Shakespeare’s supreme tragedy, King Lear, is transposed to contemporary India and recast as a family drama of financial power-brokering within a transforming, culturally complex nation.
“Don’t we have ‘the youngest population, the fastest growing democracy’ in the world?…This Company doesn’t need old men, still living in the glory days of the '80s and '90s. It’s now, guys. Our time.” Issues of gender and generation spearhead the conflict in this mammoth drama of money, succession, and control, British-born Taneja’s impressive first work of fiction. Pulsing with vitality, it ranges widely across the subcontinent, delivering the familiar bones of the story mainly from the perspective of the younger generation. Patriarch Devraj Bapuji—an aging tycoon whose business empire, the Company, makes its wealth principally from hotels—and his second-in-command, Ranjit Singh, have sired the five children whose perspectives shape the storytelling. First comes Jivan, Ranjit’s illegitimate son, arriving back in India after 15 years in the U.S. to witness the day of Bapuji’s sudden announcement that he’s quitting his own company and transferring power to his daughters, Gargi and Radha. (Sita, the favorite, has disappeared.) Capable Gargi steps into the CEO role, eventually confronting her father and banning half of the Hundred, his rowdy cohort of favored employees, from the family compound. Radha, unlike Gargi, luxuriates in the trappings of wealth, but there’s a dark history behind her sensual indulgences. And then there’s Jeet, Jivan’s gay half brother, who forsakes his wealth for a pilgrimage that will plunge him to the bottom of the social ladder to witness some of Bapuji’s comeback campaign. Sita’s section comes last, as the key players assemble for the glamorous opening of a new hotel in Srinagar and Taneja’s dreamy synthesis of language, place, food, clashing views and values, seeping Westernization, and post-colonial flux reaches its climax.
A long, challenging, but inspired modernization of a classic—engaging, relevant, and very dark.