24 August 2014

Thrillers by Indians, for Indians and of Indians

Thriller | The Terrorist | Juggi Bhasin

There are a lot of thrillers being written in English in India these days. This is good news. We can read about outlandish capers set in our own localities instead of in places we are unlikely to see in our lifetimes.
The Terrorist is set mostly in Delhi, though frankly, I barely recognise the places. I really didn't know that Karnataka Bhawan was a den of iniquity. I always thought of it as the place to go to eat delicious thali food at ludicrously low prices.

Anyhow, there is a young engineer who falls in love and then gets kicked out of his job and loses the love of his life, just because he happens to be Muslim. His evil employer gets him framed in a terrorist case, and the radicals around him further embroil him in terrorism. Finally, being brutalised by the police during 'interrogation' turns him into a hard-core terrorist, yet, withal, one who only kills police and army people.

In the meantime, there is a young Army officer who is trained in counter-terrorism in a remote place in the North East. His rich mother has driven his Army father to suicide, and he has cut off all ties with her in revenge. His soul's shell is breached by his best friend, an Army buddy who is just as good a soldier as him, but has a heart. He falls in love with a woman his mother 'arranges' for him to meet, but because of his mother, the two are sundered and he also falls out with his best friend.

He gets posted to J&K where he is seconded to the local police. There, he slowly wins over the police team assigned to him. One day, his teammate's niece is gang-raped by powerful politicians and the police. Her sister records the evidence, and his teammate is now trying to save her and her family.

The book opens with the battle of our hero to rescue the girl and her family. He is court-martialled for it, and emerges vindicated. The Prime Minister (thinly disguised Manmohan Singh), in the meantime, imports an Indian-origin American to run an anti-terrorist cell.

Now, the main action takes place, with the terrorist, known as Ghaznavi, taking on the anti-terrorist Prithvi (named for the nuke, not the planet), and vice versa. Ghaznavi is teamed with a lethal young woman, whose mother was brutalised in one of the communal riots that are the cauldrons for creating radicals in India. She disappeared when her mother was killed and their terrorist cell destroyed (and Ghaznavi was radicalised), but clearly, she went over to Pakistan and turned against her country.

The two work with a set of other cells to attack a leader of the main opposition party, one who is gaining traction by having overseen a communal riot in Gujarat (no prizes for guessing who this person is thinly disguised as). Police and the anti-terrorist cell race to uncover them and foil their evil plans. Two plans are foiled, two are not.

Finally, we have the much-awaited face-off between Ghaznavi and Prithvi, and a finale with enough explosions to satisfy any die-hard thriller buff.

I pendulumed between liking Juggi Bhasin's plot and writing and being appalled by it. Casual cynicism wars with some truly well-fleshed out passages. I had more sympathy with the antagonist than the protagonist, for most of the book. All in all, a fast but shallow read, and the characters could do with more fleshing out. As it is, it's written for Bollywood. You can expect to see a movie on it, if Bhasin's agent does a good job of the negotiation. I can just about imagine Neil Nitin Mukesh and Vivek Oberoi in the movie!

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