Bharucha, in this debut novel subtitled “A Saga of Sex, Greed and Betrayal,” delivers on all three counts with an ambitious tale centered on an Indian celebrity.
The novel opens with a coffee-drinking professor regaling his students with an anecdote about Ashok Kapoor, the most famous movie star in the world (“[O]ne billion people plus loving him. So many people cannot love your Stallone and Arnold!”). In it, the celebrity, called “the Hero” by his fans, inadvertently causes a commotion on Fifth Avenue in New York City, his Lamborghini holding up traffic as a cop tries to ticket him. Cabbies shout “AK!” in admiration, and locals stop to wonder whether a movie is being shot. This sets the tone for the next 400 pages, which are highly anecdotal, highly amusing, and rich with Indian artistic and political history. Readers continue to follow Kapoor, born Ramu More, and learn that his personal life is something less than heroic, as he carries on affairs and launders money. The story revolves largely around a television station, TV Metro, where AK goes to work after a series of box office flops. There, other people are brought into the mix, such as Shilpa More, AK’s high-caste mistress, whose father runs the network; and Darius Cooper, a powerful TV executive. The prose throughout the book is plain and clear, with Indian accents rendered into dialogue with intelligent subtlety. Indeed, the dialogue contains some of the best writing in the book, and it’s full of humor as it details the relationships between the characters; for example, when AK and his mistress are threatened with jail, the confident Shilpa says to him, “Why are we acting like we have been caught?” The book is, in a way, all about power dynamics, whether it’s talking about sex, the imperial oppression of India, or backroom bribes and shady dealings. There’s much to take away from this story, as it addresses how greed’s destructive nature can affect anyone.
A highly enjoyable, fast-paced tale of Bollywood corruption.