“Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Ram Mohammed Thomas, a young man who wins Asia’s “Who Will Win a Billion?” (their version of “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?”). Ram is only a poor orphan, working as a waiter, so the producers of the show (who weren’t planning on having anyone win the jackpot for several more months) have him arrested on suspicion of fraud. They can’t figure out how someone who doesn’t read the newspaper and has never been to school was able to answer all of their questions while learned professional contestants have been unable to. Ram is taken to the local police station and while being tortured in the hopes that he will sign a confession stating that he cheated, a mysterious young lawyer rescues him and asks his story.
During the course of one long night Ram recounts the stories of his life, and in the process explains how he was able to answer each of the questions. We follow him while he grows up in the slums as an orphan, lives in an orphanage, makes friends, and makes enemies.
I enjoyed the book. It was complex and thought-provoking, focusing on what it is like to be an orphan and a cast-off in an overcrowded city. It also focuses on making the best of your circumstances, whatever they may be.
The big question is, how does it compare to the movie? “Slumdog Millionaire” won many awards and was widely acclaimed by the critics and I was curious to find out how closely it followed the book. I made a point of watching it immediately after finishing the book so that I could make an accurate comparison and I have to admit that I was disappointed in how loosely it actually followed the book. Right off the bat, they change Ram Mohammed Thomas’ name. I wasn’t sure at first why they did that, but I quickly found out that it was because they changed pretty much everything else about the plot. They left out the lawyer, which was a pretty interesting part of the book and instead had him tell his story to the chief of police. Many of Ram’s stories were omitted completely or changed beyond recognition. In the book, Ram is an only child who never knew his mother, in the movie he and his brother watch their mother die (in the book the brother is actually a friend met in the orphanage). They change Salim’s (the brother/friend's) story completely. The movie is focused on his love for a certain woman; in the book the woman is not introduced formally until the last few chapters. I think that I would have enjoyed the movie more had I not read the book. I can understand why some of the changes were made, but it just made it mainstream for me- something that would appeal to the masses, and it diminished the complexity of the book, which is what drew me to it in the first place. On its own, the movie was fine, but in comparison to the book, I was disappointed.
I am glad that I had the opportunity to read the book, though. It was a beautifully written story, and well worth picking up, regardless of whether or not you’ve seen (and loved or hated) the movie. This is my seventh entry into the Warm up for Winter Reading Challenge and you can read the first pages of the book here.