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?