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**Warning: Spoilers for both book and movie!**
Both are about an 18 year old who makes it onto the show “Who Want to be a Millionaire” and is able to get all the answers right. Each question is prefaced with the story of his life that explains how he had known the answer because it was destiny that he wins. After he wins, he is arrested for cheating, but he is able to clear his name, and all ends well.
Thoughts on Book
The book is a quick read, and it kept my interest throughout. Multiple stories deal with abuse and molestation; I would have thought these topics would have given the book a dark undertone but for some reason it didn’t. I listened to the audiobook, I don’t know if had I read it I would feel differently or not.
I love the idea behind this book though. I enjoy stories about destiny (the movie Apocolypto comes to mind as a favorite movie of mine about destiny). The game show was a unique take on this theme. I also remember back when that show was popular, so it had some nostalgia there for me.
Parts of the movie are filmed in Hindi with subtitles, and these parts are directed by Loveleen Tandan, and the English sections were Danny Boyle.
The movie won multiple awards, including Best Picture. The other Oscars it won were, best directing, best adapted screenplay, best cinematography, best film editing, music original score, music original song “Jai Ho”, and sound mixing.
Dev Patel is the grown up Jamal. He of course has gone on to be a pretty big film star and there are other movies he has been in that are based on books so you will most likely be hearing me talk more about him at some point in the future! He is a great actor, and this was his first big film.
Freida Pinto is adult Latika. She is well cast and is a good actor, she is only in like maybe 15 or 20 minutes of the movie.
Anil Kapoor is the game show host, Prem. In both book and movie the host is a jerk, and Kapoor gives a believable performance as a stuck up host.
Irrfan Khan is a well known actor who is famous in Indi cinema as well as British and American films. He won a SAG award for his role of the police officer who is questioning Jamal. In 2018 he was diagnosed with a tumor and in April of 2020 he passed away when he was only 53.
Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail plays the youngest Salim. The youngest version of the kids are in a decent amount of the movie, and not only are they cute kids, they are good actors too!
Ayush Mahesh Khedekar plays the youngest Jamal and is perfectly cast. Danny Boyle put their money from this film in a trust, which they will receive when they are 16 (which was probably a few years ago at this point). He also set up a ride for them to make sure they get to school until they graduate.
Mardhur Mittal is the older Salim and is well cast. He was also in the movie Million Dollar Arm, which is just a cheesy Disney movie. But he plays a totally different kind of character and is great in both.
To start, the movie changes the names of two of the main characters. In the book the lead character is named Ram Mohammad Thomas, whereas in the book he is Jamal Malik. Then in the book, the girl he falls in love with is Nita, and in the movie, she is Latika.
Differences with Salim and Nita/Latika
In the book Ram meets Salim when he is a young boy in an orphanage. Salim is a good looking boy, and is chosen by Maman to adopt, and the orphanage people get him to take Ram as well. He stays with Salim for a while, but at one point he has to run away and loses touch. Then, a few years later they run into each other again.
In the movie, Salim is his brother. They had a mom, but she died when Salim was maybe 10 or younger, and Jamal was a few years younger than Salim. Here they are also “adopted” sort of by Maman, and in both he has a lot of kids whom he cripples and gets them to beg for money which they have to then give to him. In the movie Salim is Maman’s right hand kid, but when Salim knows they are going to make Jamal go blind, they run away. In the book, Salim wasn’t taken under Maman’s wing, and he actually had a really good voice and they overheard Maman talking to one of his guys and realized he was going to make Salim go blind. They then run away during the night.
In the movie, Salim has a bad streak and eventually works for a mob boss. He also kills Maman when they run into him later when he is a bit older. In the book, Salim gets a job working for a man, who turns out to be a hit man. Salim sees the envelopes the man receives, and one of the guys is someone in the film industry. Salim warns the guy, and then replaces the picture with Maman’s. The hit man ends up killing Maman, and Salim gets away before anything is known. So, in a way, here too he works for a criminal and kills Maman, just not in the same way the movie shows.
In the end, Salim redeems himself by letting Latika go to Jamal, and he then dies when it’s found out what has happened. In the book, Salim lives. However, Ram does have another friend who tragically dies from rabies.
In the movie, Latika is someone they meet when they are kids, and she too is taken by Maman. When Salim and Jamal escape, she is running too, but Salim purposefully causes her to get caught by Maman’s men. When they are a bit older, they find out where she is, and this is when they once again come across Maman and Salim kills him. Salim takes Latika and leave Jamal, so he loses contact with both of them. When he finds Salim again, he is working for the mob boss guy and tells him Latika is long gone. Salim was lying though and turns out she is living with the mob boss. Long story short, she gets away and, in the end, she is with Jamal.
In the book, Ram meets a prostitute named Nita who he falls in love with. (This is sort of similar to the movie, because Latika wasn’t yet a prostitute, but when they find her, she is going to be forced to become one). He can only marry her if he pays her pimp a huge sum of money, which he doesn’t have. She also ends up in the hospital because a man beats her. The beating scars she has are the same he saw on an actress he worked for, so he knows who the man is that did this. In the end, he is able to marry her.
His reason for being on the show
In the book, he knows what the man looks like that beat Nita, because he had seen him leave the house of the actress a few years before. Then he sees a newspaper advertising for “Who Want to Win a Billion” and sees that the host is that same man. He goes on the show and brings a gun with him. Before the very last question, they take a bathroom break and Ram pulls the gun on him and reveals that this whole time he was been waiting to catch him alone. Ram didn’t care about winning money and hadn’t expected to get this far. Ultimately, he can’t bring himself to kill Prem, the host. As a thanks for not killing him, Prem tells him the answer to the last question. Which by the way, in the book, they ask the final question and Ram gets it right. Prem and the producers can’t allow him to win, so they say that wasn’t actually the last question, and give him a different one instead. This one being the one Prem gives him the answer to.
In the movie he also doesn’t care about the money. He is on the show because he knows Latika watches it. He doesn’t know where she is and is hoping she will see him on the show and will be able to get to him.
In both, he uses his “phone a friend” option. In the movie he calls Salim’s cell phone, which Latika has. She answers, and though she doesn’t know the answer, he is of course so happy to hear her voice and know she is safe.
In the book, he uses a friend for one of the earlier question. He feels a card in his pocket and sees it’s a business card given to a man he had helped in the previous story he had told. The man doesn’t know the answer but makes a guess which ends up being right.
The stories of his life
The only story the book and movie have in common is Maman and the children he abuses. Though the movie changed some aspects of it, which I mentioned above. They also both have the question about who invented the revolver. In the movie he knows this answer because Salim had a Colt which he used to kill Maman, then later threatened Jamal with it.
In the book he knew the answer because he was being robbed on a train and pulls a gun on the robber and shots him and sees the word Colt on the gun.
In the movie the stores that correlate with the questions are told in chronological order, whereas in the book is bounces around. I liked how it was in the book, but I can understand why the movie did it chronologically.
The stories in the movie are:
-Escaping out the bottom of an outside toilet to get the autograph of a movie star. This is one of the most famous of all the stories, because he jumps down the bottom into the pile of poo! I read that they made it by mixing peanut butter and chocolate. As I watched the scene, I reminded myself it was just peanut butter and chocolate so as not to be too grossed out!
-A group of Muslim’s attacked Hindu’s during which his mom is killed.
-Maman having them sing a certain song which was written by a blind singer.
-Jamal is given a $100 American bill by some tourists, and later gives it to a beggar boy he remembers from Maman’s and gives the boy the $100 who says that it is Ben Franklin on the bill.
-Salim threatening him with a gun and calling it a Colt.
-Another question he knows from working in a call center.
-One question, he and the host are in the bathroom and the host gives him the answer (sort of like in the book but not quite) Jamal doesn’t trust him though and goes with the other option which ends up being right.
-The final question references his life because it is asking what the name of the third musketeer is. Jamal always referred to him, Salim and Latika as the Three Musketeers, however they never actually knew the name of the third. He takes a random guess, and it ends up being right.
In the book the stories are:
-He was at the movies with Salim, where a man sits with them and tries to touch Salim. The movie they were watching was the answer to the question, and because it was a memorable movie watching experience (the man trying to touch Salim ends up being the actor himself) he remembers the movie.
-He was raised from like 2-8 by an English priest living in India. The priest eventually dies, and he is moved to an orphanage where he meets Salim. The question was about what is written under the crucifix.
Because he is raised by an English man is why Ram learns English. This is not common among poor Indians, so this helps him stand out in other situations. In the movie he speaks English, but it is never explained how he would have learned.
-At another time he works for an Australian family and the father is kicked out for illegal stuff, and the term used is referenced in the question.
-At another time he works for an actress who is past her prime. She is the one that is beaten by the man she is seeing. She ends up committing suicide and is found holding the award she won for a movie years before. The question asks what movie it was she won an award for.
-Then the Maman story which is the same as the movie.
-He and Salim live next door to an astronomer and his family. The astronomer is abusive, and Ram helps the daughter. The daughter later becomes a lawyer, and it is she who saves Ram as he is being interrogated and helps him prove he didn’t cheat on the game show. The question on the show was about astrology which he knew due to overhearing the man talking.
-There was a cricket question (which was also in the movie) and he knows the answer because Salim worked for the hit man who was always watching cricket and kept track of the stats and would bet on games.
-When he was living with Salim there was an old man who claimed to be a war hero from the India and Pakistan war. Then there is a question about medals awarded to war heroes.
-Then there is the train robbery I mentioned.
-Before going on the show, he was a waiter (not a chai wallah as the movie shows) and a man comes in telling a story of his business and drama with his brother and his wife who was into voodoo. The details about different locations helps him with the question.
-When he meets Nita, this story is about him being a tour guide at the Taj Mahal, meeting Nita, a friend he lived with who dies of rabies, then helping a man whose son had rabies-the man that thanked him and gave him his business card. This is the card he uses to “phone a friend” in the book.
Book or movie
I did thoroughly enjoy the movie. There is also a dance scene at the end which I love, especially when the little kids are dancing! I don’t get why romance has to be a huge factor in movie though. The book has the romance too, which is kind of meh in my opinion. But it wasn’t like it was “destiny” that they be together the way it was in the movie. Though the book was unrealistic because Nika would have so many issues. Though maybe Ram wouldn’t fully realize it till down the road, so maybe she does have issues, he just hadn’t realized it when he wrote the book. But she was forced into prostitution once she hit maturity, so she would have so much past trauma that would have given her all kinds of issues that would mess with her relationship and that she would need to deal with. Definitely romanizing that part.
In both, the girl he loves needs him to rescue her. Latika needs to be rescued three times! Each of the times he sees her, he rescues her in some way. Which is a trope that is far overdone. This movie is over ten years old, and I think these days movies have done a good job avoiding that cliché story of the girl who always needs the guy to save her.
The other changes from book to movie, I think I am more neutral on. Some stories in the book I can see why they didn’t include in the movie because it was more graphic in one way or another. As I said, the book has multiple stories of abuse in some form or another. The movie certainly has unsettling things happen, which is why it is given the R rating. Danny Boyle wanted it to be given a PG-13, and there are no graphic sex scenes or violence. But because there are dark things that are alluded to, even though it’s not shown, they gave it an R rating. There were more stories in the book, and I really love the idea behind this. As each story was being told, it made you wonder which part of it would end up as being the question. Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the romance with Jamal and Latika being destiny, I do like how him being on the show and knowing all the answers was destiny.
Maybe I would say I like the book better, but it wasn’t by a longshot. The movie is really well done, and the acting is wonderful, even the kid actors. Both kept me entertained, though the movie did a better job at making you feel the excitement of the moment. Due to the fact that the very last question is scheduled for the next day, so all of India is excited to tune in to see if he will win, and the audience also felt that excitement and anticipation.
I also think the movie title is a far more interesting title than the book. As I said though, in the end they are both comparable, even if the storylines have changed. The romance in both is not that great, but it just felt like they pushed it too much in the movie.