Thursday, March 25, 2010

Six suspects: A dense plot and a racy narrative

Vikas Swarup is a consummate story-teller. The incestuous world of critics may take its time in coming out with a verdict on the literary stature of this career diplomat. But a layman, who reads for pleasure, would have no qualms in admitting that going through his works always turns out to be worth the time and money (if you happen to be those who believe in buying books rather than borrowing them).
Swarup's flair was evident in his debut novel itself.
"Q & A" was certainly a novel which you could like or dislike but certainly not ignore. It is a pity that the book faded into the oblivion after its rather inferior celluloid version "Slumdog Millionaire" took the world by storm.
In his second novel "Six Suspects", Swarup embarks upon a more ambitious task with a plot that is much more dense than that of Q & A. However, this has not been at the cost of raciness of the narrative which may well be Swarup's USP.
The novel revolves around the murder of Vicky Rai, son of a powerful politician, a quintessential spoilt brat whose misdeeds seem to be straight out of newspaper headlines. The guy has, in a life span of thirty-two years, courted controversy after controversy. Sample this: he gets killed at a party he has thrown to celebrate his acquittal in a murder case having an uncanny resemblance to Jessica Lal's killing. His other wrongdoings seem reproduction of the BMW hit-and-run case and Salman Khan's alleged hunting spree in  Rajasthan.
Six people, each of them carrying a gun, have been rounded up by people from the site of the murder (which explains the title of the novel).
The six suspects include Rai's father Jagannath, a mafia don-turned-politician, who believes in bending every rule and crossing every limit to achieve one's end. He decides to get his son bumped off, after getting some "enlightenment" from his disgraced spiritual guru, as the spoilt brat has become too much of a liability for him. However, it turns out that though implicated in the case, he was not actually responsible for the murder as the hitman hired for the purpose did not turn up. The other suspects include a famous film actress, for whom Vicky Rai had the hots, a petty slum-dwelling thief who looks forward to redeeming his life after falling in love with Rai's sister Ritu, a typically dumb American who had come to India to marry a desi girl only to learn that he has been duped, a retired IAS officer with a split personality that keeps him oscillating between his own debauched self and the acquired persona of "Gandhi baba" and lastly, a tribal from Andaman whom the police glibly declare to be a naxalite and hence the murderer of the rich Vicky and even kill in cold blood accusing him of trying to escape from custody.
Through the separate stories of these six suspects, Swarup takes through a roller-coaster ride of the India that we are too familiar with to sit back and take note.
The world of political intrigues gets quite an authentic depiction in the form of Jagannath Rai's manipulations. Equally gripping are the travails of the tribal Eketi, whose plight punctures the myth that Indians are a nation devoid of racial prejudice. The American Larry Page, who more often than not gets confused with the celebrated co-founder of Google, brings in a lot of humour through his own stupidities which are matched by the idiocies of those he gets to meet. However, the romance between the mobile thief Munna and Ritu Rai is a bit too fairy tale and much part of the actress Shabnam Saxena's story is just as credible as a Bollywood potboiler. UP wallahs (Swarup) happens to be one) may complain about certain discrepancies which are not expected from somebody familiar with the social fabric in the Hindi heartland. Shabnam, who has a Kayasth surname, is shown to be a resident of "Kurmitola". Jagannath Rai is depicted as a "Thakur" though it is rare to find people of the caste having the essentially Bhumihar surname. These inconsistencies notwithstanding, the novel is definitely enjoyable and anybody with a taste for thrillers shall go for it. If I were to give one reason for saying so, I would point out that it is not humanly possible to guess who actually killed Vicky Rai, before the author chooses to disclose it!
One hopes that the BBC, which is making a movie on the book, does justice to the suspense in the novel and does not end up doing a Danny Boyle - winning cinematic acclaim but killing the beauty of the book.