Monday, January 12, 2009

Slumdog Q and A

Slumdog Millionaire, which has yet to be released in India, just swept the Golden Globe Awards. The film is based on a novel titled Q and A by Vikas Swarup, which I snippet-reviewed when it came out. Here's that review:

Ram Mohammad Thomas wins a billion rupees on a quiz show. The sponsor’s convinced he’s cheated, and gets the police to arrest Ram. A female lawyer rescues him, and wants to know how he, a barely educated waiter, could answer twelve complex general knowledge questions. Each chapter of Vikas Swarup’s novel Q and A corresponds to one of the questions from the quiz. In telling the lawyer how he knew each answer, Ram ends up telling a part of his life story.

The device makes for an intriguing structure and allows Swarup to stuff the book with sensationalist yarns. To give you a feel of them, here’s some of the action. Chapter 1: Policeman sodomises Ram using baton. Chapter 2: Film star enters auditorium in disguise and gropes Ram’s friend Salim. Chapter 3: Priest sodomises adolescent son of fellow priest. Chapter 4: Drunk former astronomer molests daughter. Chapter 5: Assistant Warden of remand home attempts to sodomise Salim. Events stay mainly in the sordid-squalid range, but rarely come through as depressing, thanks to Swarup’s snappy, easy-to-read style, full of phrases like ‘soulful melody’, ‘bevy of beauties’ and ‘whirlwind romance’.

In a canvas painted with such broad brush strokes it’s silly to expect a refined understanding of caste and community (the north Indian Salim can become a Bombay dabbawala), or anything approaching realism. But Q and A is a fun, fast, unpretentious novel, and there aren’t many of those being written in English by Indians.


globalbabble said...

Wow, that is a lot of sodomising. When I read Shantaram I wondered if the Mumbai I live in - where people do cricket, college, books, work, taxis, jobs, money without the aid of murder, mafia, molls, drugs and sodomy (apparently) - is not interesting enough for literature. Or is "my Mumbai" too much hard work for authors?

Girish Shahane said...

Now I'm waiting to see how much of the sleaze is retained in the film. Strangely, what appears sensationalist in literature can come through as 'gritty realism' in cinema.