The Taj conspiracy
Book Review, Historical, Thriller

The Taj conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The taj conspiracy The Taj conspiracy is a thriller from a genre in Indian writing that is just waking up to its potential – crime fiction. Also the fact that this is based on one of the perennial controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal – of its very authenticity, makes it a compelling pick

So far so good. The positioning is brilliant. The question then is – is the story and the writing to the mark? Read on…

As you start reading this, you get a sense of deja-vu. Which is confirmed as the first chapter goes by you and realize that "The Taj Conspiracy" is heavily inspired by "Da Vinci Code". The strong woman with a powerful sense of history, a murder victim who leaves clues with his own blood, a elderly intellectual who is steeped in the history of Taj Mahal, an investigator who starts believing as the story moves on…

The good thing about the inspiration is that it does not stretch too far. You see the obvious similarities but it is never a pale imitation. Instead the Indian context is brought out well. And after a few chapters, you forget about Da Vinci code and begin enjoying the book in its own right

And its time that we get a doughty and attractive women sleuth of our own!! Mehrunnisa Khosa, she of the exotic name and the exotic origin fits the bill.

The book opens with a murder right inside the Taj and unravels with a plot to destroy the Taj Mahal itself. And it only gets more exciting. Bringing in politicians and fringe fanatic groups, the story never loses steam through to its ending. There can be no joy in telling a story in a review, especially one like this. It just has to be picked up to be read!!

What the "Taj Conspiracy" does well is bringing to life the controversies surrounding Taj Mahal. And brings to life, how the conspiracies resonate to this day bringing in politicians and media and fringe groups of all hues. Its refreshing to see an Indian mystery/thriller based on historical intrigues. India's history is laden with riches just waiting to be mined by storytellers. Its a wonder why it has not happened on a large scale till now

This is where Manreet Sodhi Someshwar does well. The research is upto the mark and contributes a great deal to the readability. And Manreet succeeds where many authors falter – meshing the research with the storyline. Amidst all the running and shooting and killings and revelations, the wonder of the mystery is never far off.

In fact, this book will open up the Taj Mahal for the readers once again. I know that the next time I go there, I would beManreet sodhi seeing it with new eyes and not what the guide or the guide book tells me. And if a book can open up something new in something that seemed so familiar, I daresay that its worth reading…

I have a small gripe though. The character development could have been improved a little more. Manreet creates fascinating characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the book, the characters remained slightly one-dimensional.

But then, Manreet has planned a whole trilogy with Mehrunnisa Khosa. So lots of space to iron out the chinks…
Overall, a book worth picking up. And in the fledgling genre of Indian mystery, this quality book is a great step forward. Looking forward to see which mystery Manreet throws at us next…

Bollywood Movies, Popular

Kahaani directed by Sujay Ghosh

Kahaani Vidya BalanYou get an immense shock of a revelation. A twist that leaves you grappling with the realization that you have been taken on a merry go round for the 99% of the movie.


All the beliefs and convictions that you had built up during watching the movie is shattered completely. You start seeing the whole story from a radically different perspective and you get that A-ha moment when you pinpoint the places that you were taken for a ride. And you realize that there were no flaws and that indeed there were two stories running in parallel – one which you were being told and one that was actually happening


The best of the suspense thriller aims to do exactly this. Ask Hitchcock. And as any avid movie watcher knows, such movies are truly hard to find. Among Hindi movies, one that springs to mind is "Kaun", featuring Urmila Matondkar and to some extent "Khamosh" starring Naseerudin Shah.


What do you get when you start off with a terrorist attack, then get a pregnant woman searching for a missing husband in the crumbling magical city of Kolkata, a mole in the Intelligence beareau and a race against time to uncover a mystery that seems to become15NXG_KAHAANI_951357f unsolvable by the minute? You get "Kahaani" or a "Story". And unless you see the end, you would not know what a perfect yarn has been scripted


After seeing "Kahaani" one can say with belief that this one will go down as one of the best well made movie of this genre. Not only is the story impeccable, not only is the premise well thought through but what makes the "Kahaani" complete is the environment. The sounds, sights, the camera work, the music, the hotel room, the chase through the alley way, the puja preparation, the poignant flashbacks. Everything makes this a complete delightful package


And a big part of the environment is the city in which everything takes place – Kolkata.


Kolkata is a magical place for a lot of reasons. But the Kolkata brought alive in "Kahaani" is truly a delight. By turns eerie, by turns old world charm, always colorful both in characters and happenings, Kolkata in "Kahaani" is one helluva interesting place. And for once the Kolkata depicted is not the cliché Kolkata depicted in movies like "City of Joy" or the invisible one in "Yuva". The sights and sounds and the people are much more authentic than anything else you have seen.


The characters in "Kahaani" gives it the special edge that a movie. Bob, the harmless looking Still-from-Kahaani insurance agent who is actually a hitman is probably one of the creepiest character to be shown on screen; Rana, a newbie Kolkata sub-inspector, who starts off getting involved out of a sense of gallantry and then gets enmeshed in something much more sinister; Khan – the Intelligence guy who is a ruthless pragmatist.


And Vidya or as the Bengalis keep insisting – Bidya. Vidya Balan is truly an actor to watch out for. The sheer versatility she is capable of not only shows in the difference between her "Dirty Picture" and "Kahaani" but also within "Kahaani". By parts vulnerable, by parts pragmatic, by parts manipulative, by parts teasing, "Kahaani" is a powerful vindication of Vidya Balan's ability to carry a movie completely on her shoulders. Never did you feel the need for a hero, so completely she dominates the story. It helps of course that she had a powerful story and a talented cast to back her up. But nonetheless, take Vidya Balan out of the movie, there would be a glaring vacuum.


Vidya as the pregnant woman searching for a husband who for all purposes seems to have abandoned her is one of the most memorable character in recent Hindi movie history. She kahaani-cinema-038manages to exact your sympathy and your awe at the same time as she struggles against an  advanced pregnancy to follow up every lead on her missing husband. And as she slowly gets enmeshed in a much bigger plot, as her life comes under danger, you get involved completely in trying to solve the mystery for her, working out every possible angle in your head


Every possible angle except the one that is right!!!


The ending makes this perfect movie complete. The five minutes of shock you experience as you digest what has been revealed is worth every paisa you have spent in getting that movie theatre seat or in buying the DVD…


This is a movie that can be enjoyed only in its seeing. Nothing else comes close. Just go and see it!!


English Movies, Thriller

The Illusionist directed by Neil Burger

2006_the_illusionist_wallpaper_0012 Take the acting genius of Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and the beauty of Jessica Biel and a villain played by Rufus Sewell, put it in turn of the century Vienna, throw in some great cinematography and make it a story of mystery, intrigue and love and yes lots  and lots of magic and what do you have?

A sublime watching experience, that's what you get…

Eisenheim (Norton), son of a cabinetmaker leaves home to go around the world after his budding romance with imgthe illusionist1Duchess Teschen (Biel) is thwarted, but not after he meets a travelling magician with whom he is fascinated.

He comes back many years later and he performs magic which seems almost paranormal in nature. He performs magic that no-one has ever seen before and rapidly becomes the talk of the town, attracting the attention of the crown prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) who is at this time engaged to Teschen (planned marriage for political reasons).

Eisenheim and Teschen meet on a show and embark on an affair but this time they plan to disappear properly. They weave a plan that has magic and mystery in huge dollops. The crown prince is the way though…

The acting is superb all around. Giamatti is superb in his role as the chief inspector in the pay of the crown prince and yet someone who has imgthe illusionist3a conscience and a thirst for knowledge of magic. He is also the narrator of the movie and the person who finally unravels the whole mystery. Norton is simply sublime in his role as the enigmatic and the intense magician. The variety of roles he can do is simply breathtaking…

The cinematography and the music score deserve a special mention.  Since the movie is a period piece, the ambience both visual and  auditory is vital. This movie has a wonderful synthesis of both.

Its a complete immersive experience – both from the visual point of view and from the story point of view. The the-illusionist11performances at the show are very gripping and very intense, especially the ones at the latter part, which border on necromancy.

This is a movie that can be seen again and again and which will be enjoyed everytime…

By the way, you will see some similarity with the movie “Prestige”, since both are period pieces and have elements of mystery…but both are different and both classics in their own right…

Classics, English Movies, Thriller

Strangers on a train directed by Alfred Hitchcock

28471-large Well, even if you didnt know that this film was directed by the master storyteller (I didnt), you would realize very soon that a genius is behind the camera. Even after so many years, after so much technical sophistications and so many scriptwriters trying their hand at the mystery-thriller genre, there is something so appealing about these stories that hooks you and keeps you literally at the edge of your seat.

The plot gets you into the rollercoaster right away. A plan for murder with an ingenious scheme, spoken in passing, becomes a horrifying reality soon and the other man is now expected to fulfil the ‘bargain’. A cat and mouse game ensues with some truly adrenalin pumping moments and twists and turns – especially near the end. Speaking more about the movie will only serve to spoil it for the viewer. Seeing this movie is the only way to enjoy it…

I can only say if you want to be thrilled and entertained and given a treat of truly great storytelling, this movie cannot be given a miss…


zodiac killer movie
English Movies, Thriller

Zodiac directed by David Fincher

Zodiac1 After seeing the movie, I realized how few good detective movies I have come across lately. By that genre I don't mean the movies which seem to have some world-conspiracy behind them or the ones which seem to have some shadow of Watergate type of scam going on. I mean the real clue-searching, detective work type of movie. I realized how much I missed these kind of stories after watching this one…

There was no swashbuckling unnecessary action, no constant on the edge tension (It compensated with being a well paced thriller). That's what made it great. It made the movie real. What it did have was a grittiness, a story that was all too real and a justice system that was that as well – too real. Its quiet, grim and dark.And because the movie was based on a true story, that made it all the more absorbing. The one man’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) fanatical quest for justice, even though the murderer had not affected him personally, out of a small initial curiosity that becomes a full fledged obsession that threatened to consume his family and himself is something that would captivate you throughout the movie.

If you enjoy a good detective story – how a structure can be built from hypothesis and how it can fall like a house of cards onzodiac-movie-clips a simple missed logic; the frustration of trying to unearth something that everyone has given up on (the case dragged on for decades); the quiet doggedness  that a determined man has to have in order to unearth a mystery; how pieces of a jigsaw fit together,  you would enjoy every minute of this. The movie lets you get into the mind of an investigator, in all its starkness – minus the glorification. That's a rare movie that lets you do that…






Book Review, Thriller

Oscar Wilde and ring of death by Gyles Brandreth

n258488 I didn’t know that Wilde has been positioned as a detective since I saw this one. That was the only reason I picked up this book!!! Oscar Wilde is one of my all time favourites. Its difficult to find a wit better than him even after a hundred years. I was curious to see how he has been treated in this new avatar.

Having finished the book, I am left with mixed feeling. The book is good overall, though as a detective novel, in my opinion, the book is not a scratch on the Poirots and Holmes of this world. The book is not racy and I found myself yawning through many parts of the book. The twists in the plot are not breath-taking and Wilde’s actual detection abilities are not on display. There is no Poirot flourish or a Holmes ‘its elementary’ moment. That is the book’s biggest weakness. You may capture the reader’s initial interest by putting Wilde in the unlikely role of a sleuth but if the story is not fleshed out properly, the great playwright’s aphorism wont save the day.

Which then brings me to the reason why I feel this book drags. The author tries too hard to bring Wilde’s personality on the pages – to the point that it feels artificial. Its distracting to be thrown an aphorism, which does not fit in the context, in the middle of a developing plot, just because the author felt that its time to remind the reader that its Oscar Wilde on the stage.  The personality of Wilde is brought on too strongly and is never allowed to mesh itself with the plot, with the result that Wilde seems like an outsider at times to the developments. What is more frustrating is that Wilde is never shown to have any great or unique detection abilities – as if charm and witty saying is enough to solve murders.

Its a pity because there was so much potential in the story and in the plot. You not only had Wilde but you also had other famous historical characters like Arthur Conan Doyle in the story (they being in the circle of friends of Wilde). The author could have informed and amused and given us an unforgettable story. Instead he tried too hard and all of it comes out as a bit of a farce…

Which, as I said, is a pity…