Million-dollar question

There are movies based on books that encourage people to go back to the source material and others where it’s almost irrelevant. They might as well have been based on the doodle a studio exec drew on his napkin at lunch.

Even after winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay (and everything else), Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t seem to have driven a surge of interest in Vikas Swarup’s “Q&A” (now republished with the film’s title). In fact, not many people seem to be aware of the film’s literary origins at all.

Unlike Revolutionary Road, which had a long history of readership and acclaim prior to adaptation, Q&A is a recent book without much pedigree. I read it as part of a book group on its release in 2005 and was fairly unimpressed. Swarup paces the book well and the situations and plot arcs are colourful and enjoyable enough. The problem is that it’s all pretty implausible and a bit silly at times.

The reason why Danny Boyle’s film is more effective than Q&A is that it takes the novel's absurd concept and elevates it to symbolic fantasy. The original novel’s problem was that the thriller-like tone seemed at odds with the fanciful plot arcs.

Salman Rushdie agrees, calling Q&A “a corny potboiler, with a plot that defies belief”. He goes further, arguing that Slumdog is just as absurd as its source material.

Well that’s true enough. After all, what is the likelihood of a chaiwallah from the Mumbai slums winning a quiz show based on the fortuitous coincidence of each question relating directly to a life event? Effectively zero, you would think.

Yet all plots are contrived to suit the ends of the writer, and most require some suspension of disbelief. Rushdie’s own works like Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet are completely ridiculous from any rationalist standpoint -- but we accept the implausibility because it opens us up to some greater truth.

Slumdog’s message isn’t nearly as profound as most Rushdie works (it's mostly that "life teaches you things"). Yet it’s also an homage to the classic rags to riches tales of Hollywood and Bollywood, plot contrivances and all. We want to be swept up in the romance and we're not going to be too worried about probability.

It's been said that good novels make bad films and bad novels make good films. It's definitely true that what makes a great novel is often the use of language and the insights into people's interior worlds -- things that translate poorly to film. And many trashy novels, owing too much as they do to Hollywood romance and suspense, sometimes make an easier transition to the screen.

Do you agree? Do you find your favourite novels are butchered? Do you enjoy movies where you'd never dream of picking up the original novel?





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.