Monday, July 13, 2009

The Case Of The Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall: Book review

Tarquin Hall's first foray into fiction is a fine attempt by any standards. As a journo based in South Asia for much of the 90s, his study and insight into Indian society and custom is thorough and the reader is rarely suspicious of the writer's distinctly non-Indian roots. His marriage to an Indian-American of Punjabi upbringing also helped immensely, I would imagine, as Hall's characterization, setting and insight are positively flawless. He successfully manages to put the pizzazz back in the detective genre.

Hall's detective Vish Puri, is eminently likeable, as most Punjabis are, being typically rotund, jovial and fiercely proud of his culture and heritage, evidenced by his blind faith in his guru Chanakya and his bible, the peerless 'Arthashastra'. He believes the Holmes' of the world to be nothing more than dilettantes and upstarts, who copied Chanakya's principles in their method but never gave any credit to the source. He lives in an upper middle class neighborhood with his wife, Rumpi, his 4 daughters and his mother Mummy-ji. Suitably, he also carries the nickname 'Chubby'. He heads up Most Private Investigators ('Confidentiality is our watchword') and carries out mainly pre-marriage investigations, as most detectives in India do. But when he is called in to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a maid servant from a reputable lawyer's bungalow, things get pretty interesting. Using his vast network of informants as well as his able associates, the wonderfully nicknamed Flush, Tubelight and Facecream, he moves from clue to clue, from west to the east of the country, and from suspect to suspect, until the truth is finally out. In the mix is Mummy-ji, a budding detective in her own right, who despite being an irritant to Puri in his investigations, is sniffing out the culprit in her own little mystery. This subplot is actually a master-stroke in terms of plot handling and enhances the reading experience, giving the reader a perfect little distraction, a breather if you will, from Puri's own relentless case file.

The book, while being generally amusing and light hearted, is also serious in the issues it lays bare. Apart from being detective fiction, it is also in part a social commentary on the dichotomy of modern India, much like some of the issues explored in Adiga's dark 'The White Tiger'. A good read on the whole and Puri proves to be a worthy successor to the likes of Bandyopadhyay's Byomkesh Bakshi, Ray's Prodosh Mitter and Keating's Inspector Ghote. The Indian detective is alive and well and Puri should have many more cases to solve. I can already see a few film adaptations in the offing.

My only quibble with the text is the constant and unnecessary use of Indian English by the characters, which ceases to be funny after about the first 50 pages. In any event, I look forward to Hall's next, 'The Case Of The Man Who Died Laughing'. Don't skip this. It's great fun.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Kambhakkt Ishq

Oh dear!

Kambhakkt Ishq is not so much a film as it is a series of amateurish, silly and sometimes asinine gags, loosely connected with something like a story-line. It will probably make the producer a ton of cash, but otherwise will do nothing for Akshay Kumar's and Kareena Kapoor's careers. While Kumar's turn in film after film gets evermore predictable, Kareena's career may have actually taken a step backward with this monstrosity.

Set in Hollywood, the film tells the 'tale', if one may call it, of the hate-hate relationship of the film's protagonists, Viraj (Kumar), a Hollywood stuntman, and Bebo (Kareena) an aspiring surgeon who moonlights as a 'supermodel'(no less). Predictably, this egoistic gender war ends with the pair falling head over heels in love and getting married. In the mix is one of the worst sidekicks ever in Vindoo Dara Singh, a mysterious 'sue-er', Keswani, who bears no connection with the goings-on whatsoever, played by Javed Jaffrey, a caring Dolly aunty (Kirron Kher), whose sole purpose for the few moments that she shows up, is to convince Bebo that marriage is a good idea and a deaf doctor, played by Boman Irani, who really had no business being in such a film. Oh, and the supporting pair of Aftab Sivdasani and Amrita Arora have nothing much to do other than look adequately sad as they stand back and watch the film's lead pair destroy their marriage as result of their ego trip.

And the gags, well, the less said about them, the better. We last saw 'the surgeon leaving his watch behind in the patient's stomach' gag in Jaspal Bhatti's Flop Show years ago. While it was funny as a 15 minute sketch, played out superbly by the deadpan Bhatti, here it is almost half the plot. No prizes of guessing that it gets boring really fast. The dialogue mainly consists of swearing, mouthing bad english lines and screaming 'Bhai'. The music is insipid and unimpressive.

This film is more of a 'golden turkey', than a 'golden baby', something Denise Richards wants to produce with Viraj. Seriously, who approved the dialogues?!? Even His Royal Akki-ness and Diva Kareena can't save this one. It was fun watching Stallone spout hindi dialogue though. Never thought I'd see the day.




Saturday, July 04, 2009

New York

A film about discrimination in the USA in the aftermath of 9/11, New York has its heart in the right place, but is led down by a flawed screenplay and clunky dialogue. In short, it could have been a much better film.

The movie starts with an FBI agent (Irfan Khan) detaining an Indian Muslim, Omar (Neil Nitin Mukesh), now working in America, on suspicion of terrorism. To clear his name, he is then asked to infiltrate his friends' (John Abraham and Katrina Kaif) home as the FBI has suspected them of being involved in running a terrorist sleeper cell for a while. The film tells the tale of the three friends in flashback... how they met, all the fun times, the love won and lost. Omar loses the love of Maya (Kaif) to Samir (Abraham) and then 9/11 happens. Samir is forcibly detained and tortured for 9 months and is lucky to be one the 4 to be released on grounds of lack of evidence. He is understandably disillusioned and thus begins his downward spiral into the world of revenge, jihadis and terror. Do his friend and wife succeed in stopping him? That's where the film's climax culminates.

It all starts off very well, with the three friends meeting in college and having a whale of a time. The first 40 minutes of the film are perhaps its best, and then on things start to get a tad tedious. The emotional connect with the audience is just not strong enough here, as is required to justify the victim's position. As American citizens, I would have expected Samir and Maya to show a tad more emotion when the 9/11 news broke. They just hugged and looked glum. Also, a better actor than Abraham would have been able to better emote alienation and intense anger during and after the months of detention. Samir's story is the the most important track of the film, but doesn't hook you at all. Its the frivolous bits that actually seem a lot more genuine.

Irfan is dependable as ever and as the conscience of the film, is saddled with the trickiest and worst dialogues, but carried them off bravely enough. Katrina Kaif finally gets to do more than sing songs and look phenomenally gorgeous. Here acts moderately well and of course, looks phenomenally gorgeous. Neil Nitin Mukesh's earnest turn is eye-catching, but the big disappointment is Abraham, who perhaps gets the most opportunity, but fails when it counts. He is natural as a carefree American college jock, but as an anguished and haunted individual, he isn't as convincing. The music of the film is passable. Kabir Khan's direction is good and every frame looks great. A really glossy body. But not enough soul.