Swarup (Six Suspects, 2009, etc.) intrigues and mystifies with a tale from the great colossus that's modern-day India.
Swarup debuted with Q & A, which became the hit film Slumdog Millionaire. Here, he leaves Mumbai’s poor behind and joins a middle-class, well-educated Delhi family in extremis. Once again, it’s 21st-century India—cellphones, industrial bounty, ambitious consumerism—overlaid on a patriarchal rural society plagued by abuse and forced marriage. There may be satire here, but it’s gentle and empathetic. With their ailing mother, sisters Sapna and Neha Sinha, new to Delhi, reside in "the colony," a vast apartment complex. Neha lusts after Bollywood. To support the family and Neha’s university education, Sapna, English degree in hand, clerks in an electronics store. At a shrine to Goddess Durga, she encounters Vinay Mohan Acharya, owner of the billion-dollar ABC Group; out of the blue, Acharya says he wants her to be ABC’s new CEO. There is, however, a matter of seven life tests. And thus begins Sapna’s journey, a meditation on money, ambition and fame in an arena where ancient socioethical values are under siege. In this new India, "Hope is a recreational drug," but everyone knows "their destinies are no longer fettered by a morass of caste and class." Characters are lively: Neha is the perfect Indian valley girl; Nirmala Ben is a widow, "quite possibly the world’s only Gandhian kleptomaniac," who goes on a hunger strike against a corrupt conglomerate; Karan, beguiling and gentle, is first Sapna’s crush then her supportive gay friend until his wicked secret is revealed. As relevant back story unfolds about her father’s death and another sister’s suicide, Sapna passes Acharya’s tests, but what she gains is self-knowledge rather than wealth; unfortunately, this thoughtful conclusion is soon oddly framed by two murders, one years ago and the other current.
A thought-provoking dissection of a modern India, though one with an unsatisfying conclusion.