NEW DELHI – Sushil Kumar’s job entering data into a computer earns him $120 a month. His 50-year-old home is in serious need of repair. His family owes $8,500.
But his life, so similar to the hardscrabble existence of fellow Indians, has taken a decidedly Bollywood turn for the better.
The rags-to-riches story that unfolded in the 2008 Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire” came to life last week when the struggling government clerk from eastern India won $1 million in a TV game show.
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 Malick, 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 farm worker, 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?”
The couple only tied the knot a few months ago in an arranged marriage. “I liked her but there was no love at first sight,” he said in a telephone interview. “But she’s proven so lucky to the family.”
“She’s our Lakshmi,” he added, referring to the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
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.
The show was taped last week and is scheduled to air Tuesday and Wednesday.
Media reports suggested he would buy a new house, but Kumar said he’s not going to blow the money on cars and mansions.
His priorities include repairing the family’s aging home in Motihari village in central Bihar state and paying off family debts.
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.