Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bollywood Ending

This appeared in the latest issue of TimeOut Mumbai


Alejandro Inarritu’s influential 2000 film, Amores Perros, depicted unconnected lives in Mexico City coping with the aftermath of a crippling traffic accident. It’s a film with which poet C.P. Surendran’s second novel, Lost and Found, has structural affinities, even though, by the end, his characters discover that they are connected by ties that are stronger than that of mere co-incidence.

Here, the city is Mumbai, the incident is a hostage situation in the wake of a terrorist attack and the characters range from a washed-up journalist to a reckless auto rickshaw driver to a porn website content provider to an urchin-turned-actor to a rampaging cow. .As well as a young terrorist from Pakistan, part of a larger group, whose actions bring the rest together. From 26/11 to Slumdog Millionaire, Surendran’s aim is clearly to produce a work that resonates with the city’s contemporary ethos.

In this, he is only partially successful. The novel doesn’t fully cohere as, apart from its improbabilities, many passages dealing with characters’ individual lives remain fragmentary, not adding heft to the whole. The inclusion of the reveries of the terrorist group’s handler, ensconced in Pakistan, exacerbate this. (Altaf Tyrewala’s No God in Sight was a much more successful Mumbai-mosaic novel.)

Surendran’s prose is proficient, skating on the edges of the poetic, even though it hits the occasional purple patch – such as the time when one of his characters “rams his oaken oar” into another; both are then subject to “eddies of endorphins” and “a swamp of pheromones”, after which, “gaily, they sail the sea of senses”. Quite a voyage.

What’s most worrisome about the novel, however, is the denouement, which involves the coming together of twins separated at birth and the discovery that their real mother as well as suspected father are in the vicinity. One can only hope that some dark irony was behind this faux-Bollywood finale, even though the narrative suggests nothing to support this premise. Perhaps Danny Boyle can make something of it. 

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