Monday, February 09, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (Book & Movie Review)

“Do you notice when you breathe? No. You simply know that you are breathing. I did not go to school. I did not read books. But I tell you, I knew those answers.” [pg 18]

Slumdog Millionaire (aka Q&A) by Vikas Swarup
Scribner, 2005
Fiction; 318 pgs

Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: New Authors Challenge & Buy One Book and Read It Challenge

It was a spur of the moment decision to read Vikas Swarup’s novel when I did. I tend to prefer to read the book before seeing the movie it is based on, but I hadn’t known until recently that the movie was actually based on a book. In cases like this, when I really want to see the movie in the theater, I often times will just go ahead and see the movie anyway. The book will have to wait. Fortunately, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Slumdog Millionaire, so titled after the movie no less. The original title of the book is Q&A. Perhaps not quite as salable but still more accurate when it comes right down to it.

I loved the book. I loved the movie. Slumdog Millionaire is both a love story and a coming of age story. The book and movie are very different from one another, while at the same time sharing a similar structure and commonalities that will be easily recognizable to those who have watched and read the two formats. And yet, the two are different enough from each other to be completely different stories all together, at least content wise. For those who are nitpicky about book to movie translations, you might want to put some distance between reading the book and watching the movie. The two are worth taking in though. Both the movie and book tell stories that will pull at your heart strings, make you laugh and cry, and make you fall in love. At least, that’s how it was for me.

In Vikas Swarup’s novel, set in India, Ram Mohammad Thomas was abandoned by his mother when he was an infant. He was left on the church doorstep, taken in by the church, adopted by a family, and then abandoned again. During his early childhood he was raised by a priest but then, due to unfortunate circumstances, he was ripped away from all he knew and his life took an entirely different direction.

The book opens with Thomas being arrested and then tortured by the police, accused of cheating on the game show, Who Will Win a Billion? He won by answering twelve questions, questions an uneducated street boy couldn’t possibly have had the answers for all on his own. Or could he?

Sticklers for novels told in chronological order may struggle with this one at first. The unfolding of the story comes in a roundabout way, the chapters structured around each of the questions asked on the quiz show. With every question, Thomas tells his life story, the story of how he knew the answers that would end up winning him a billion rupees. The chapters, therefore, jump back and forth through time, not always following a chronological path. I had no trouble following the story, however, and actually found the format of the story quite effective. It was the perfect set up for what was to come.

Thomas is an amazing boy. His life has been extremely difficult. He has seen things that no child should have to see. He is street wise and yet has a good heart. He is a loyal friend. After leaving the church, Thomas is sent to an orphanage where he befriends Salim, a Muslim orphan boy whose family was brutally murdered right in front of him. Thomas takes Salim under his wing and the two are, for a time, inseparable.

Thomas meets many people as he is growing up. He travels across India doing his best to survive. He lives off of the streets, serves the wealthy, is taken in by those with kind hearts and treated ill by those up to no good. Even in the worst of times, Thomas seems to come out of every situation okay, although perhaps a little more weary of the world.

I came away from the novel with tears in my eyes, touched by not only Thomas’ story, but by those whose lives he touched. It truly was an inspirational story. Slumdog Millionaire (aka Q&A) is well worth reading.
What does it take to find a lost love?
A. Money

B. Luck

C. Smarts

D. Destiny
[from the movie]
The movie told a slightly different story. The love story was more prominent and there were fewer characters, but the overall feel of the two were similar. Jamal Malik is on the verge of winning the game show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, when he is accused of cheating and taken in for questioning by police. He has just one question to go.

Jamal and his older brother Salim lived with their mother in the slums of Mumbai up until their mother was murdered by Hindu rioters out to rid the area of Muslims. The boys and a neighborhood girl named Latika were able to get away. They take to a life on the streets, struggling to survive as best they can. The brothers are eventually separated from Latika, but Jamal never forgets her and is determined to find her, whatever it takes.

The movie unfolds in a similar vein as the book, only in more of a chronological order. With each question, the movie flashbacks to Jamal’s childhood. The movie was even darker in some respects than the book. Not only in images but in storyline as well. Life is not pretty in either the book or movie—it is harsh and often cruel. The adventures and encounters in the movie as compared to the book diverge completely in some areas, while still maintaining some minor similarities all the while. There is a definite combining of characters and the occasional life story. Even the motive for the protagonist going onto the game show in the first place is not the same.

In the movie, Jamal’s relationship with his brother grows more complex as the story unfolds. Here are two boys that were inseparable, experiencing many of the same situations, and yet their lives take very different paths. Jamal is honest and well meaning while his brother is more callous, hardened by the streets. Regardless, the two still are brothers, a tie that links them together irrevocably.

Although the character of Jamal was my favorite in the movie, I also took an instant liking to Latika. She was confident and a true survivor. I did not feel I got to know her quite as well as I might have liked but it was obvious she and Jamal belonged together even as she stood in the pouring rain as a young girl, waiting to be invited into the shelter by the brothers who had led her to safety.

The actors, both young and old, did an amazing job. The older Jamal, played by Dev Patal, had such an innocent and honest look about him that serves the role well. The two boys who played the brothers, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (Salim) and Ayush Mahesh Khedekar (Jamal) stole my heart the instant I first saw them playing cricket on the runway. I especially loved the ending, as the credits began to scroll across the screen. The cast of the movie sang and danced in true Bollywood fashion. It seemed quite fitting. And of course, my husband and I raced to the store after the movie to buy a copy of the great soundtrack. I haven't felt the urge to do that in a long time.

In this case, I really cannot decide which I like best: the book or movie. I think they both were equally good. I will definitely be buying Slumdog Millionaire when it comes out on DVD.

Movie: Slumdog Millionaire
Genre: ‎Crime, Drama, Romance
MPAA Rating: R
Directed By: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
Writers: Simon Beaufoy (screenplay) & Vikas Swarup (novel)

Monday's Movie hosted by Sher at A Novel Menagerie


  1. What I liked best about the movie was the background score. Rehman, yet again, did an amazing job with it. I also liked all the actors. Part of the success of the movie is because of the actors i think. I also thought it was a very intelligent movie and as it is based on a book, I would say Vikas Swaroop has done a good job with the story.

    What I didn't like though was the unnecessary Hindu-Mslim angle in the movie, the part where Jamal's mother was killed. We don't need any more of this unless it's non-fiction. And as you say it is not the same in the book, it makes me wonder that the director did this to increase the dramatic quality of the movie. But yes, as you said it was a really good movie.

  2. I'm so glad to hear about this movie from you! I've been out the door to see this movie more than once, and something has come up. It is the indie sweetheart...maybe it will win an Oscar!!!

  3. Oh, I really want to see/read this now! I'm not much of a movie buff when it comes to what's new in theaters because it's generally a bit too expensive for me, but it has been a while. I'm sure I can find the book somewhere, anyway, and I usually like books better anyway. Thanks!

  4. Such wonderful reviews of both formats. I'm not sure what rock I have been living under, but I had not even heard of the title until about a month ago.

    Your book review has definitely persuaded me to put this on my TBR list. I definitely enjoy reading a book before watching the movie (and I rarely go to movies anyway) - so hopefully I will have the opportunity to read it before the DVD release.

  5. I totally suck wind this week. I didn't review a movie. I highlighted your review on my post and am directing my readers to your post today.

    Thanks for being the cool chick that you are! I've been DYING to see this movie!

  6. I saw the movie and loved it. I'm glad to see the book will be just as good. Thanks for your reviews.

  7. Now I want to read the book as well as see the movie!

  8. I just found out a few days ago that this movie was based on a book also.
    I almost prefere the Title Q & A.

  9. Oooh this does sound good! I'll have to give it a try. Great review :)

  10. I.LOVE.THIS.MOVIE. It's been a long time since I felt so strongly about any movie I've seen.

    Now I'm curious to read the book - thanks for leading me to it!

  11. I, too, loved the movie. Great, another book I *have* to read! :) Bookish Kitty, your keeping me very busy!

  12. Wow, what an amazing review! I haven't been keeping up with what movies are out, but you have really piqued my interest with Slumdog Millionaire! The book equally sounds great! I'm glad that you liked both, even though they were somewhat different.


  13. I read this book several years ago, so I didn’t have a clear memory of what happened. Your review definitely helped in that regard! I remember thinking that things were jumping around a lot, until I finally realized the structure of the book – then I really liked it.

    When I saw previous for this movie, I was certain I had read the book but I couldn’t remember what it was called. I have yet to see the movie, but I’m sure I will – I’ve heard only good things.

    And I loved the way you did this review, pointing out the similarities/differences btwn the book and movie – it worked well!

  14. I really think I want to see this movie now, but it isn't playing here! I am seeing a lot of reviews of it, though. Guess I will have to rent it!

  15. Now I see why the movie is getting so many glowing reviews! I'll have to catch it. AFTER I read the book.

  16. I was not going to read this book, but your review tempts me. Very well done. Thanks.

  17. I had no idea this was based on a book either. Like you, I prefer to read the book first but that doesn't always work out that way. We almost saw the movie this weekend but ended up seeing Taken instead. Still planning on seeing this one!

  18. I didn't know this movie was based on a book! Thanks for letting me know. :)

  19. I loved the movie as well. I went to request the book from my local library, but of course there were about 75 people in the queue ahead of me.

  20. Great review! Now I want to both read the book and see the movie. I saw a trailer on the weekend and it does look fun.

  21. Great review, thanks. I saw the film on Saturday and loved it! I would definitely like to read the book now.

  22. I absolutely LOVED this movie. I have not read the book, but plan to at some point. Great Review.

  23. Wow. Wow. Wow. While I really do want to see the movie, I think you just made reading the book much more of a priority!!! It sounds absolutely incredible.

  24. I haven't read the book but I did love the movie. Dev Patel is great and he plays such a different character from what I am used to when he was in Skins (a UK drama series). The youngest versions of the boys were adorable as you say, I loved the bit where he got covered in poo! Not always pleasant to watch, I will certainly be buying the dvd as well.

  25. Eliza - The soundtrack is awesome. My husband and I made sure our next stop after the movie was the music store where we picked up a copy of the CD.

    The book hinted at the Hindu-Muslim conflict (and the murder of the Salim's family in the book mirrors that of Jamal and Salim's family in the movie), but the movie was a bit more obvious about who the aggressor was. I particularly remember the scene in the book when Thomas is on a bus and has to state his name while a gun is being pointed at his head. If he has a Muslim name, he is sure to be shot. The agressors, of course, could be of any background, but it did get across the type of prejudice and hate towards Muslims were facing. It makes Thomas even more of an underdog. I imagine that is what they were going for in the movie too--to show how far down in the heirachy Jamal and his family were. It makes his climb all the more powerful. I guess for me, it would depend on how historically accurate the conflict between the two groups is. Even in fiction, I think truth has its place. I do get your point though. For this type of movie, it might have been better to balance out the negative impression left of Hindus (if people are prone to paint them with such a wide brush, that is--I'm not), with a positive one so no hard feelings are attached to one group or the other. Maybe the movie was trying to send a message or maybe it was completely innocent on this issue. I don't really know. I suppose for some viewers, it would be like putting salt in a wound, but for me, it was just one family's story.

    Sandy - I hope you do get the chance to see it, Sandy! It's such a good movie. I'm hopeful it will do well at the Oscars, but we'll see!

    Meghan - If you do get to read the book and watch the movie, I'd love to know what you think.

    Molly - Thank you! I almost wasn't sure I could pull it off since the two were so different from one another. The movie did kind of sneak in under the radar and so I'm not surprised more people aren't familiar with it. I really didn't know what it was about until about a month ago. I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it.

    Sher - You are too kind! Thank you! And don't worry if you don't get around to reviewing a movie every Monday. It happens. I imagine I won't be able to do it every week either.

    Kathy - I am glad you enjoyed the movie too!

  26. Jenclair - I hope you well do both!

    Sylvie - Honestly, I think the title Q&A is more fitting for the book. The movie title on the book is a misnomer, I think.

    Samantha - Thank you! I hope you do give it a try.

    Bridget - It is amazing, isn't it? I can't wait until it comes out on DVD and I can watch it again. :-)

    Rachel - LOL Anything to help keep you out of trouble. ;-)

    Cecilia - Thank you! My husband and I don't go to the movies as often as we did during our younger years, but we do try and stay abreast of the latest movies--at least the ones we are interested in. :-) I've never really minded changes from book to movie--I am able to separate the two from each other, but it is impossible sometimes not to make comparisons, especially having seen one right after reading the other.

    Heather J. - When reading the book, in particular at the beginning, I had no idea how young Thomas and Salim were. When later their ages were revealed I was shocked. I'm sure the author did that on purpose. It made what happened early on in the book so much more poignent. I hope you enjoy the movie when you see it.

    Kelly - I hope it comes to your town soon. Or, like you said, you can rent it. Do watch it if you get the chance though. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

    Carrie K - I am glad I read the book first in this case. I hope you enjoy both the movie and the book when you get to them.

    Wisteria - I think it's worth reading, but, of course, it won't be for everyone. If you do decide to read it, I'd love to know what you think.

  27. Iliana - I want to see Taken, but I think it'll probably be a rental for me. My husband isn't too interested in that one right now.

    Eva - I'm glad I found out. I think it was actual Eliza (VioletCrush) who pointed it out to me.

    Charley - It's suddenly a very popular book. :-) I hope you enjoy the book when you get to it!

    Nat - Thank you. It's such a good story. I hope you will like it!

    Mariel - I am glad you liked it too. :-)

    Diane - Wasn't it great? I want to see it again!

    Debi - Both were so good! I hope you enjoy them when you get the chance to read/watch them.

    Rhinoa - I had never seen Dev Patel in anything before. I'd be curious to see him in Skins. I'll have to see if that is available on DVD. You always have the best shows in the U.K. The latrine scene in the movie was hilarious! Both my husband and I were trying hard not to burst into laughter.

  28. Ha, I bought this soundtrack immediately as well. SO. GOOD. I have not read the book, but I think if I do, I will take your advice to put some space between it. Because I liked the movie so much, I might not like the book as much if I read it too soon after the movie. That was the case for me with Children of Men. Loved the movie, the book bleh.

  29. Kim - I love the soundtrack! My husband and I have been fighting over who gets to take it with us when we go to work. I guess we should have bought two copies. :-) We'll probably end up burning a CD.

  30. Or get an ipod! LOL.
    (sorry, your reply showed up in my email and I had to say it!) :P

  31. Nat - Someday I hope to get an iPod. I keep holding out hope that my husband will get me one as a gift. No such luck so far.

  32. Hi Wendy, I saw the book at the bookstore but didn't get it. I enjoyed your review though. I'm not sure I'll read it but who knows, I just might. :)

  33. Alice - If you do decide to give it a try, I hope you will like it. I understand it's not for everyone though. :-)

  34. What a great set of reviews! This definitely sounds like a book worth checking out, which I probably will do at some point if I decide to see the movie.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  35. Wendy, I really loved reading this review and the comparison between book and movie. I had no idea the movie was based on a book until I read your review! I'll probably have to wait until this comes out on DVD, so I may have time to read the book first!


  36. I must have listened to/watched Jai Ho on Youtube (on my phone) a million times since seeing the movie. I love their little dance and tried to convince hubby to learn it with me, but he wasn't having any of it.

    I wonder about trying to read the book after seeing the movie? Sounds like they are pretty different, but would seeing the movie first taint the book?

  37. Anna - I think you would like the book, Anna. I hope you do get a chance to read it and see the movie.

    Shana - I'm finding that most people were like you and I and I had no idea the movie was based on a book until recently. I'm so glad I found out before seeing the movie. :-)

    Trish - How fun! Maybe I'll have to try and convince my husband to try the dance with me. I'm a terrible dancer though. LOL

    I'm not sure how to answer your questions about whether or not seeing the movie first would impact your perception of the book. I am the kind of person who prefers to read the book first. I hate having a book spoiled for me, but I don't mind it if a movie or TV show is spoiled--why the contradiction, I haven't a clue. In this case, the stories are so different, even the name of the protagonist was changed, that I think you would be okay doing one or the other first.

  38. I myself also loved both. I think I like the movie more since there's music and amazing can't see that in a book. haha But then again, I LOVE the book too! :D

  39. Robin - The music is pretty awesome. :-)

  40. i did not read the book yet saw the movie recently and now it is one of my fav. movies...I am amazed at their acting skills, the storyline, the flow, the songs, the dialogues in the movie...and i am so glad that it got so many oscars:)

  41. Iselldreams - It's a wonderful movie, isn't it? I definitely plan to add it to my movie collection.


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