‘Slumdog Millionaire’: Meet its SA-based author

2009-01-16 00:00

Diplomat-author Vikas Swarup is more than a millionaire now. But all the global adulation and limelight that has stalked Slumdog Millionaire, the movie version of his acclaimed novel Q and A, hasn’t touched him. “It’s a success for India and the story of India,” says the unassuming man.

What it shows is that stories from India are finding increasing resonance in the world.

“There is a huge hunger about to know about India,” said Swarup, who is India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa.

“It’s not about Vikas Swarup’s success. It’s about India’s success, India being there,” said the 47-year-old diplomat, who first dreamed of this captivating story of a Mumbai slum kid winning the million-dollar quiz show in Allahabad, the north Indian city, where he was born and brought up.

“The novel strikes a chord with ordinary people because it’s about endless possibilities of life — anything is possible.

“The themes the novel explores, like love, friendship and fate, are universal,” he said.

Being a diplomat, Swarup has a talent for projecting India’s soft power. It’s Hollywood time for India, he says.

“Hopefully, the success of the book will encourage Hollywood to look more closely at stories of India and locations in India,” he said.

Swarup, who is a little overwhelmed by the global buzz that his book and the movie version have generated, is not the kind to be swayed by the four Golden Globe awards Slumdog Millionaire won on Monday.

“Many people want a piece of me. My mailbox has been flooded with congratulatory messages. I have been deluged with interview calls,” he said while faintly complaining about the toll the spectacular success of Slumdog Millionaire has taken on his private life.

“But I know it fully well deep down, success is ephemeral and transient,” he said with a touch of philosophical gravity.

Swarup, who served as director in former External Affairs minister K. Natwar Singh’s office before he came to South Africa, is excited about the prospects of a wider readership for his book after its tryst with Hollywood.

“It’s been huge. It’s still sinking in. Let’s not forget the ultimate mass medium in India is movies. The book will now reach more people,” he said.

Riding on the movie’s success in these celebrity-stricken times, Swarup said publishers have already renamed the book Slumdog Millionaire.

“That’s because that’s a trade practice. After the movie’s success, it helps readers to locate the book in bookshops. But that’s only for the duration of the movie,” he said.

The movie is, however, no surrogate for the tactile experience of holding a book in your hands and relating to it in the privacy of your imagination.

“The film’s shelf life is nothing compared to that of the book’s. The book will live long after the movie buzz dies down,” he said. “Ultimately, literature triumphs.”

What’s his next book about? Another imaginative version of the much-hyped India story?

No, no, said the author.

“The next book is not based on India or set in India,” is all he is willing to let on about his next literary venture.


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