Friday, September 14, 2012

Book Review: Death In Mumbai

If there is someone suited to write a book on the Maria Susairaj episode, it is Meenal Baghel. She is the Editor of Mumbai Mirror (the Maximum City's breathless chronicler of sensational stories) and this tale was just written for a tabloid. Love (or lust), death (or murder), obsessive lovers (or jealous lovers), it had it all and after a Ram Gopal Verma movie on the subject, the sleaziness of the story was not in doubt at all.

I picked up the book with a bit of apprehension, though. We know the girl and her boyfriend murdered her part-time lover. Open and shut case, despite a bit of initial bumbling by the Mumbai Police. How do you build a 229-page book around it? Baghel approaches it quite cleverly though. After the initial description of the crime and the victim going 'missing', she changes track and goes into the background of the key players as well as the key situations/settings.
Ekta Kapoor and her chaotic production company occupies a large part of the book. While Maria Susairaj and Emile Jerome's lives in Mysore are the back-story of the crime and directly linked to it, Ekta Kapoor was supposed to be just a passing background. Instead, Baghel portrays Balaji Telefilms as a magnet for hundreds (if not thousands) of small-town youngsters who land up in Mumbai every single day in the hope of stardom. It is against this high-pressure Holy Grail that the high-stakes games of casting couches, false promises and eventual heartbreaks are played out.
Death In Mumbai builds this background deftly but strongly for us to realise that why it is almost 'natural' to kill off a casting assistant because he took advantage of a girl after promising her a role. It also explains the ambition of small towns really well though it tends to drag a bit after a point. The shortcoming of the book is the belabouring of the small-town back stories to establish the motivations of the victim and the two accomplices. We know the murder has happened. We know who the murderer is. We want to get on with the investigation and unravel the 'mystery'.

But despite that, the story remains gripping. The side characters, who remain on the periphery, contribute only nuggets to narrative (and the police investigation) and make us realise how difficult it must be to trace witnesses and build a case (outside Criminal Minds, that is). Despite the Mumbai Police's initial reluctance and bumbling, they are clearly the heroes (identified by name) who solve the seemingly simple case with relentless groundwork and interrogation.

You could argue that here is a story that is nearly five years old and we all know the outcome. Why a book on it?
Think. A woman and her boyfriend killed her lover in her flat. And before chopping his body in small pieces, they had sex in the blood-splattered room. Then, they disposed off the body and feigned complete ignorance for several weeks before relentless police investigation exposed them. If this story doesn't get a book, what will? 

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