Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Bidya Bagchi, Kahaani and a very Desi Noir - Khub Bhalo!

I watched the film Kahaani some days back and was left with a feeling of genuine satisfaction! How gratifying to watch a Hindi movie, one that is billed as a thriller, and end up feeling not-cheated but elated - hey someone got the genre right! And how!

Allow me to elucidate.

What I liked about Kahaani best was that it is a very Indian thriller - its storytelling, direction and casting is so bound in the hide of Des that I cheered for the fact that it doesn't aim to transplant a Western/Hollywood story onto our soil. Instead, it uses the tropes of the crime/thriller genre to explore contemporary India, creating a movie that is deliciously noirish.

As a writer, I often get asked why no police procedurals are written in India. Well, let's be realistic. In a country where a large number of crimes go unsolved, would a police procedural - a subgenre of crime fiction where a cop investigates crime and nails it - work? Would it be convincing enough?

Things get complicated further because India is a nation with very few definitives - most things float in a grey area, black and white blurring constantly as the reality of a billion people of a caste-ridden, unequal society chafes against a dysfunctional democracy.

Which is why the genre of crime fiction that would work best in India, to my mind, is noir, which according to Merriam-Webster is "crime fiction featuring hard boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings". Perfecto Mundo!

A perfect fit with our world, wouldn't you agree? Which is why noir does so well in Italian crime fiction as well - besides Sonia Gandhi, we have other things in common with that boot-shaped country, oh yeah! A similar lack of trust in Government or higher authority, a passion for family and mater, a pride in evading law, a knack for jugaad.

In fact, Encyclopaedia Britannica describes Italy as "less a single nation than a collection of culturally related points in an uncommonly pleasing setting". Hmmm... reminds you of some other nation?

India has been described as an unnatural nation, a country with so many differences and "axes of conflict", as historian Ramchandra Guha says, of which four are pre-eminent - caste, language, religion, class - that a question has confounded historians - "namely, why is there an India at all?" (For an answer to this question, I'd suggest you lose yourself in the myriad pleasures of Guha's fascinating work, India After Gandhi.)

In my upcoming thriller, The Taj Conspiracy, which releases April 2012, I have used the tropes of crime fiction to tell a mystery story set in our good ole heartland.

This is how the back cover reads:

Mughal scholar Mehrunisa Khosa stumbles on a conspiracy to destroy the Taj Mahal when she discovers the murder of the Taj supervisor, and the Quranic calligraphy on the tomb of Queen Mumtaz altered to suggest a Hindu origin of the Taj Mahal.… That urban legend had always existed. Now, though, someone was conspiring to make it come true.

In the case of the famed marble monument, all was not on the surface. A vast labyrinth ran underneath — closed to visitors — where Mehrunisa was trapped once. In a series of suspenseful twists and turns, the action traverses from the serene splendour of Taj Mahal to the virulent warrens of Taj Ganj, from intrigue-laden corridors of Delhi to snowy Himalayan hideouts….

As a right-wing Hindu party ratchets up its communal agenda and Islamic militants plot a terror attack, in the dark corners of his devious mind a behrupiya, a shape-shifter, is conniving to divide the nation in two. To save the Taj Mahal, Mehrunisa must overcome a prejudiced police and battle her inner demons as she sifts the multiple strands that lead to the conspirator.

My protagonist, Mehrunisa Khosa, is an unconventional female heroine: a Mughal scholar and a Renaissance expert, she brings two diverse skills to decipher a complex puzzle. My noir, you could say, is inspired by Italian Pater and Bharat Ma!

People have commented that it sounds Da-Vincish, and, yes!, it uses a conspiracy plot, but the novel is deliciously noirish, something that can be pulled off in a place like India where there are no neat certainties and nothing is a given.

But to return to Kahaani, Vidya Balan as Bidya Bagchi is khub bhalo, delivering another bravura performance (a second National award in the offing?). Read this interview for an insight into this intelligent actress and her journey thus far. She is ably supported by a cast of compelling characters, drawn mostly from Bengali cinema. Sujoy Ghosh is a Calcutta boy and the city is another character in his evocative storytelling.

In some instances the film reminded me of Manorama Six Feet Under, another Desi noir with slick storytelling. Heck, how often do you get an assassin who rides a hand-pulled rickshaw?

Without revealing too much about Kahaani, suffice to say that this interview with the director gives an insight into his mind and how he conceived the film.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Kahaani was a good movie...I watched it yesterday only...nice to see your reviews on it...

    all your posts in the past...and now the back cover...I'm eagerly waiting for April... :O

  3. I am quite proud of the Taj Mahal. I had to stay in Agra for a period of six months some 17 years ago. I was a loner and also since I didn't have many options, I used to frequently pay visits to that historical beauty. Looks like I'll be taken deep into its bowels now with the promised triology.

    Talking of Italy, two more striking similarities hit my mind.

    1. Italian flag is a 90 dgrees clockwise turn of the Indian counterpart.

    2. "I-T-A-L-Y" also starts with an "I" and has five letters in its name just as India.

    1. and We have a bold and dominating ITALIAN queen...

    2. Thanks for sharing that tidbit Umashankar. And yes, The Taj Conspiracy will show you the Taj Mahal as it hasn't been seen before! Every piece pertaining to the monument's history, documentation, calligraphy, artwork and architecture as portrayed in the novel is accurate. I think you'll enjoy it.

      Certainly, the flag and identical numbers are more similarities. Another is in the famed Italian mozzarella - the cheese comes from buffalos who aren't native to Italy. These venerable beasts came all the way from India! Howzzat!

    3. Also, a bunch of Indian Sardarji's are the mainstay of the parmesan cheese manufacturing industry. Apparently the lazy siesta-happy locals are not keen to work too hard! Singh Sahib steps in.

    4. Well Niku, you know what they say: wherever you go on earth, there are two things you'll always find - potato and Punjabi!!

  4. Crisp and apt comments on Kahaani - i was more interested in knowing, like most other Bloggers who have written on this subject- if u will reveal the plot, Smartly, and Thankfully u didn't.

    We need more movies in this genre, Crime Fiction, and like u rights said Police Procedurals are subjects - one can explore and bring out well.

    1. Thanks Viyoma. Yup, this genre in Bollywood is sparse - we can do with some healthy sowing.


  5. that was wonderful!
    looking forward to your book!

  6. enjoyed the movie, enjoyed the post, look forward to enjoying the book..

    1. Thank you! And I shall look forward to hearing your views once you've read the book :)


  7. one quick question Ma'm,

    as your book is on some Taj Conspiracy, how do you manage to imagine those hard hitting facts or mysteries like the ones seen in sidney sheldon's novel. i am talking on a very generalized approach (basis), how a writer manages to make certain things so interesting, i can't even think of creating a puzzle or a maze and writers like you, dan brown and others writes complete novels about conspiracies .. i hope i make sense Ma'm, else ignore this blabber :D

    good post indeed !

    looking forward to the release of the book !


    1. Thanks Rahul!

      You've asked a tricky question, if only because it is so difficult to pin down to an answer. As Ghalib said, "aate hain ghaib se ye mazaamin khayal mein" - these thoughts descend into me from the heavens above...

      I usually start with an image that intrigues me and I take it from there: Who is is, why is she there, what is she doing ... Sometimes we continue the journey awhile, at times its an abrupt end :)