Slumdog Millionaire Book Vs Movie Essay
I so rarely get the chance to write this: here's a film that reminds me of Max Bygraves's 1970s chart classic, The Deck of Cards. This heartwarming monologue (originally recorded in the 40s) narrates the story of a humble soldier, hauled out of a church parade by a furious sergeant for playing cards. Before his disgusted commanding officer can send him to the glasshouse, this poor semi-literate squaddie explains that for him, the deck of cards is his Bible: the Ace is the one true God, the two is the Two Testaments, the three the Holy Trinity - and so on until the gruff CO, like Bygraves's entire listening public, is reduced to a quivering tearful jelly at this simple soldier's dignity and piety.
Something very similar happens in this wildly silly but perfectly watchable melodrama, adapted by screenwriter Simon Beaufoy from the 2005 novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle. Despite being overpraised - it arrives garlanded with the kind of reviews that must have come out after the opening night of King Lear - this is still very effective entertainment.
The movie is about the Indian version of the hit TV show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Dev Patel plays Jamal Malik, a former Mumbai street-kid who has a job making tea at a call centre. He astonishes all of India by entering the show as a contestant and triumphantly getting question after question right. Is he a fraud? A savant genius? Or is something weird going on? His amazing winning streak means he has to come back the next evening for the final big-money question and overnight he is brutally interrogated by Mumbai cops convinced he is a cheat. They take him through each of the questions he got right, and Jamal's life story unfolds in flashback as our hero reveals that each question, like each of Max Bygraves's cards, has a special significance. His tale involves crime, drama, knockabout comedy and romance. Various characters determine his fate: his gangster brother Salim (Madhur Mittal), the love of his life Latika (Freida Pinto) and Prem (Anil Kapoor), the creepy quizmaster himself, who has his own interest in Jamal's staggering success.
This movie has interesting antecedents. It is not the first to be made about Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Patrice Leconte's 2006 film My Best Friend, starring Daniel Auteuil, features a nailbiting edition of the French version of Millionaire. Leconte's film, like Boyle's, culminates with a "phone a friend" showstopper and both cheekily suggest the show is transmitted live, when, in real life, it is of course recorded and edited well in advance, at least partly to weed out the cheats.
I have some knowledge of all this, incidentally. I was once the "friend" telephoned by a contestant on the show but at the crucial moment, my mobile phone was, shamingly, out of range. Chris Tarrant's face was reportedly a picture of polite bemusement as my voicemail message echoed pointlessly around the studio, before being smartly cut off and the contestant was permitted to phone another "friend". Naturally, hiccups like that don't make it on to air.
Slumdog Millionaire is co-produced by Celador Films, owners of the rights to the original TV show, and so it functions as a feature-length product placement for the programme, whose apotheosis here came when would-be cheat Major Charles Ingram tried to scam the quiz in 2001. All he got was a suspended sentence, a fine and minor celebrity status, and the show got mouthwatering publicity. In this film, poor Jamal is, simply on suspicion of wrongdoing, beaten to a pulp by the police and horribly tortured with electrodes - the nastiest interrogation scene I've watched for a while. But afterwards he makes it into the studio as fresh as a daisy. What the Mumbai police make of their unflattering portrayal, I can't imagine.
Despite the extravagant drama and some demonstrations of the savagery meted out to India's street children, this is a cheerfully undemanding and unreflective film with a vision of India that, if not touristy exactly, is certainly an outsider's view; it depends for its full enjoyment on not being taken too seriously.
Interestingly, the co-creator of Millionaire, Steven Knight, is himself a screenwriter who has scripted far more serious films than this: Stephen Frears's Dirty Pretty Things (also co-produced by Celador) and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Slumdog Millionaire really is gentle compared with, say, Robert Redford's satire Quiz Show and softcore compared with Danny Boyle's famous movies, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. In fact, it's more of a kids' yarn, like his wacky caper Millions.
Well, for all this, it's got punch and narrative pizzazz: a strong, clear, instantly graspable storyline that doesn't encumber itself with character complexity, and the cinematography by Anthony Dod Mantle is tremendous. It's definitely got that quirky-underdog twinkle and the silverware glint of awards can't be far away.
Usually when books are remade into movies, there is found to be a whole lot of difference. We have seen this happen with many movies in the past and this is true of the latest adaptation of the book written by Vikas Swarup, into the movie, “Slumdog Millionaire” directed by Danny Boyle. In spite of the differences, the movie was praised to the skies as one of the best movies of recent times and attracted quite a few voluptuous black ladies – the Oscars!
The book, titled “Q&A” is also a rags-to-riches story, where it talks about how the protagonist, Ram Mohammed Thomas, who is a tea stall waiter, wins the big prize on a TV game show. He is depicted in the book as a man of all religions and thus the name.
Coming to the movie; although, it is based on the theme of the book, it has its own unique story line and deviates quite a bit from what has been written.
Was the movie better than the book?
This is a difficult question to answer. But the differences between the book and movie start with the main theme itself. The slums of Mumbai in Slumdog Millionaire, are projected as places where extreme poverty and only poverty prevails – which is not what the book depicts. The defecation scene shown in the first part of the film is also nothing but Director Danny Boyle letting his imagination run wild. Nowhere in the book does anything like this exist.
In the book, the protagonist, Ram Mohammed Thomas, who is not a Muslim and who does not have a religion, lives in an orphanage in Delhi and not in Mumbai. There are many such differences, including the fact that Jamal and his heroine meet as teenagers and live in an apartment, and not in the slums. The story about how Jamal’s mother was killed in the film was not true to the book either.
This movie was nominated for ten academy awards and won eight of them, including the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay awards. This is the maximum number of academy awards won by any film of 2008.
The movie was no doubt very well made. If it is the intense action and romance that pulls you in deep, it is the bruised characters that hold you to the film from the beginning to the end. The film is a visual wonder, propelled by the hip-hopping score by A.R. Rahman. “Jay-Ho” became an instant hit the world over.
The book and movie are different enough to be considered as two different stories. But both of them are worthy of mention. Both tell us stories that will ache our hearts, make us cry and laugh at the same time.
The movie was darker in some ways than the book. The movie diverges completely in most of the places and takes the route of fiction, away from the facts as given in the book. It makes me certain that the director did this to increase the drama quotient of the movie. All the actors performed amazingly, including the kids.
The marketing effort that went into the promotion of this movie was extraordinary and extremely well-planned. Any marketing person will be able to tell that. Does this mean that the movie was created solely with the awards in mind? If that is so, Danny Boyle did an admirable job in achieving what he set out to.
Watch the movie without reading the book, and you cannot help but fall in love with it. Watch it without expecting it to be factual, you will see it is like none other.
But if you ask whether the movie did justice to the book by Vikas Swarup, it has to be a big “No.” With so many changes in the characters and complete deviation from the content of the book, the movie was in no way an exact adaptation. Justice would have been done if the movie depicted the exact content of the book.
But Slumdog Millionaire is one movie, which makes it difficult to decide which one is better: whether it is the book or the movie. Both are wonderful in their own way.