In the Spotlight: Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood

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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


Filed under Murder in Bollywood, Shadaab Amjad Khan

18 responses to “In the Spotlight: Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood

  1. Another find that sounds fascinating. I work with a man who moved to our office from the one in Noida and he often talks about Bollywood so I have some inkling on how proud the nation is of their film industry. This does sound like a good story and fortunately I’m not adverse to some ‘on screen’ violence as long as it isn’t too brutal.

    • How interesting, Cleo, that you know someone from Noida. Small world, isn’t it? I think India is proud of its film industry. And they should be; it’s large, successful and (I think) fascinating. As to the book, I think you might enjoy it just on that score; it’s a very Bollywood sort of novel. If you do read it, I hope you’ll like it.

  2. This made me think of a quote in Aravind Adiga’s new book set in Mumbai, Selection Day – “India: A country said to have two real religions – cinema and cricket.”

  3. Sounds like a fascinating book, Margot. I didn’t realize the film industry was that huge in India.

  4. Margot, thanks for this engaging review of a book that instantly resonated with me. I have heard of Shadaab Amjad Khan whose father, the late Amjad Khan, played one of the finest (and terrifying) villains in the Hindi film “Sholay,” loosely based on “The Magnificent Seven.” I highly recommend Sholay (1975) which today has acquired cult status. Crime fiction based on Bollywood and cricket makes sense to me and for the same reasons as FictionFan mentions — both are a religion in India. I wonder how different Hoshiyar Khan is from Keating’s Inspector Ghote. Incidentally, Hoshiyar means “clever” or “very clever” in Hindi/Urdu, so I’m not surprised if he’s good at crime detection!

    • Thanks, Prashant, for that background. And, actually, Hoshiyar Khan lives up to his name. He makes mistakes at times, as we all do, but he is clever, and I can say without spoiling the story that he uses that cleverness very effectively to catch the killer. You ask an interesting question about the similarities between Khan and Inspector Ghote. They have some things in common. They’re happily married, and they respect their wives. They are both conscientious, too, and have a solid sense of duty. And they’re both perceptive. In my opinion, Khan is a little more decisive and less philosophical than Ghote. but they’re both interesting characters, I think.

      Thanks for suggesting Sholay. It sounds like a film worth looking up.

      • Margot, in “Sholay,” two hardened convicts are released from prison to protect a village from a dreaded dacoit called Gabbar Singh (Amjad Khan) and catch him alive. It’s a multi-layered film that takes a sweeping look at Indian culture and traditions, and it has some great music and background score. Saying more would be spoiling it.

  5. Tim

    I confess to a problem with books similar to the one you’ve featured: names and words (unfamiliar to my insular existence here in the U.S.) cause me considerable difficulties. Is that just me or does that stumbling block affect others?
    BTW, Margot, my blog has been “reinvented” (for too many reasons to mention) with a slightly different name and a very different address. The welcome mat is out for you and your hundreds of blogging friends, and the door is always open. Here is the link:

    • Thank you, Tim, for sharing your new link. And you do make an interesting point about the names. Some of them can be a challenge, and I don’t think you’re the only one who feels that way.

  6. Sounds like a fascinating read, Margot. Enjoyed your spotlight. Thank you!

  7. sagrika12

    Great write up Margot !
    I have a blog about latest bollywood news,you can check it here :


    • Thanks for the kind words, Sagrika12. Glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for sharing your own blog. Folks, if you want to check out the latest Bollywood news, it’s here.

  8. I love the sound of this: elements of a traditional mystery story in a setting that is promising, fascinating and a world I would love to know more about. Curses, Margot, you’re going to make me buy another book!

    • Bwahahaha.. 😉 All I have to say about that, Moira, is, turnabout… In all seriousness, it is a really interesting look at Bollywoord, which I don’t know enough about, myself. And there is something of the traditional mystery about it. It’s got a bit of that ‘check your disbelief at the door’ feel that a lot of thrillers have, but it is a really interesting read.

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