Friday, September 25, 2009

Review of 'Faking it'.

A slightly longer version of the review that appeared in 'The New Indian Express'.

Faking it? Yes! Yes! Yes!

The pink and purple chick-lit cover deceives you into thinking you can settle down in a cozy corner with a copy of 'Faking it' for a quick read. What you’ll need is a somewhat large settee to accommodate a comprehensive dictionary for easy reference. Or there's always, but then lugging around a laptop is as clumsy. One wouldn't mind the occassional Daedalean language but there is also the other problem of finding the dictionary more involving.
That might seem very dagger-to-the-heart for a bourgeois sort of reader. But the sensitivity of the upper crust is somewhat suspect. Referring to the characters in the book, we have Tara Malhotra wed to Raj Malhotra, who from the skeletal character sketch, could as well have belonged to a Karan Johar movie. While Karan would have at least given him a song and dance as he goes globe trotting, author Amrita Chowdhury chooses not to. Which would have been just as well if Tara, the slightly antagonistic protagonist had been given her due. Considering we follow her life all the way from the Wall Streets of Washington DC to the roads of Mumbai through the streets of Baroda, New Delhi, Kolkatta and even Bareilly, one still can't put a face to her character. While one certainly knows what make-up that face wears and who designs her Kurtis, one still doesn't get under her skin, making her come across as a depthless sort of person. Not a great central character to have, if that wasn't the intention.

As an offensive move in the marital cold war, Tara decides to dig her Manolos into the art world, and start a gallery in Mumbai. The place that her husband has dragged her and her four-year-old son to, from Washington D.C, where she'd had the perfect life and career. In Mumbai, she leads the oh so imperfect five-star life of the rich NRI, having her home and son taken care of by a battalion of servants, while she herself waltzes from art gallery to spa to boutique. Her extended anger towards her husband seems rather petulant for a woman as accomplished as her. And her reaction even more so. Art gallery with surreal name is opened, but that's not where the plot is. She happens to buy an unheard of Amrita Sher-Gil from a con artist. The painting is fake, of course. She decides to make amends, not so much to get back her lifetime savings but to clear her pristine name, and starts sleuthing with a friend or two. It reminds one of a bollywood thriller from the 80s. Telecined to hollywood standards, of course. But it’s neither bollywood, nor a thriller and this is definitely not the 80s. The sleuthing, however amateurish, is hardly imaginative. And frankly, a novel, which is touted as an art crime thriller, cannot afford to have awkward plots that ramble on from one page to the next like a child's scrawl, especially when most of the world has read the likes of Archer.

The one thing that holds up 'Faking it' is (no, not your hand) the writing. Which is undoubtedly refined. Amrita Choudhury, with her elevated scholastic credentials, has proven that she is an able writer with this first novel. There is a certain easy manner to the way the sentences flow, with or without the fancy words. If it could be dissected from the plot, one might actually enjoy it.

The glitterati will relate to the flambuyoant portrait painted about their lives, and as a coffee table book of the page 3 world, it holds its frappe. One wishes it had stayed in that glossy area instead of wrestling with the grimy underworld and the art crime scene so tepidly. Amrita, however, has portrayed the dysfunctional relationship between Tara and her husband in quite a realistic manner, except for the somewhat fairytale ending. One would expect them to discuss their marital issues over a glass of sake like any normal couple. Instead, they have a baby.

At at the end of the book, the reader might struggle to hold on to something original. And there it is. The dictionary.