Title: Murder in Bollywood; Author: Shadab Amjad Khan; Publisher: Penguin India; Pages: 256; Price: Rs.250
It is an eerie, dark night in a deserted studio on the outskirts of Mumbai where Bollywood’s leading director Nikhil Kapoor dies of a powerful electric shock. Across the city, in a opulent hotel where she comes for a celebrity product endorsement, his wife and reigning diva Mallika Kapoor succumbs to a drug overdose. Police initially rule both deaths accidental, but have soon reason to re-think their assessment.
This happens as they learn the director, just two nights before his death, had made a shocking revelation. At a party of his friends – a leading actor, a diva-in-waiting, a hotshot producer, a fashion designer, socialite, his secretary and a doctor couple from his past, he disclosed that he knows among them is a killer, who will strike again.
As more murders, disguised as accidents, and attempts to kill follow, Mumbai police’s finest – the crime branch’s Special Case Squad, headed by the tough and determined Additional Commissioner of Police Meeta Kashyap, arrive on the scene. The investigation is entrusted to Senior Inspector Hossein Sheriyar Khan, nicknamed ‘Hoshiyar’ Khan after cracking the case of the murder of a leading industrialist – and later of the prime suspect.
But can he and his team find the lethal secrets in the victims and prospective victims’ past to forestall the fiendish designs of a cold-blooded killer and uncover the insidious conspiracy behind the murders? Are those threatened being honest at all? And above all, will their top boss, the petty, vindictive, and grandstanding Mumbai Police Commissioner T.L. Ghankar, who has considerable animus for Kashyap and her team, allow them to work unhindered?
This sets the stage for an absorbing crime story, with quite a few red herrings and twists (and a little bit of complicated motives), but more importantly, quite a bit of insight into workings of Bollywood and lives of its stars – but then it was to be expected from the author, who is a third generation scion of an illustrious film industry family, with his grandfather Jayant and father Amjad Khan being versatile actors, whose performances across the spectrum are still remembered and lauded.
It was a mark of the respect that Amjad Khan commanded that megastar Amitabh Bachchan, who faced him in several of his landmark films, launched the book.
Shadab Khan, who has acted in a few films and then been a scriptwriter, had ambitions to write a book and direct a film. With this, he succeeds in one, and offers a prospect towards the other, by penning something that seems to be waiting to be translated onto the silver screen. “Murder In Bollywood”, presented as an account painstakingly collected by a journalist attempting to get the full story of a string of sensational crimes about which police have just given a few, incomplete facts, creates a convincing millieu – right from its spooky start to the chilling but realistic end.
Its characters are too valuable to remain confined to a one-off and it is hoped they return soon.
The book also serves another signal end – connecting Bollywood and crime fiction. Bollywood has managed to pervade almost all facets of Indian life – but mystery fiction only fleetingly, despite offering a perfect setting for crimes of passion and vendetta with performers skilled in donning new faces and personas and pretending to be what they are not, and a surfeit of obsessive jealousy, overweening egos, cut-throat rivalry, illicit love, indulgent living, and relaxed code of morals.
There have been just a few attempts to use it – Madhumita Bhattacharyya’s feisty detective Reema Ray, who, in her second outing “Dead in a Mumbai Minute”, tries to solve the murder of a former assistant to a fading Bollywood superstar on a private island while Saurabh Garg’s “The Nidhi Kapoor Story” deals with various unsavoury happenings around a pedigreed leading actress with a troubled past, who is being targeted by unknown assailants. There could be more but are highly insufficient given the huge promise of this fertile millieu.
Shadab shows the way. His attempt may not be completely perfect – the sentences could have been little less longer, some characters utilised more, but on the whole, the work is most engrossing. Also like Bollywood films, fiction also need a certain willing suspension of disbelief – and this doesn’t transgress limits.
(31.10.2015 – Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)