Private India : A critique


If you are a fiction freak like me, a “collaborative “ project by two well-known authors is always bound to pique your interest. And that’s exactly what happened when I first saw the newspaper article about PRIVATE India, "an Indian extension" to James Patterson’s ever popular PRIVATE series of books. And then I saw who he was collaborating with, and I think my heart literally skipped a beat.If you look around my blog, you’ll notice that I’m not really much of a book reviewer. And I assure you it is not because I don’t like writing. It’s simply because :

  • I am quite brutally honest when it comes to reviews and feedback.
  • I often find it a challenge to write a review without revealing the plot. And it really angers me when some reviewers just give away the plot of the book without so much as a decent “Spoiler alert” notification before doing so. But then, that's my peeve.

I received a copy of PRIVATE INDIA by Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson on Friday evening. I started reading it on Saturday and despite life getting in the way numerous times, managed to finish it by Sunday night. So needless to say, it’s quite a page turner.

About the authors:

Unless you've been living a cave (or under a rock) in a remote part of some god-forsaken land, I'd be highly surprised if you previously haven't heard the names of either or both of these talented authors. The other explanation, of course, is that you could just be a non-book lover. Or a non-reader (*Yes, I gasped loudly too, the first time I heard that term. But apparently they exist!). Ashwin Sanghi is one of India’s best selling authors specialising in mythological thrillers and historical fiction. Though I have found some of his books a bit too "information-overloaded", his research and attention to detail and background is as impeccable as it gets. And this shines through and through in the book. James Patterson, on the other hand, is someone who has penned numerous international best sellers and whose recent books have sold more copies worldwide than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined. (Okay, says TOI here).  I’ve always been a fan of James Patterson’s books and his trademark fast-paced plots and suspense have been weaved through brilliantly throughout the book.


About Private Series

Apart from his Alex Cross series, the PRIVATE Series has been one of James Patterson's most successful thriller series to date. Often dubbed as the world’s most exclusive detective agency, PRIVATE Worldwide is spear-headed by the suave and stylish ex-Marine and CIA agent Jack Morgan. With offices across the globe, they are often brought into play when the police hit a dead-end (or cannot be involved) and for cases where maximum discretion is required. Needless to say, the agency has tons of high-profile clients in every city, whose resources they unabashedly use to solve every case.


PRIVATE India (PI) - The plot (I promise - no spoilers)

When visiting Thai surgeon, Kanya Jaiyen,  is found strangled to death in the bathroom of the posh Marine Bay Plaza in Mumbai, Private India (PI), the Indian branch of the exclusive Private Worldwide, is asked to investigate. Working alongside the police department, PI, led by the brilliantly perceptive Santosh Wagh (whose fondness for alcohol reminds me constantly of Dr. Gregory House, M.D from the American medical drama HOUSE) and his elite team consisting of ravishing ex-cop Nisha Gandhe, the meticulous medical expert Mubeen Yusuf and muscularly-built technology geek Hari Padhi, are determined to crack the case before it's too late. However the killer soon strikes again and leaves little clues behind with the corpses, thereby enabling the PI team to deduce a pattern. With a couple of shorter sub-plots seamlessly weaved in, Private India is definitely a page turner that you will struggle to put down.


The Positives

Private India is exceptionally fast-paced and a thriller in its truest sense. At no point, did I lose focus nor find my attention wandering. And for someone like me, who often struggles to be attentive, that's a big plus point. Sanghi’s exhaustive research and historical knowhow is what makes the story and the city of Mumbai come alive for the reader. Throughout the book we come across familiar Mumbai landmarks and the vivid descriptions ensure that you picture them perfectly in your mind. The language is simple yet effective and largely un-marred by useless flowery references and comparisons. The authors have also managed to incorporate “present day topics and locations” into the story line almost effortlessly - such as ISI, the 2006 Mumbai bombings, Shakti Mills and so on. Overall, the collaboration gives an otherwise typical James Patterson thriller, a much-refreshing "desi-tadka", which will hopefully pave the way for more collaborative projects between Indian and Western authors.


The Misses:

One of the major misses for me was the lack of depth to any of the characters. In any book, I always look for a character or two, that I can take away with me. Someone who will remain in my head long after I shut the book. Though there is enough backstory provided for most of the characters in the book, I doubt I’d remember any of them in a few weeks. The otherwise simple narration is marred by the overuse of expletives - especially the F word - in the dialogues. Though I appreciate that the usage of the “F-word” is prevalent in most modern everyday conversations, I felt there were quite a few places where it was  unnecessary. Also, the execution towards the end was a tad bollywood-ish for my liking and the “reasoning” - a bit larger than life. The authors have also indulged in a few typical Indian stereotypes that could have been avoided. I won't expand on this because I can't without revealing some of the plot, but it should be glaringly obvious to most readers.


My opinion:

I’m not a big fan of rating books on a point or star scale. I would sum up the book as a fast-paced thriller with genuinely interesting and well-researched sub-plots  - definitely worth a one time read. If talented authors can continue to churn out books like these, I might also add that the future looks rather bright for the Indian thriller genre.

Tring Tring...Who's there?

Image courtesy

Paul Dixit was a compulsive addict. His addiction - mobile phones, especially smart phones. He spent a considerable chunk of his monthly salary buying the latest mobile phones. His wife Devi, on the other hand, was the complete opposite. She too had a mobile phone, but only by compulsion. At Paul’s coercion, she too had bought a smart phone. It was an Apple iPhone 5s. Though everyone she met went gaga over the phone, it did not tickle Devi’s fancy at all. According to her, a phone only needed a few features - Make phone calls, send short messages and occasionally set the alarm. Anything beyond that was an unnecessary facet, and she just did not care. But when Paul insisted on getting her the very latest in smartphones, she dropped her standards, and let him get her a state-of-the-art phone. The trouble now, was that she had no idea of how to go about using this piece of junk. And to make matters worse, the sim card was a different one. She had tried to fit the new sim card into her old phone, and it just slid through and rattled about in the slot.

When he “gifted” her the phone, Paul had promised to spend some time over the weekend helping her get accustomed to the new phone. However in typical Paul fashion, come Saturday morning, he was suddenly required in Frankfurt, and he left on the very next flight. This left Devi in quite a pickle, since she did not have a clue with regards to using this shiny new equipment. Since Devi was predominantly home  during the weekend, she could continue to use the land phone. "The real problem would be on Monday morning, when I get to work", she thought. "Hopefully someone at work can help me with it." Monday mornings were a nightmarish affair for Devi. It always had been, and this particular Monday morning was no different. To make matters a bit more complicated, their son’s nanny had pulled a sickie, which meant eight year old Arnav was alone at home. Though Devi’s neighbour, Mrs. Jain, had promised to pop-by, every hour or so, Devi knew that she shouldn’t have left him alone. But with her boss breathing down her neck demanding a finalised projection report before lunch time, she had no other alternative but to go to work, at least for a few hours till she got the report sorted. “I’ll just keep calling Arnav every hour to make sure he is alright” she thought. She had asked their friendly security guy, Ramu kaka, to keep an eye on Arnav as well.
As Monday morning wore on, Devi found herself drowning under the workload. Things got worse when her Managing Director, Mr. Tiwari, called for an impromptu all-hands-on-deck meeting in the board room, during lunch. She checked the time on her watch. It was 1:15 pm. As she walked into the meeting, she wondered if Arnav would have had lunch. The meeting room was packed and she noted that everyone, except Mr. Tiwari was present. “I’ll just make a quick phone call before he gets here” thought Devi, and took out her phone. She glanced at the screen of her new phone, unsure what to do next. For the love of god, she couldn’t find a phone icon. And this god-forsaken item did not have many buttons either, much less anything that resembled a phone symbol. As she sat there fiddling with the side-buttons of her phone, Devi failed to notice Mr. Tiwari enter the room. Unfortunately for her, Mr. Tiwari did see her playing with the phone. “Ah, the new iPhone I see, Devi. Looks like we’re paying you too much again!” he exclaimed loudly, from across the room. Embarrassed, Devi put the phone away into the depths of her handbag. “Why am I worried?” she thought. “Our numbers are programmed into the landline unit’s speed dial. Arnav will call us if there was anything urgent."
As the meeting dragged on, Devi could feel her eyes start to get heavy. Suddenly she heard a distant buzzing. It sounded like a very large mosquito, a few meters away from her ear. She glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. Nobody else had seemed to notice it. She dismissed it  nonchalantly. The buzzing continued, and Devi just tuned it out.
Ten minutes later, when the meeting finally ended, Devi jumped up from her chair. She decided that it was high time she checked up on her son. As she carefully dug her phone out from the abyss of her hand bag, she noticed that the screen was already lit up. 38 missed calls, said the message on the screen. All from a private number. At first she panicked. Then slowly her sensible part prevailed and she decided to check it out in detail.  She somehow managed to unlock the screen and clicked on the icon which had the number 38 superscripted in bold, red font on it. She looked at the time of the first call. It was at 1:50pm. The last call from the number was at 2 pm, a few minutes back. 38 missed calls in 10 mins! She wondered what was going on. Something was wrong. She immediately dialled the home number to check on Arnav. There was no answer. She tried the number again. The result was the same. No answer. She could feel trickles of sweat starting to build up on her forehead, inspite of the air conditioning running on full blast. She dialled Mrs. Jain’s number. She answered on the first ring. Talking to Mrs. Jain, Devi felt like she was having a panic attack. Apparently Mrs. Jain had to leave the building to post an urgent letter, and she had just returned. On her way back, she had stopped by Devi’s apartment to check on Arnav. But inspite of ringing the door bell numerous times, she did not get an answer. She had just stopped by her own flat to get the spare keys to Devi’s, when the phone rang. On Devi’s request, Mrs. Jain opened up their flat and checked it thoroughly. Arnav was no where to be found. Arnav was missing!   Devi felt the brand new iPhone slip from her hand and hit the floor with a resonating crash. Almost immediately a series of “WHY”  enveloped her thoughts:
“Why did I have to let Paul get me a new phone? I have no idea how to use one of these."
"Why didn’t I stick to my old phone? That way I could have just made the call home to Arnav before the meeting, without having to fiddle with this useless piece of smart junk. “ "Why did the phone not ring? I never put my phone on silent! I don’t know how to!”
She thought of calling Paul. He would know what to do. He had given her a local Frankfurt mobile number to call him on. She dialled his number. Almost immediately an automated voice on the other end explained first in German, then in heavily accented English, that the mobile number was switched off. By now, Devi was starting to hyper-ventilate. Her son was missing. Her husband was unreachable.  And the number that had called her, was a private unknown number. She feared the worst for her son. What if he was kidnapped? As she fought to hold back her tears, she heard the buzzing noise again. It was coming from her iPhone which was now face down on the floor. She picked it up. “Private number calling!” said the flashing message on the screen. She slowly pressed the green highlighted “Answer” button on the screen.
“Mrs. Dixit?” said the calm, monotonous voice on the other end of the line. “Yes…who is this?” stammered Devi, almost losing complete control of her senses now. She could feel the anxiety getting to her. “Please listen carefully” said the emotionless voice of the faceless caller. “Who is this? What do you want? Do you have my son?” stuttered Devi, now almost dreading what was about to come next. “ Mrs. Dixit, this is Manish calling from The Bank of the World. You’ve been pre-approved for a platinum credit card. Would you be interested ?” Devi closed her eyes in disbelief, clutched her brand new iPhone and threw it out the office window.
This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. We give out creative writing prompts each weekend for Indian bloggers. This week the prompt was to use the phrases 38 missed calls in 10 mins! She wondered what was going on. I've highlighted the afore mentioned phrase in red to indicate where it has been used.

Kindly note:

I intend no offence against any tele-callers who may be reading this, or any of you who may know someone who have been unfortunate enough to do the job, or if you have previously done the tele-marketing/caller role. It too is a job that pays the bills.

For those of you who were wondering what happened to Arnav, he is safe and sound. Paul returned early from Frankfurt, and he was surprised to find Arnav home alone. So he took him out to McDonalds for a nice meal and some much needed father-son bonding time.  As for Devi's phone not ringing, remember the time when she was fiddling with the side buttons of her phone in the meeting room? She inadvertently slid the button on the side which put the phone into vibrate mode.

The Kill List - Forsyth at his undeniably best

The Kill List is master storyteller Frederick Forsyth’s latest addition to his long list of cutting-edge suspense thrillers.

The Kill List - Cover Image courtesy of Google Images

Plot Line:

America has a new enemy - The Preacher, who has just made it onto their short top hit list of people who are to be tracked down and killed at every cost. This top secret catalogue is known internally as “The Kill List”. The Preacher is masked figure with blazing amber eyes, who radicalizes young Muslims abroad to carry out high profile assassinations.
To hunt down the Preacher, the United States appoints one of its many classified organisations, blandly named as TOSA or Technical Operations Support Activity, who in turn passes the mission on to their star crusader, only known as the Tracker, who is an ex-marine.
Armed with very little evidence and unable to trust anyone around, the Tracker has his work cut out. And when one such radicalised youth, kills a retired Marine general, whose son happens to the Tracker, the hunt becomes extremely personal.

In my opinion:

It is a typical Forsyth classic - fast moving, action-packed and backed with excellent research. Whilst not in the same league as that of  “The Day of the Jackal” or “The Odessa File”, The Kill List does have its edge-of-your-seat moments.  Forsyth’s detailed research for all his books is what sets him apart from some his contemporaries, and it’s no different with this novel either. What I loved best about the book, apart from the well-paced plot, is the exceptional detail about the military, their impeccable execution under pressure and how the entire premise is very real-world-real-scenario based.
Yes, there are some minute flaws in the story line, the end-result is quite predictable and the final confrontation is a bit rushed. However  as some wise people have said in the past, “ It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey!”. And the “journey” that this book takes us on, from the deep, impenetrable mountains of Afghanistan to the vicious pirate-infested “Horn of Africa”, is an outstandingly well-crafted and enjoyable one.

Final Verdict:

The Kill List by Frederick Forsyth is an excellent blend of well-paced military action, the quintessential real-world hero, enthralling    writing and the archetypal Machiavellian bad guy. A definite read.

Overall Rating : 4 / 5

Bibliographic info:

Title                  The Kill List
Author              Frederick Forsyth
Publisher          Penguin Group US, 2013
Length              352 pages
 Genre                Fiction | Thrillers  | Suspense | Military

Aye aye Captain - A review of Captain Phillips

It takes a lot to make me write a review for a movie. Not because I do not take the pains to dissect it; purely because I'm inherently lazy. But not this time. This movie deserves every bit of the praise. Captain Phillips is an incredible dramatisation attempt by director Paul Greengrass (of the Bourne Series, Greenzone & United 93 fame) to recreate the "true" story of how the American cargo ship "The Maersk Alabama" was hijacked by Somali pirates back in 2009. With two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks in the titular role and a  screenplay-to-act-for by Billy Ray (of The Hunger Games, State of Play, Shattered Glass fame), the movie should definitely be on any hard core movie buff's to-watch list!

Image Credit from the Wikipedia Website

As it is based on a true story, the plot itself is quite predictable. To put it briefly, it's about four young Somali pirates hijacking the behemoth of an American cargo ship, in the hope of making some money by holding them ransom. However it takes an immensely talented director to be able to keep us on the edge of our seats, with a story we know the ending to. Nevertheless, the director Paul Greengrass managed to do it with United 93, and has successfully done it with Captain Phillips too.

The plot itself has multiple layers, and people like me, who have a tendency to over-analyse will find much to feed our brains. Though in a nutshell, it is  a heroic survival tale against all odds, the plot also touches on a number of different issues from the plight of the fishermen in Somalia who have resorted to being pirate-raiders for the manipulative ring leaders to how globalisation has left as much as fifty people competing for one job.

Tom Hanks, as Captain Richard Phillips, lives and breathes the role of the eponymous merchant mariner to the letter. He sails effortlessly through every scene, be it the reserved and methodical Captain Phillips that we see at the beginning of the movie, or the sleep, water and food-depraved traumatic Phillips being held captive by the Somali pirates. Though he is splendid throughout, the last five minutes of the movie is when he truly delivers the performance worthy of another Academy Award®. You've got to 'see it to "feel" it'!

However it's not all the Tom Hanks show. He is matched step-for-step and act-by-act by newcomer Barkhad Abdi, whose electrifying performance of the pirate leader Abduwali Muse, has already gathered rave reviews. Perhaps the most enthralling scene the two of them have together is when Muse, after boarding the ship, looks dead-eye straight at Phillips and says  "Look me in the eye – I'm the Captain now!". As the ringleader Muse, Abdi portrays the perfect eclectic mix of intense determination and sheer desperation of someone who has gone way too far to turn back and has no other way out.

With a run time of 134 minutes, the movie starts off a tad slow, but soon has us gripped-by-our-throats with the suspense and tension. Greengrass makes good use of every available tool at his disposal, and be it the claustrophobic scene inside the "being-constantly-tossed-by-the-sea" lifeboat or the "unabated negotiations" between the US Navy and the pirates, he executes them with panache. Technically, the movie is exceptionally crafted and we find ourselves "virtually" present for every scene. The cinematography by Barry Ackroyd is exceptional and the riveting  background music by Henry Jackman adds to the overall mood.

As i said earlier, it takes a true genius to wring suspense from a screenplay that you know the end to. And once again, Paul Greengrass has done just that.

My final verdict: A pulsating survival story of the captain of an American cargo ship kidnapped by Somali pirates, executed brilliantly by Director Paul Greengrass and Academy-Award-worthy acting by Tom Hanks and debutante Barkhad Abdi.

P.S. I've not provided a detailed scene-by-scene description of the storyline on purpose. At the end of the day, it's a thriller, and though the story in its entireity  is available on the public domain, I'm of the opinion that its best if we just know the synopsis and "relive" the movie, as the director and actors meant for us to. 

Watch the YouTube trailer here for Captain Phillips by Sony Pictures: