Slumdog Millionaire: The Movie and the Book

I had the pleasure of watching the movie on a flight from Dhaka to Bahrain. I had just been inside three separate slums in Dhaka and have seen slums or shantytowns in many places, such as Kolkata, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Manila, Jakarta, Soweto and Cape Town. I have also been to Mumbai’s Dharavi, where much of the movie takes place.

I don’t watch many movies, but Slumdog Millionaire was well worth the time. When I got home I ordered the book. It was written by Vikas Swarup and was originally published under the name Q and A. The book was as different from the movie as the difference in titles.

Only the broadest outline of movie’s story resembles the book. Jamel is not Jamel, he is Ram and he has no brother. His love, Latika appears in the book but is not his love. She appears for the first time in the 11th of 12 chapters. The program is not Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but is rather Who Will win a Billion?. The top prize is not 20 million rupees, it is rather 1 billion rupees ($20 million).

There are the murders, but none of them resemble those in the book. Finally, there is some consistency in geography. Mumbai is the scene of most action in both, Agra appears, but Delhi, which is important in the book does not appear in the movie.

Finally, in the greatest inconsistency of all, Jamel/Ram is not a lifelong slum dweller. He actually lives in lower middle class housing, above that of the shantytowns. He does spend part of his time, however, in Dharavi.

However, there is much to be gained from reading the book. It provides another, almost completely different perspective on urban living in India. Both the movie and the book are highly recommended.


Note: Dharavi is often called the world's largest slum, with 1,000,000 people in approximately one square mile (2.5 square kilometers). However, I believe that another area, to the north of Dharavi, bordering on the east side of Mumbai International Airport is larger. This “airport east slum” covers about twice as much land area as Dharavi and may have 2,000,000 residents. For more information see Rental Car Tour of Mumbai.