Review: Slumdog Millionaire vs Q&A

Review: Q&A (novel, Vikas Swarup) vs Slumdog Millionaire (film)

It is inevitable, perhaps, that in adapting a novel to the screen, the complexities of the original must be somewhat reduced. In the case of Q&A's transition to Slumdog Millionaire, this is certainly the case.
To be sure, both have the same "hook" - poor, uneducated lad from the slums wins the top prize on Indian gameshow, and is then arrested because, after all, he must have been cheating - how would a lad like him possibly know the answers to the questions?
And, in both, the actual plot unfolds mainly in the protagonist's recounting of significant events in his life, each linked to his surprising knowledge of an answer he gave.

However, to a significant extent, this is really where the similarities end. Indeed, the fundamental differences between Q&A and Slumdog Millionaire are even evident in the name of the protagonist. Q&A's Ram Mohammad Thomas has a name intimately connected to one of his first anecdotes, a nominative determinant, perhaps, of the varied life he will lead (being, as we are told, one name for each of the three powerful religions in India - Hinduism, Islam and Christianity). The protagonist of Slumdog Millionaire is merely named "Jamal", a simple name for a boy with less outlandish origins, to go with the simpler plot.
If Ram loves, or thinks he does, and loses, perhaps, kills (or perhaps not), cheats and is cheated, then Jamal has a more straightforward life - yes, he loves, but the same girl throughout his life; but he never kills, or thinks he does, or really desires to. Indeed, the darkness that Ram experiences in his life is thrust onto the persona of his friend/brother, Salim, in the film (and the film punishes its new surrogate for dark choices, now unprotected by the protagonist's mantle).
The mark of corporate patronage is also evident upon the film adaptation. Q&A's quiz show is entirely fictitious, a new show created by an unscrupulous company in deliberate imitation of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. Its prize is huge, 1 billion rupees (or about 12 million pounds). Its host, and its backers are untrustworthy, and their reasons for having Ram arrested are not pure.
Slumdog Millionaire is a product of Celador Films, stablemates to the producers of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire itself. It is no surprise, then, that this is also the quiz that Jamal finds himself on, that the producers and host of the show are generally morally upright, and that their suspicions of Jamal's dishonesty are precisely that.
(There is also the Hollywoodisation of the quiz show format involved here to some extent - unlike in the novel (and real life), the film version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is apparently shown live, purely to allow a moment of dramatic plotting to occur. Some may wince at this, depending on their devotion to reality over romanticism.)
All this is not to say, of course, that Slumdog Millionaire is a bad film, or even a bad work of fiction. It is simply a more direct, more "HBollywood polished" affair than the novel, and its narrative universe must be treated from that perspective. One suspects that the creators are aware of this, and that the Bollywood dance sequence over the end credits is as much a nod and a wink to viewers as it is an expression of the protagonist's final joyous success.
Q&A, on the other hand, is a more gloriously cynical affair, a view of the true struggle of existence at the bottom of the heap, and a recipe for overcoming (and enduring) them.
Just don't read it before you see the film, for risk of blunting the latter's purer simplicity with your moral complexities.

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