REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- The rags-to-riches story that unfolded in the 2008 Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" came to life this week when a struggling government clerk from eastern India won $1 million on a TV game show.
Contestant Sushil Kumar, the first Indian to win seven figures in such a contest here, became an instant hero to aspiring youngsters across India who dream of lifting themselves out of poverty.
His achievement mirrors the plot of the film in which character Jamal Malik, a tea boy working in a call center, uses his street smarts to figure out winning game-show answers.
Kumar, the 27-year-old son of a farmworker, and his wife, Seema, jumped and shouted as they were handed a check for 50 million rupees, or just over $1 million, on the Mumbai set of India’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
Kumar, who watched the film “Slumdog Millionaire” when it showed briefly at a theater in his hometown, said he thought he would win a few rounds but didn’t dream he’d take the top prize. On the final question he hesitated for a long time, eliminating a couple of choices in his head to narrow the odds.
“I could put two and two together,” he said. “I was 90% sure and took a chance.”
His priorities include repairing the family’s 50-year-old home in Motihari village in Bihar state, which is falling into disrepair, and paying off family debts of about $8,500.
After that, he said, he’ll continue studying for the Indian civil service exam, which he’s been doing mornings and evenings outside his job, so he has a respectable profession.
The show was taped Tuesday and is scheduled to air next Tuesday and Wednesday. Producers of the program aren’t revealing the final question he answered other than to say the topic was history, an incentive to viewers to tune in and see for themselves.
-- Mark Magnier
Photo: Sushil Kumar, 27, reacts as he wins the $1-million prize during the Indian version of the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" television quiz in Mumbai on Tuesday. Credit: STRDEL / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images