The Book And The Movie: Slumdog Millionaire

In many cases, there’s a vast difference between a book and the movie that springs from it. While a book can act as a trigger to your imagination, movie-watching is usually a more passive exercise and you sit back, not wanting to think, just waiting to be entertained. There couldn’t have been a deeper chasm between the book by Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup and the Danny Boyle movie based on it which walked away with so many Oscars.

Yes, the book was a rags-to-riches story as well. Titled ‘Q&A’, it tells how a poor tea stall waiter wins the big prize on a TV game show and of course in the background are the dubious deals that go on behind the scenes. The protagonist is supposed to be a man of all religions and that’s why his name – Ram Mohammed Thomas. The movie of course uses the story in the book as a skeleton and builds a new story around it. Was it better? Was it more appealing? Was it more relevant? Or more important, was it more box office?

There’s an India that is and an India that any visitor wants to see. It’s something that has evolved over time – thanks in no small measure to the many photographs of Indian life that make their way to the Western press. This is not to say that the India of the world’s imagination does not exist – however, this is but a part of the diversity of this country. Like the ghettos in many parts of the world, India has her slums too but if one were referring to the slums in Bombay, it isn’t only the poor who live there. It’s also made up of a large number of people who work in offices, banks, schools and as part-time domestic help. No, they are not poor in the strict sense of the word. They just cannot afford the exorbitant prices that real estate in Bombay demands. They have their three square meals a day, our maids very often dress up for work better than we do, they have TVs, refrigerators, cell phones, motorbikes and maybe even an autorickshaw for hire. The ones who work as clerks, teachers and office staff will try to send their children to private schools – and every year, without fail, you’ll find many a name from the slums on the merit list of the State Board school leaving examinations. There is poverty too, yes, but that is more apparent among the destitute and abandoned homeless on the streets than in the slums. When you have to shell out $20,000 for a 250 square foot house, there’s no way you could afford it if you are poor.

Francois Gautier is a French journalist who lives and writes out of India. He is a true Indophile and Hinduism cannot have a more fervent supporter. He might take a contradictory stance when it comes to recorded Indian history and culture – but few will argue too much with him because he is far better informed than most. As one newspaper puts it, he is a Westerner who goes beyond clichés.

There are two Western journalists who probably know more about India than most Indians do – they are Sir Mark Tully of the BBC and Francois Gautier. Probably because they have lived in India and absorbed its many cadences and flavours, their observations are much more relevant than most – less subjective than ours and very often, a result of in-depth study. When I read Francois Gautier’s piece about Slumdog Millionaire, it struck a chord. I asked him if I could write a hub about it – because it set me thinking about why the movie had won and I realised that he had homed in on some of the real reasons. His article brilliantly deals with the psychological reasons why the film could have won and I couldn’t agree more. So I thought I would leave the deeper issues that could have been an influence where the awards were concerned and look at the trappings around the film.

Maybe because of an advertising and marketing past, I could see that the film’s awards were also a result of brilliant marketing. A part of me was fascinated – it must have taken a lot of PR, hard behind the scenes work and co-ordinated and concerted efforts to pull something like this off. Another part of me felt a sense of let down. I’ve seen so many movies from different parts of India that were brilliant on every count that goes to assess a film’s merit but they didn’t follow the Bollywood formula so they’ve run to empty houses, been pulled out in a few days and sunk into oblivion never to be heard of again. And all because they were well made but didn’t have the money for the packaging.

So does packaging make perfect when it comes to awards? Does glitz bring in the glory? Do the accolades follow the atmosphere that is built around the film? Does the recipe for winning awards have to do with a lot more than just the intrinsic worth of a film?

Questions, questions! Or am I just being too picky and too idealistic?

More by this Author

Comments 51 comments

BrianS profile image

BrianS 7 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

I think that packaging must play a significant part in the success of any product, you can liken it to a brilliant piece of writing or research published on the internet.

Does not matter how good it is, if no one knows it's there because it has not been promoted properly or does not have that attention grabbing title, it is unlikely to be read or attain any credit.

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 7 years ago from Washington, USA

Excellent balanced hub. It is the vast diversity that is at the very soul of India. I haven't read the book but the movie was overall well made (although showing the underbelly of crime/poverty in Bombay a bit too much). It did have the ability to connect to the audiences and the music by A.R.Rahman was also catchy. Of course a good product by itself isn't sometimes sufficient to ensure success unless it is marketed well. Thumbs up for another nice thought provoking hub.

Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Shalini, I can't speak for the rest of the world, but I know that here in Britain there is a historic kinship with India through our long association. Also, many Indians have made their homes here and often inter-married, and they have brought their culture with them. Indian restaurants are in nearly every town. Bangra music and Bollywood films are popular. In schools our children learn about Diwali, and see demonstrations of Indian dancing. India has permeated our consciousness and so of course we are interested in films like Slumdog. Besides, rags-to-riches stories are always popular. It's like Cinderella all over again!

profile image

Iphigenia 7 years ago

Hi Shalini - this is a really well-balanced look at an interesting and important issue - the difference between a book and the subsequent film. In some cases it matters more than others and I do think that "Q and A" and "Slumdog Millionaire" is one of those cases. Many westerners have a certain, fixed view about India, the social sytem and the lvels of poverty and it is important to portray the truth about these issues.

Pete Maida profile image

Pete Maida 7 years ago

This goes along the lines of the point I was making in my hub "Lord of the Talents". You can have the greatest film in the world, the greatest song in the world, or the greatest idea for saving humanity ever conceived, but if you can sell, if you don't have the talent to get it out there; no one will ever know about it. Quality in the work in only the first step to success. You must have the one talent that rules them all; salesmanship.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

What a beautifully written hub. Your graceful explanation of slums alone is very revealing -- as is the thoughtful illustration of how the image Westerners have of India is false. Thumbs up for several reasons, Shalini: an eloquent and balanced view that I know I will be returning to for reference. Thank you for helping me understand India. I would like to see the country (and its vast complexities and paradoxes) some day; until then, I have hubs such as this one to remind me why the culture is so perplexingly beckoning. Thank you.

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Thanks, also, for the link to the Gautier article.

Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

Shal...this is uncanny! I have been thinking about 'Slumdog Millionaire' for the past few days, ever since my niece mentioned the concept of 'slum tourism'. She works for a travel company that is promoting the concept especially now that the film has made such waves. While I understand the movie might have caught the eye of people unused to the 'slum' way of life, it makes me really uncomfortable to think that people would actually pay money to gawk at the way people in slums live. How voyeuristic can one get?

Sorry to digress from the point you were trying to make!

Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

I have seen the film and it certainly dererves all the praises and acclaims it merited. However, I haven't read the book so I would have to stop here. But I must add that this hub leads me to think that the India that I see in the film is how Danny Boyle (and cohorts) saw the country. Thanks for sharing this very insightful hub, A very entertaining read :D

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks all for reading and commenting!

BrianS - packaging and promotion seem to be the name of the game today!

CW - the production values were great, yes. I personally feel Rahman is usually much better - but that;s just my take!

Amanda - I agree - there is so much cross pollination today - and I love the Cinderella stories too and I know how open you are to other cultures and ways of life. I just couldn't help feeling in this case though that without the packaging and presentation, maybe it wouldn't have won!

Pete - I'm off to read your hub after this. So true. I wrote advertising copy for years - and I fully endorse that!

Teresa - thank you - I value your comments. If ever you decide to see India, I woud love to work out an itinerary for you :) I guess the paradoxes arise from the fact that technically though we are a nation, in reality, we are a bunch of different peoples interacting at various levels.

FP - really? Well, I can see the funny side too!

Cris - Maybe I'm just over-reacting because it's so close to home! But I can't help wondering - what if....

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Shalini, well written hub, and it got me to thinking about what image the Americans want to see of any country. I think it is true that in a film about another country, the American public is especially interested in "quaint" and "pathetic" elements that will bolster their own sense of supposed superiority. I don't think this is done consciously, but the fact that it's subconscious makes it that much harder to combat.

By the same token, Americans have for a long time been unaware of what the true strenghts of their own country are. They seem to be oblivious to the fact that people from many countries come to the U.S. with a better education than most Americans get, and that it is not quality of our universities that attract students here, but the opportunities in the marketplace!

I haven't read either the book or seen the movie SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, but I think I understand the international bias in the way India is viewed that you are describing. I also enjoyed the article by Francois Gautier. I am much more drawn to Hinduism than the other religions of India, precisely because it is more literal. I like all my gods to have down to earth stories. It's a shame if missionaries have made such inroads there.

Kiruba Harris 7 years ago

I believe as you do that packaging is a big factor but also politics and other factors not related to the art or acting. I also believe the Mumbai attacks in a way favoured the choice just as Sean Penn was favoured due to Gay marriage rights being voted out in the US election. Still, Slumdog and Sean Penn were good. I guess finally many factors influence "Best" choices.

profile image

ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

Talent and "success" are only coincidentally connected. There’s a maxim in amerika, “Image is everything”. People in this country buy what they’re told to buy. Great artists will go to their graves unknown because they weren’t in the right place at the right time.

There’s another maxim that’s equally valid, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi Aya - very valid except that it's that way with most people all over the world. I guess for many of us here, the great American Dream is what we like to see in American movies. We all sterotype in our minds I guess!! :)

I have been reading Francois Gautier's artciles for a while now and he's very astute. I'm a Christian married to a Hindu and for me Hinduism is a way of life that co-exists well with any religion. As regards the missionaries, I think most people in India would agree that it was thanks to them that most of the formal schools were set up and run well - so a lot of good was done too. I guess there's always two sides to every story! Thanks as always for your valuable comments!

K - yes, I never looked at it from that angle - I suppose we cannot help being influenced by what goes on around us. 

CWB - you've put it down so well. Though who knows, maybe we're on the threshhold of an age that will be stripped of the froth and when substance and truth will reign supreme. I always live in hope :)

sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

I saw Slumdog Millionaire, and my daughter spent 6 months in India as a tourist travelling far and wide. The depiction of the slums from her accounts and also from the novel Shantaram appear to be a bit exaggerated. Somewhat like a satirical cartoon for effect. The TV show "who wants to be a millionaire had a wide following here in SA. So the elements of a great story and the noise and buzz of india and gangster undercurrent, make an interesting and thought provoking statement. Here I am looking at the social merits of the event and not so much th awards ceremony and its merits. BTW VHS technology was the winner over Betamax. Betamax is by far the better technology. Dos was the winner over C-dos (a far superior system) and so it goes. It was Ogilvy who said that not to advertise was like winking at a pretty girl in the dark. Only you knew you were doing it!

Great hub.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks for coming by and reading sixtyorso. Yes, it does have the elements of a great story and I guess it would have sunk into oblivion without the PR. And I am a great Ogilvy fan :)

profile image

ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

I've been hoping for the world you describe all my life Shalini.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi CWB - thanks for stopping by!

minilady 7 years ago

Great hub Shalini. I had read the book much before the film was made and when I saw the film it was a bit of a let down. Maybe I was expecting too much because of the hype!

I always knew marketing, packaging counted and Slumdog proves it! :)

RKHenry profile image

RKHenry 7 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

I haven't seen the movie and made no plans too.

Thanks for mentioning the book. I've gotta go to the library tomorrow and I need a book to read besides school work. I'll check this out. Thanks.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi minilady - i'm glad I didn't read the book before the movie - I don't think the book is in any way outstanding but yes, I would have felt a bit let down too! Thanks for reading.

Thanks for reading RKHenry - hope you like the book :)

Uma 7 years ago

Hi Shal!! Stumbled into your page just now and as always so well written. I had written a short piece on this topic on FPR, wish you had shared yours there too.:)

I read the book several years ago, and loved it. Made a lot of sense to me. Saw the movie and enjoyed it too!! Different presentation for sure, but well done. While discussing it with my son he said to me, its a "view of outsiders looking in, not insiders looking around them".

cgull8m profile image

cgull8m 7 years ago from North Carolina

Shalini, great hub, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I am glad they are rewarding the poor actors and kids well. They deserve a break.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi there Uma - good to see you here - haven't been to Orkut in ages! Will go read :) I think your son has it down pat!

Thanks for reading and commenting cgull - true, they do!

profile image

eaasi3574 7 years ago

Great info I really will think about this. Thanks for sharing.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks for stopping by eaasi3574

Guardian1 profile image

Guardian1 7 years ago

Wow, great hub. Very thought provoking.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks Guardian1!

Anamika S profile image

Anamika S 7 years ago from Mumbai - Maharashtra, India

Nicely written Hub Shalini.I have read the Book and seen the film. Though the film received many awards i think the book was better than the film.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you Anamika - yes, maybe it was - at least I thought so!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Shalini Kagal - I read the book!

One fine day over here in Brooklyn, NY, I came across the book but as you say the title is different. But now it is being promoted as the book of the movie. How wrong they were!

I found the book outstanding! Brilliant! And Wow! But of course all the buzz was about the movie - so I decided finally to watch it. I did not like it at all! In fact I was offended and could barely sit through it. It was awful -it seemed to be designed for the narrow views of Westerners - how unfortunate! What happeneded to those two priests, the molestations, the drugs? - by eliminating what they were it was as if we should only see horror in another culture but let's not condemn the West for its devil spawns - who cause much of the sickness in the world. The movie took away this balanced view - even changed the arrival of the female lawyer - and the early days of the child.

By changing the book title and putting the word 'slum' in the movie title let's me know that only poverty would be the issue - not the how, why, and who. It was typical Western ethnocentric thinking - which appeals to idiots here in the West.

This magnificent book was trashed!

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

I'm so glad you read the book! I felt the same way when I saw the movie - but that's the kind of fare that most people seem to be wanting to see so I guess I should say, who am I to judge? In a world that needs SEO and keywords to get up there on the cyber ladder, I guess all those triggers need to be put in for a movie to make it to the Oscars!

quicksand profile image

quicksand 7 years ago

I think I should grab the book first, and then check out the movie.

Thanks Shal! :)

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you quicksand for coming by and reading!

Bbudoyono profile image

Bbudoyono 7 years ago

It's a good movie. I like it.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thanks, Bbudoyono!

ipodmovies 7 years ago

Great movie. Too bad the cast got treated and extorted the way they did!

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Hi ipodmovies - yes, it was such a shame!

maheshpatwal profile image

maheshpatwal 7 years ago from MUMBAI


Must say a great hub with excellent writting........ Even i didn't like the movie, it was just like a normal bollywood masala movie's of early 1990s (rags to riches story)..... how did it went on to become a super hit movie i still dont undertstand.... May be people living in developed countries enjoy watching poverty...... that just my thought.........

Anyway thank you for writing such a beautiful hub..........

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

Thank you Mahesh for reading - yes, it was a typical bollywood masala flick for me too!

Moulik Mistry profile image

Moulik Mistry 7 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

Good review - I have not read the book but had the chance of watching the movie, I didn't like it very much to tell you frankly...

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India Author

I guess there were those who did and those who didn't. Thanks for stopping by and reading!

saket71 profile image

saket71 6 years ago from Delhi, India

Very well written, Shalini. Nice hub.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thank you saket71.

compu-smart profile image

compu-smart 6 years ago from London UK

Very interesting article!! I loved everthing about this film!!

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thank you, compu-smart - always great to see you stop by :)

sishir 6 years ago

i lyk thos slum scenes of film..i dint read d buk..may b aftr my xms!gud writing shalini..:)

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Thanks for reading sishir!

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

This is a fantastically good Hub. I found the book fascinating (and I read it way before the movie came out) and by turns nauseating and uplifting, full of humour too.

Then movie came with all its hype and I frankly hated it. So much so that I could not even sit through it all - I stopped watching about half way through.

Sixtyorso has mentioned some of the issues where marketing has brought about the success of an inferior product over a superior product. This is definitely one of those cases!

Now I'm off to read the Gautier article.

Thanks for this great Hub.

Love and peace


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

I have now read the Gautier article and I agree with him entirely - "Slumdog literally defecates on India from the first frame."

I hated the movie! Really hated it. It was insulting to the people of India, in my humble opinion!

Thanks again for a great Hub.

Love and peace


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India Author

Hi Tony - thanks so much for coming by and reading = I'm glad you found the Gautier article interesting!

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article