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Literature / Q & A

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Well, wasn't I lucky they only asked those questions to which I knew the answers?
Ram Mohammed Thomas

Q & A is a novel written by Vikas Swarup, mostly known as the book that inspired Slumdog Millionaire. It follows Ram Mohammed Thomas, an Indian boy from the slums, as he manages to win a billion rupees on a TV game show.

The book primarily consists of a series of short story-like snapshots of Ram's life, detailing the circumstances that lead to his knowledge of the answer to each question. While the basic premise is the same as the movie, the events of his life are radically different, with only a few similarities. The story is told from his point of view, as he explains it to a benevolent lawyer who, unlike the police, believes that he didn't cheat.


The book includes examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mr. Shantaram, Gudiya's father. Initially often lashes out at his wife and Gudiya but eventually gets physical and culminates in splashing boiling tea at Gudiya's face.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Ram's best friend Salim and retired army officer Bhalwant Singh relate their own stories to him in the chapters "Licence to Kill" and "A Soldier's Tale" respectively.
  • Anachronic Order: Well it wouldn't make sense for events to have happened in the same order as the questions, would it?
  • Bland-Name Product: Who Will Win A Billion? is a thinly-disguised Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? — so thinly that the film was made by the company that owned the international rights to Millionaire, and they just used it straight.
  • Broken Pedestal: Armaan Ali, whom Salim previously idolised and even kept a shrine of him after Salim finds out the man trying to molest him was Armaan Ali in disguise.
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  • Chekhov's Gun: It's the foundation of the plot — something. Since, unlike in the film, the flashback is given before you find out what question it helped Ram answer, you get to have fun figuring out what part of the story will turn out to be the Chekhov's Gun.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Gudiya turns out to be the lawyer who helps Ram. The man that Ram's friend takes a picture of on the beach is a man who once abused them and many other children for financial gain.
  • Cypher Language: The gibberish spoken by Shankar, a boy Ram meets in Agra is represented by this and can be easily decoded into English. In-Universe Ram points out how systematic his speech is and even picks it up later on when he is accused of stealing 400,000 rupees from landlady Swapna Devi and randomly utters a sentence in it in the game show itself.
  • Darker and Edgier: How the book seems to anyone who watched the movie first (which is saying something, considering how dark and edgy the movie already is).
  • Depraved Homosexual: In the form of two paedophiles and one priest (Brother John) who is practically a Club Kid.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Ram spends his 1 billion rupee reward to get the police to arrest the syndicate running the Goregaon orphanage and transferring the crippled children in it to a much better place, bail out Agra neighbour Lajwanti and fulfill her wish to give her sister a dream wedding, fund Salim's big break as the producer and most importantly, marry Nita so she escapes the prostitute life. In fact, the drive to participate in the game show was mainly to secure her hand in marriage with the reward.
  • Easy Come, Easy Go: There are several moments where Ram amassed a generous amount of money only to lose it all in circumstances. However, they allowed him to culminate in winning much, much more in Who Will Win A Billion? Case in point after winning 200,000 rupees from answering a question he knows by killing a dacoit who sexually assaulted his crush on the train bound for Mumbai after rubbing the entire car.
    I can't believe it. I have won back my fifty thousand rupees with three times interest. Thanks to a swarthy dacoit, whose name I didn't know.
  • Game Show Appearance: The premise for the novel which takes place due to the game show Who Will Win A Billion?.
  • Heads or Tails?: Ram flips a "lucky coin" to make important decisions throughout his life. As it turns out, Ram's coin was a trick coin and he was fully aware of what life-changing choices he made throughout the story.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: The story of Prakash Rao and his voodoo doll in the chapter "Hold On to Your Buttons".
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Nita, a prostitute that Ram meets in Agra.
  • Little Useless Gun: Inverted. A snub-nosed, compact revolver recurs throughout the novel as a successful discreet and threat weapon by the users.
  • Karmic Jackpot: The man who Ram gave away 400,000 rupees to in the chapter "X Gkrz Opknu (or A Love Story) turns out to be an English teacher whom he contacts for help to answer the 100,000,000-rupee question about Shakespeare, who gives the correct answer even though by dumb luck.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: Prakash Rao after he plots to kill his voodoo priestess wife Julie after realising how he is ruining his brother's life thanks to her.
    Prakash Rao: [after showing Ram a tiny revolver] Look at this beauty. I am going to use this to blow her head off. Then I will marry Jyotsna. You are my friend. I am drunk. And a drunken man always speaks the owwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!
  • Land Down Under: Ram temporarily lives with the Taylors, an Australian diplomatic family in Delhi as a servant. Learning the accent comes in handy. He tips off the local police to a location where Colonel Taylor, his employer is headed to where he is caught buying Indian military secrets. The police are convinced that the source is Australian due to the accent he used speaking to them.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Neelima Kumari, a retired actress whom Ram worked for initially in Mumbai is clearly inspired by Bollywood actress Meena Kumari.
  • Orphanage of Fear: The "school" for the disabled in Goregaon that Ram and Salim were brought to.
  • Parental Incest: Mr.Shantaram tries to molest his daughter, Gudiya.
  • Phony Veteran: Bhalwant Singh, much to everyone's shock. The amputation of his leg is not due to being shot repeatedly at it by a Pakistani soldier but running away to find his wife and baby son in their village. Shelling led to their deaths except Bhalwant who merely lost his leg.
  • Someday This Will Come in Handy: Ram's life events that would otherwise be irrelevant in a general knowledge quiz show end up helping him in answering the questions correctly by sheer coincidence of being corresponding to a fact in each event.
  • Unpleasant Parent Reveal: Swapna Devi is Shankar's mother, who kicked him out after walking in on her affair and even left him for dead when he fatally contracts rabies.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Neelima Kumari, who tries to stay as young as possible and vehemently turns down supporting roles implying her age.