Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Death In Mumbai

If there is someone suited to write a book on the Maria Susairaj episode, it is Meenal Baghel. She is the Editor of Mumbai Mirror (the Maximum City's breathless chronicler of sensational stories) and this tale was just written for a tabloid. Love (or lust), death (or murder), obsessive lovers (or jealous lovers), it had it all and after a Ram Gopal Verma movie on the subject, the sleaziness of the story was not in doubt at all.

I picked up the book with a bit of apprehension, though. We know the girl and her boyfriend murdered her part-time lover. Open and shut case, despite a bit of initial bumbling by the Mumbai Police. How do you build a 229-page book around it? Baghel approaches it quite cleverly though. After the initial description of the crime and the victim going 'missing', she changes track and goes into the background of the key players as well as the key situations/settings.
Ekta Kapoor and her chaotic production company occupies a large part of the book. While Maria Susairaj and Emile Jerome's lives in Mysore are the back-story of the crime and directly linked to it, Ekta Kapoor was supposed to be just a passing background. Instead, Baghel portrays Balaji Telefilms as a magnet for hundreds (if not thousands) of small-town youngsters who land up in Mumbai every single day in the hope of stardom. It is against this high-pressure Holy Grail that the high-stakes games of casting couches, false promises and eventual heartbreaks are played out.
Death In Mumbai builds this background deftly but strongly for us to realise that why it is almost 'natural' to kill off a casting assistant because he took advantage of a girl after promising her a role. It also explains the ambition of small towns really well though it tends to drag a bit after a point. The shortcoming of the book is the belabouring of the small-town back stories to establish the motivations of the victim and the two accomplices. We know the murder has happened. We know who the murderer is. We want to get on with the investigation and unravel the 'mystery'.

But despite that, the story remains gripping. The side characters, who remain on the periphery, contribute only nuggets to narrative (and the police investigation) and make us realise how difficult it must be to trace witnesses and build a case (outside Criminal Minds, that is). Despite the Mumbai Police's initial reluctance and bumbling, they are clearly the heroes (identified by name) who solve the seemingly simple case with relentless groundwork and interrogation.

You could argue that here is a story that is nearly five years old and we all know the outcome. Why a book on it?
Think. A woman and her boyfriend killed her lover in her flat. And before chopping his body in small pieces, they had sex in the blood-splattered room. Then, they disposed off the body and feigned complete ignorance for several weeks before relentless police investigation exposed them. If this story doesn't get a book, what will? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Happy Birthday, Anirban!

9/11 is also my friend Anirban's birthday. Since he dislikes any discussion of his academic/professional achievements, I thought I'd write about some of his other exploits which are much more fun than "elucidation of mechanisms of DNA interrogation employed by DNA glycosylases".

The title - in Harry Potter style - of the story is:
Anirban Banerjee and the Last Resort 
(In Bengali, it could be Anirban O Aakhree Raastaa)

Anirban stayed at his maternal grandfather's house opposite Deshapriya Park, a location made attractive by the presence of future landmarks like Mona Lisa Guest House, tea shops like Maharani and cinema halls like Priya & Menaka.
In the later part of 1980, our cinematic choices were rather limited and our choice of devotion even more so. We never had the Big B. We had the Only B. For us, any Amitabh Bachchan release was no less than the sighting of the Halley's Comet and Anirban was a true believer.
(Pertinent Point: Anirban's father is one of India's greatest astronomers.)

On one monsoon morning in 1986, Amitabh Bachchan's magnum opus Aakhree Raastaa opened in Menaka. This was known to all of us and Anirban had planned for it.
Several days ahead, Anirban had informed his guardian angle (a.k.a. guardian uncle a.k.a. Boromamu) that he would be going to study Geometry at Probal Sengupta's house. Probal was a really sweet classmate of ours who had two winning qualities - (1) He stayed within walking distance of Anirban's house, (2) He was not known (read: untraceable) in Anirban's household. This innocent and studious request had been immediately accepted.
When Anirban - along with the rest of Calcutta - awoke that morning, they were greeted by what The Telegraph would call 'the heaviest downpour of 72 years' in the next day's paper. Half of Calcutta and all of Deshapriya Park were underwater, with water stretching to Anirban's waist (and my chin, if we were adults but we were still in our early teens). Having seen this glimpse of a future movie called 2012, Anirban pretended to study and prayed for the rains to stop. The downpour became heavier.

After a nervous lunch (around 2:30 PM), Anirban went up to Boromamu and declared that he was leaving.
Boromamu did a double take.
Anirban reminded that he was supposed to go to Probal Sengupta's house to study Geometry.
Boromamu pointed out that Euclid himself would have stayed at home on a day like this.
Anirban replied that Euclid didn't need to pass exams in Geometry.
In short, Anirban made the point that if the deluge did indeed end Calcutta as we knew it, he would like to die after knowing the area of an isosceles triangle.
Boromamu - being sharp as a Samurai scimitar himself - smelt not only a rat but all of Hamelin and let him go. Yes, you read that correctly. Boromamu let Anirban go. But as Anirban waded his way towards Menaka, Boromamu followed him!
(I always thought that if Anirban's life is made into a film, only Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Amol Palekar and Utpal Dutt should be involved.)
Boromamu followed Anirban all the way to Menaka and arrested him just short of Menaka's lobby. Anirban calmly accepted the court's verdict but pleaded that since he had bought the ticket and had come this far, the punishment may please be deferred till Amitabh Bachchan had satisfactorily decimated Sadashiv Amrapurkar.
As you would have guessed by now, Boromamu agreed.
Who knows? He may be an Amitabh Bachchan fan himself.

* * * * * * * * * *
Two more stories about watching two iconic films - Hum and Basic Instinct - are left for another day.