Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Accidental Apprentice - Vikas Swarup

A rollercoaster ride of drama and emotions typical of a bollywood movie.

Swarup's other book The Slumdog Millionaire is quite famous for the controversy it courted.  I can't comment how much was true since I did not pick up the book, opting like others, to watch the movie instead.  My thoughts? Well, I share the reservations quoted by many about portraying India through "a white man lens", and using the squalor and the poverty to call it "a country with colour". But this did not put me off picking up this book. The reason being the premise sounded good, the title interesting and sounded like this was a totally different fare. 

The gist:

On a weekly visit to her favourite goddess, Sapna Sinha, a non descript sales girl is accosted by a billionaire with a proposition- to become the CEO of his company. However, she needs to participate in some tasks which will test her mettle. It comes with a sweetner; two lakh rupees would be hers to keep for making the effort, regardless of the outcome. Practical headed Sinha is tempted but she has her doubts. However, circumstances force her to accept the offer. This triggers a set of dramatic events that puts Sinha into the hotseat as the story zooms through the dusty lanes of Delhi, to the rural areas, from dilapitated factories on the outskirts to cramped prisons, ending finally in the one of the poshest areas of the city.

What works:

  • The premise is good. It immediately draws attention and kicks off really well. Swarup has a great way of telling a story without demanding much of the reader. Like a hindi movie, the plot is kept straight and narrow with a total focus of action. 
  • The writing style is simple, direct and the story totally plot driven. The series of events happen bang one after another, pretty much like a thriller.
  • Despite the improbable events, he does manage to convey the essence of India. The khap panchayat, the child labour, the organ donor racket, and the corruption that lines the fabric of the Indian lifestyle, is so true and rings a bell with the Indian reader while providing a keen insight for those not familiar with the workings of the country.
  • He also conveys the quinessential Indian concept of a family through Sinha's relationship with her mother and sister.

What doesn't:

The story has the entertainment value of a film. It seems as though it has been designed to showcase its potential as a film and has been constructed accordingly. That is sad. Swarup obviously buoyed by  his Slumdog success is eager to replicate it as well. However, it is a disappointing that the writer has focussed his energies on creating a film which is a different art form, before getting the book version right.

In the book, the protagnist strikes a conversation with a movie actress and all they can talk of is Slumdog as a movie. Surely, it is not such a great movie to spark conversation between strangers! It seemed as though Swarup wanted to have a say on the controversy and used the conversation as a medium. It was an obvious tactic and a desperate one at that. 


A great downtime read if you are looking for something racy with entertainment value.

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