant character throughout. In Slumdog Millionaire the story focuses around not only Jamal, but also his older brother Salim and the girl he loves, Latika. They are the 'three Musketeers' and the relationship between these characters, especially the romance between Jamal and Latika, becomes the heart of the film. In Q&A there is a character called Salim who shares some adventures with Ram, but they're not brothers and the Salim of the novel is very different. Book Salim is younger than Ram, obsessed with movie stars and just a nicer kid in general. Not that film Salim is all bad - but he's complicated. There's not really a central romance either, although girls come in and out of Ram's story, and like Jamal he's a chivalrous type. For each female character that came along I kept thinking 'is this going to be Latika?' but it never was. Ram did fall for someone (I won't tell you who!) but the romance didn't follow the same arc. 

In both the book and the film, the poverty and inequality in modern India is outlined in stark tones, but it's not preachy. In some ways I thought Q&A felt more like 'real life' than the film did, as it didn't feel like it was about the poverty. Ram had a pretty terrible life, and so did most of the people he came into contact with, but he also came across plenty of characters who lived in less extreme circumstances - both Indians and westerners. Even Ram himself had a few moments of almost normality - while living with Father Chris, his stay at the children's home, his time working for the Australian family. The novel didn't shy away from the poverty and deprivation but it was there, a backdrop to Ram's story, the norm for so many people. On the other hand, a lot of the story threads from the book were pretty far-fetched. Voodoo, priests with tangled family lives, spy-master fathers; every story took me aback with its level of randomness, whereas the film cut out the weirder stuff. I think this was a smart decision. Despite being essentially a fairytale, and more populist than the book, Slumdog Millionaire felt gritty and realistic - gritty enough to win Oscars anyway, despite being a crowd-pleasing love story.

I don't mean to trivialise the film, as Slumdog Millionaire really is pretty  harrowing. The casting of three (very talented and affecting) children from the real slums of India, helped to emphasize the horror of this way of life. I hope those kids got their fair share of the profits from the film. The adult leads are great too (as are the teenagers) and I was pleased that Ram, the books' protagonist, didn't change much to become Jamal. I think he was a lot of the reason I kept reading, and Dev Patel definitely had the likeability. The other leads also did a good job - Salim made me hate and pity him by turns and Freida Pinto's Latika was beautiful and heartbreaking. Although I do feel like she could have done with a bit more character development - Latika doesn't speak much at all when you think about it.

Overall, I preferred the film to the book, but I think that's because it was more in my genre. I liked the love story and the dynamics of the relationship between the two brothers, the story felt more epic and being a film (so more visual) the world had more of an impact than in the novel. However, I think I preferred the ending of Q&A. I didn't guess the twist, I loved the coin toss moment, and I felt like the whole set-up of the ending made more sense. In the film I never understood why Jamal didn't take the money when he had the chance. I know the explanation the film gave, but I still don't buy it.


The book - A quick read, pretty interesting but wouldn't have been my choice if I hadn't have seen the film.

The film - Surprisingly feel-good with some hard to watch scenes.

Rating:  Nice Surprises


  1. I preferred the book because it showed a web of human relationships far more complicated than a single-love story and the twist ending of Guida's real identity was big.

    We also learned a bit more in the book about the motivations behind the game show host and the game show in general.

    I do think it was a little too much to accept that Ram had that many adventures by the age of 18 in the book. He was kind of Forrest Gump-like in that sense and I don't say that kindly

    1. I loved the twist at the end of the book much better than the end of the film. You're right the film was just about the love story really - but the timeline made more sense!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts