Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Private India ( Private #8) - Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

Despite being an Indian, I have always been wary of reading thrillers, or murder mysteries written by Indian English writers. Some of the books which I tried reading were a complete turn off just because they were trying to emulate the western thriller writers. The common knowledge that the sensibilities of India are different from the West was shockingly lacking in many of them.

Nevertheless to say, Pakistani Writer Sabyn Jhaveri’s thriller‘Nobody killed her’ changed my perception. She has written a beautiful thriller with her country Pakistan as its backdrop. It’s not difficult for an Indian to understand that backdrop and stories with a South Asian background.
For years, I have been longing to read a book with Indian backdrop and a story just like ‘ Samay - When the time strikes’, one of the best crime thriller movies, I have seen starring ex- Miss Universe Sushmita Sen.

The starting chapters of this book reminded me of Samay, though both are entirely different and unique in their own way.

I chose ‘Private India’ book for two particular reasons - firstly, no doubt, the name James Patterson and secondly the backdrop of the book - Mumbai. The book was co-written by Indian thriller author Ashwin Sanghi and it was one of the books in Private India series. Honestly speaking, I have never read a book by Sanghi before, though I have seen him interviewed thriller writers like Dan Brown- yes! I acknowledge that it’s a huge mistake from my side. That’s why I started reading his
“ Chanakya Chant”.

To my surprise, the book was unputdownable. I knew Patterson’s style of writing. But the writing style of the author of this book was not similar to his previous books. Perhaps, that made me read the whole book as an Ashwin Sanghi book. I was not wrong in my assumption as I learnt that the plot belonged to Sanghi when I went through the articles about the duo signing a deal.

It all began when a plastic surgeon from Thailand was murdered in a hotel and the Private India - the Indian branch of an investigative agency started by ex-CIA Jack Morgan had to plunge into the investigation as the organization was also in charge of the hotel’s security. Within a matter of hours, the dead bodies of women started piling up in different parts of Mumbai. The yellow scarves using which the victims were strangled were enough proof that the murders were being committed by a single person.
The Indian touch was added to the story when each of the victims was found with certain props which indicated the nine avatars of Goddess Durga.

Sanghi says the story was a response to the misogyny which has become so prominent after the gruesome Delhi Gangrape. But when you delve into the story, there’s much more. Who is responsible for misogyny? Is it just the repercussion of a patriarchal society? Are Men alone responsible for that? 

I have read somewhere that even crime thrillers can highlight certain issues plaguing the society and ‘How’ was my question. I think this book was an answer to that.

Ashwin Sanghi, who has never written a contemporary thriller prior to this, but thrillers based on mythological and historical settings have efficiently made use of his knowledge here and has not gone overboard. The props placed around every victim and a reference to the Thugee cult existed in India were an example for that. Santhosh Wagh, the man in charge of Private India knew that there will be eight more killings. Cain the murderer, complete that circle? Will the Private India be able to prevent the murderer? There’s a tempo all throughout the book. But somewhere while reaching the end of the story that the tempo was found slackening. That could have been avoided.

I also like the character ‘Nisha’ who is an agent in Private India. Her character consoled the reader in me who always wanted the main protagonist to be a woman (though I am trying to come out of that self -made rule).

As I already said, the book was set in Mumbai, the commercial capital of India and one of the most happening cities in the world.
When the collaboration was announced, Patterson said, "With its vibrant and chaotic cities, and rich history and heritage there could be no better place to set Private’s next adventure than India. And in Ashwin Sanghi, with his wide historical knowledge and his love of a fast-paced plot, there could be no better writing partner."

Though I have a high opinion of the book, I have certain questions. There’s is a tendency in many of the novels to portray the main detective as depressed owing to his personal grief.  Don't you think there should be more Holmes or a Poirot unlike Suresh Wagh of Private India? Besides, why the detectives are not married or in a relationship?  Is it because the author/authors want to alienate them from the mundane thing so that, they could give more importance to the investigation.

The book is a turning point as it has made me explore the crime thriller novels from South Asia.

Ashwin Sanghi ranks among India’s highest selling English fiction authors. He has written several bestsellers (The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant, The Krishna Key and The Sialkot Saga). In addition, he has co-authored a New York Times bestselling crime thriller with James Patterson called Private India (followed by another in the series called Private Delhi). Included by Forbes India in their Celebrity 100 and winner of the Crossword Popular Choice, Ashwin also co-writes the 13 Steps series of self-help books (13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck and 13 Steps to Bloody Good Wealth) to be followed by several other titles in the series. Scroll down to see Ashwin’s journey from an avid reader to a New York Times Best Selling Author. ( Source: http://www.sanghi.in/)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Lady Vanishes by Alfred Hitchcock (1938)

Talk about murder mysteries on trains, the first one that pops up in my mind is the movie and the book “ Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie. ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ reminds me of the same, though both are unique in their own way. The murder is committed in a moving train and most of them know that the murderer is still on the train. The excitement intensifies when the mystery has to be solved before the train reaches its destination.

To begin with, a moving train is a limited space for a murderer or a culprit to escape after committing the crime. But even with such faint chance, when the characters who are into investigating the incident encounter bottlenecks in their moves ahead, it becomes a real challenge not only to the investigating characters but the readers and spectators as well.

Without a speck of doubt, Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘ The Lady Vanishes’ easily fits into the above-mentioned category. Called as “ One of the greatest train movies from the genre's golden era" by The Guardian, it is based on Ethel Lina White’s novel  ‘ The wheel spins’, though with slight alterations in the plot to make it tighter.

The backdrop of the story is the political situation existed then which eventually gave way to the Second World War. The mystery begins when an old woman called Miss Froy disappears from a moving train. Iris, one of the protagonists met the old woman who calls herself a governess when another inmate, a musician named Gilbert disturbs their sleep by playing the music loudly in an inn where they all stayed for one night as the railway line was blocked by an avalanche.

The next day at the railway station, Iris gets hurt in the head when a big flower pot falls on her head. The attack was originally intended to hurt Miss Froy. Iris blacks out once she boards the train and the ‘lady’ helps her. Once she regains her consciousness, both women go to the cafeteria on the train for a cup of tea.  After a short nap in her coupe, when Iris opens her eyes Miss Froy has just vanished. The real mystery begins when the magician and family travelling with her in their coupe denies there was any old woman.

To Iris’ shock, her fellow passengers - the two gentlemen - Charters and Caldicott obsessed with Cricket, Mr Todhunter and Mrs Todhunter in fact, his mistress denies seeing any older woman with her though they have seen her. The denial is to due to several reasons - the first two just because they do not want to miss cricket and the second to avoid a possible scandal as they are involved in a clandestine relationship. Within a few hours into the journey, Gilbert with whom she had a ruckus in the previous night joins hands with Iris in search of the woman once he was sure she was not hallucinating.

To speak about the casting, it was perfect. Iris played by Margaret Lockwood and Gilbert by Michael Redgrave who were relatively unknown actors, then became International stars instantly once the movie was released. The chemistry between them was great. I fell in love with Miss Froy played by Dame Mae Witty, the moment I saw her on the screen.  Not for a single moment, I felt that the movie was shot 79 years ago. The emotions were universal and displayed well by the characters all through the movie that made me as a spectator to instantly connect with the character irrespective of being a foreigner.

The characters of cricket-loving Englishmen, Charters and Caldicott became so popular as comedians that other writers and directors included these two characters in some of their films.

Humour was displayed brilliantly, especially in the scene when Iris and Gilbert come across a dingy room which supposedly belongs to the magician who was travelling with Iris in her coupe. The fight then ensues is utterly humorous and the actors did it perfectly without overdoing it.

The project, at the outset, was initiated under the name ‘The Lost Lady’ directed by Roy William Neil. But it had to be shelved as the Yugoslavian police accidentally discovered that they were not portrayed in the film in a positive way. This happened when the crew were in Yugoslavia for the shoot. Later, Hitchcock took up the project, which became an instant. The only thing which I did not understand was the scene where a hand comes from the behind and strangles a singer who was singing a song which the Miss Froy was listening from her room.

Before I conclude, I would add that like most of his several films, he had a cameo appearance in this movie too.

-  Shalet Jimmy

Monday, May 1, 2017


" There is nothing more stimulating than a case where
everything goes against you."

"There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact."

"To a great mind, nothing is little."

" It is my business to know what other people don't