Note: Writing a review with numerous bhakti songs (read: Kannada and Tamil matinee songs) - courtesy an extended Ganesh Chaturthi - playing in the background is truly a Herculean task. But I somehow managed to pull it off *patting myself on the back*
If I Pretend I Am Sorry! Will You Pretend And Forgive Me? is the second offering from Prashant Sharma, after his Love, Life & a Beer Can!
It is a curious title for a novel, but then there is nothing like a curious title to pique the readers' interest. What?
No, it is not a mushy romance or a classroom/college caper ... but a thriller set in Mumbai. Most unexpected, isn't it?
To cut to the chase, it is the saga of three men - Rajvir Singh, Rannvijay Singh and Viraj Singh. Though seemingly belonging to different worlds, their paths intersect and their lives are interconnected in a manner that is unknown even to them.
Book blurb: "I was sitting in a room with four of the most dangerous men in Mumbai. All four had a gun in their hands. I had single malt in mine. And I was the one who was going to dictate the terms." Rajvir Singh
"That day, I understood the importance of money. That day, I got a new reason to live. That day, I knew what I had to do in life and for what. I had to kill, and I had to kill for money." Rannvijay Singh
"I felt relieved, I felt scared, I felt guilty. I had finally made the deal. I had paid for my first murder." Viraj Singh
The story or rather the journey of the three men are narrated separately, all in the first person - starting with Rannvijay Singh, then moving on to Rajvir Singh and finally getting to Viraj Singh - till their paths cross, that is.
Result: a thrilling climax.
There are many events and characters peppering the book that may leave you wondering as to how the author was going to conclude the tale. Or what the three men would do ultimately, or what was the purpose of a particular event, and so on and so forth. Yet towards the end they all converge and all the loose ends get tied up neatly. You get to see the links clearly and all the cobwebs are removed quite nicely.
The language is simple and not flowery or bombastic, the pace brisk and the setting with a distinct 1970's feel about it. The Mumbai (which was then Bombay) of the seventies with its warts and all - the underworld, the murders, the kidnappings, supari and ransom, the gang wars, smuggling, drug dealing, the police, protection money, big business, the parties, the roads, the cars, the ocean, et al. Mumbai truly is a city of constant contradictions ... and so was Bombay.
Certain events in the book will ring a bell with the reader: the rich and famous with their own insecurities, protection money paid by business magnates, the unification of four feuding dons, someone trying to become the undisputed King of Mumbai and not even hesitating to eliminate his own boss. Shades of Haji Mastan in Rajvir Singh and that of 'D' in Rannvijay Singh are unmistakable. Frankly, the ruthless world of business - whether above or under the ground - are no different from each other, really!
[Note: The storyline is nothing like Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai]
Make sure you play out the scenes in your head, at least some of them, while your eyes do the reading. That'll ensure a total filmy experience.
Suggestions: Prashant has tried to add various shades to the three characters in order to make them more interesting ... and I must say that he has succeeded to an extent. However the twists, the turns and the surprise elements needed to be a little more cerebral and fresh - to dispel the feeling of déjà vu. Also the shock factor is missing and certain events and encounters are underdone. A bit about the transformation of the city from Bombay to Mumbai would have been nice.
Also I feel that the titles of the chapters (e.g., 'Audacity', 'Transformation', 'Revenge', 'Opportunity', 'Oops', etc.) reveal too much and rob off the suspense of the following pages. Some innovativeness was required here too. Else it somewhat dilutes the interest, and in a thriller that is strictly not done.
Umm, Rajvir Singh (born: Oct. 20, 1931) could not have come to Mumbai at the age of 19/20. Even Rannvijay Singh could not have grown up on the beautiful dirty streets of Mumbai in the 1950s. It was still Bombay then.
With the right mix: some taut action, interesting twists and turns, surprise elements and shock factor, this one could turn out to be a very good read.
Come to think of it, it could also translate into a pretty watchable movie on the big screen ... provided it is helmed by a fairly competent director and includes a bunch of interesting actors. Please note, I did not say stars.
It could fit snugly into the genre of films classified as low-budget movies, several of which have hit the marquee lately, e.g., Udaan and Phas Gaye re Obama.
So, Bollywood, where are you?
My rating: I'm going with a 3/5 for Prashant Sharma's second novel and at just Rs. 100 it is light on the wallet too.
Don't buy the book with high expectations. Don't expect high-octane actions ... and you would find yourself leafing through the pages and enjoying a fairly good story.
The book jacket cover is interesting and a bit intriguing too. The production quality of the book is average while the editing errors could and should have been easily pruned out.
For a new author it is a fairly good attempt. I would say that the book held a lot more promise than it actually delivered, however I feel Prashant can do much better. Among the new crop of authors, and there is a veritable tsunami of them, he does show some promise.
Details of the book: If I Pretend I Am Sorry! Will You Pretend And Forgive Me? / Author: Prashant Sharma/ Publisher: Srishti Publishers and Distributors/ Publishing Date: July 07, 2011/ ISBN-10: 9380349386/ ISBN-13: 978-93-80349-381/ Pages: 215/ Price: Rs.100 (50% discount at infibeam.com)
Photograph: The book jacket cover of If I Pretend I Am Sorry! Will You Pretend And Forgive Me? Picture courtesy: link.