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SIX SUSPECTS by Vikas Swarup. Minotaur Books. July 2009. Hardcover. 480 pages. $16.49.
What would be the essential ingredients of a modern day screenplay of a Bollywood blockbuster? A murder mystery with recursive double-crossing twists-and-turns set in the maximum city; a leading actress in double role, satiating your need for voyeurism into Mumbai high society; a tribal from the forgotten India; a rags-to-riches story; a rich-girl-poor-boy love affair; a criminal politician; a mid-western American caught in the chaos of a country where call centers, terrorism, xeno-sychophancy, and underdeveloped infrastructure are an obvious reality. Six Suspects has it all.
The book also lends itself to fast-paced action sequences, and songs in rains with wet sarees, and a secular all-inclusive dance number at the end when everyone lives happily ever after, and karmic justice prevails. It is a story with vendetta, violence, variety, vainglory, venality and finally the big V, victory that a Bollywood story must have at the end. A resounding thunderous clap would buzz in your ears as you walk out of the movie theater.
In India, you do not find stereotypes on Main Street. You find them in mainstream movies. What you see on the street is only translated by the reflexes in your brain to that character you saw in that movie. Six Suspectshas a hundred percent coverage on all relevant stereotypes needed by the superset of urban Indian society. Politicians, movie stars, slum dwellers, media reporters, religious gurus, businessmen, hooligans, street vendors, private eyes, beggars, servants, rich sons and daughters, conservative mothers, blind sisters, rapists, and oh I-kid-you-not, Al Qaeda terrorists. It takes a thorough act of research to cover such a comprehensive set that you would have to fire a hundred Google searches to come up with one stereotype that was missed.
Q&A (Vikas Swarup’s previous book, and the inspiration for Slumdog Millionaire) had two essential elements: an in-depth characterization of the urban poor, and a fairy-tale cleverly spun into a believable saga of hope. WithSix Suspects, Swarup has relinquished the need for any depth (element #1), and has gone straight for the big prize (element #2). Swarup has gone all-in after winning big on his first hand; you could pick a tenth of the themes above and create a three hour movie that a producer would lap up. And playing into the plan perfectly, the book has been optioned by British producer Paul Raphael’s Starfield Productions and BBC Films.
If you are looking for insights into India, you would be well advised to pick up a book by V.S.Naipaul or Shashi Tharoor. Because, my friends, Vikas Swarup has quickly swerved into the camp of Chetan Bhagat and the smokers outside Mehboob studios. After the success of Slumdog Millionaire, it is not surprising to see Swarup write a novel that may not need any adaptation to transform it to a screenplay. However, one might still expect the freshness, depth and originality of a Vikram Chandra, say, whose book would please the literary mind, and the adapted screenplay would provoke viewers to question the way they think about mainstream issues in Indian society. Six Suspects does not meet that expectation.
Ironically, you see a teaser of Swarup’s literary talent in the pages with Larry Page, an American co-incidentally sharing his name with the Google billionaire. It was hard not to laugh at the silly wit every time Mr. Page opens his mouth. He is funny as hell, and my wife had to scold me for bursting into chuckles after hours of silence.
After seven years in Silicon Valley, Kashyap Deorah gave in to the itch of moving back to Mumbai to start Chaupaati Bazaar, a phone classifieds company for the Indian market.