Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. The Indian film industry is the largest producer of films in the world, and the second oldest. To be a Bollywood star, or to be a noted producer, say, or director, is to be assured of a spot on every ‘A list.’ And, just like the film industry in just about any country, there are plenty of behind-the-scenes lurid stories. Let’s take a closer look inside Bollywood today, and turn the spotlight on Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. Oh, and Khan is an expert on Bollywood. He is the son of noted Bollywood star Amjad Khan, and has been a scriptwriter and actor himself.
As the story begins, Nikhil Kapoor, Bollywood’s top film director, is found dead in his writing studio, apparently of a freak electrical accident. His wife, famous actress Mallika Kapoor, also dies, of what looks like an unfortunate accident. And that’s the way Mumbai’s Police Commissioner T.L. Ghankar wants the deaths reported: as tragic accidents. But Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan sees little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. And he has a reputation as one of Mumbai’s finest detectives, owing to some difficult cases he solved. So, with the support of his direct boss, Meeta Kahsyap, who directs Mumbai’s Special Case Squad (SCS), Khan starts to look into matters more deeply.
Soon, Khan gets an anonymous call from a man who claims to know some things about the Kapoor murders, and about another murder which is related. Khan meets with the man, who gives a false name, but who turns out to be Ram Prasad Tiwari, the Kapoors’ assistant. That’s when he learns about a strange incident that happened not long before the deaths. It seems that the Kapoors were at a private party with seven other people, including: Sameer Ali Khan, Bollywood’s ‘badshah,’ or master; Nyra Oberoi, who is touted as the next big star; producer Ishan Malhotra; and famous designer Kiki Fernandez. At the party, Nikhil Kapoor made the chilling pronouncement that one of the people at the party had killed and would kill again.
Only a few hours after his meeting with Khan, Tiwari is killed. Now, the other people involved in the case are worried for their own lives, and Khan is under a great deal of pressure, both from his own top brass and from the wealthy and influential Bollywood filmis, to catch the killer. But someone is determined to ensure that he doesn’t. Khan pursues the investigation, and learns that there are past links among these people, and that these murders have to do with that past.
This novel has a touch of the action thriller in it. There are late-night meetings (‘Come alone’), mysterious telephone calls, and a disguise, among other things. And there is some suspension of disbelief that’s required, as is the case with many thrillers. But the story doesn’t have an edge-of-the-seat sort of lightning pace. There is narrative description, too, and some reflection. The writing style isn’t the brisk, sometimes-clipped, writing style many people associate with thrillers.
One of the most important elements in the novel is its look at Bollywood. There is discussion of old and new studios, famous stars, professional rivalries, and more. Life in Bollywood is, at the very least, as eventful as is the Hollywood scene. Readers who enjoy Bollywood films will appreciate that aspect of the story. And the story itself has a bit of the Bollywood about it. Readers who’ve seen Bollywood films will find aspects of the story familiar.
Since Khan is a police detective, there are also elements of the police procedural in the novel. The SCS is an ‘orphaned child’ of the Mumbai police, mostly due to Ghankar. He is vain, vindictive and a toady. And, he resents Meeta Kahsyap because she spurned him. It doesn’t help that he’s professionally jealous of Khan. So, he’s done whatever he can to sabotage the SCS. Still, that team functions well. Readers who are tired of maverick cops who can’t work with their bosses, and of bosses who undercut their subordinates will appreciate that Kahsyap is supportive of her team. Khan, for his part, respects her and works well with her.
One of the other elements in this novel is its style. It’s written in the past tense, mostly from Khan’s perspective (there are a few exceptions). But this isn’t a linear sort of a story. For instance, Khan is introduced shortly after the Kapoor deaths are discovered, then we learn about the SCS, and a bit about Kahsyap. Then, we read about the case in which Kahsyap first met Khan, and why she wanted him on the SCS team. Then the story returns to the Kapoor investigation. There are other places in the novel, too, where backstory is presented in this way. Readers who prefer a strictly chronological story will notice this.
There are a few moments of wit in the novel. Still, the mystery itself – the murders and their motives – is not a light ‘frothy’ story. There’s some real unpleasantness. That said, though, readers who prefer their stories to be low on profanity will be pleased to know that there’s very little of it in this novel. There is violence, and not all of it is ‘off stage.’ But it’s not brutal. The story does have a slightly dark tone, though, in some places. And when the murderer is revealed, and the motive, there’s a real sense of sadness. And the fact that the murder is caught and will face justice doesn’t make things all right again. I can say without spoiling the story that there are some very unsympathetic characters in it.
Since quite a bit of the story is told from Khan’s perspective (third person), we do learn some things about him. He is happily married to Rumi, and has a Muslim background, although he’s not strictly observant. He notices things, and he’s intelligent; he solves this case by putting the pieces of the puzzle together, rather than by spending a lot of time looking for physical evidence. Yet, he sees what’s there at crime scenes, too. He’s not perfect, but he has a well-deserved reputation for getting to the truth.
The story takes place mostly in Mumbai, and the author provides a solid sense of place and context. The focus of the novel is the city’s devotion to the film industry, but we do get a look at some of the rest of the city, too.
Murder in Bollywood offers an insider’s look at the Indian film industry, and a Bollywood sort story. It features some puzzling murders, a group of characters with pasts they’d rather not discuss, and a skilled police detective who finds out the truth. But what’s your view? Have you read Murder in Bollywood? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday, 6 February/Tuesday, 7 February – In the Woods – Tana French
Monday, 13 February/Tuesday, 14 February – The Hidden Man – Robin Blake
Monday, 20 February/Tuesday, 21 February – China Lake – Meg Gardiner