Title: Hungry Gods; Author: Richa Lakhera; Publisher: Rupa Publications India; Pages: 205; Price: Rs 295
What is the most captivating 'drug' for humans? Fame, greed, lust, and so on are beguiling in their own ways but pale before another intense motivation, which may only increase in potency and desire in time until it achieves its goal. This is revenge.
And it is this overpowering 'drug' fuelling the protagonist of this dark tale by senior NDTV journalist Richa Lakhera, where a heinous crime decades back is repaid on its perpetrators in the present.
In her third novel, after debut crime novel "Item Girl", and entertainment industry satire "Garbage Beat, Lakhera brings big business, showbiz, sex (including its fetish and bondage aspect) and investigative reporting together into a whirling vortex of passion, scandal and violence that may not spare anyone who is even near it - involved or not, innocent or guilty.
Beginning in the recent past with an act of unsettling brutality, where the unnamed and unidentified narrator sees mother being tortured and murdered by fellow villagers egged on by a rather greedy corporate, and has to run and hide to avoid the same fate, the story comes to the present with an equally disquieting triptych.
We see a hot-shot director being eliminated artistically by someone he is familiar by being driven to frenzied suicide, a rather sleazy top company executive of a rather sinister pharmaceutical company is indulging in his criminal vice and a movie superstar, who is willing to endorse anything for a price, faces some uncomfortable questions about his latest tie-up from a determined journalist, before the PR team kicks in.
Alongside, there is a young upcoming actress who is determined to break into the top league by hook or crook and after some embarrassing situations, has no other options but to take a role in a TV serial being made by the same company.
Rounding up the rather motley crew is the aforesaid director's daughter and another aspiring actress, shown in a rather intense but private role with the superstar, the superstar's nasty but efficient factotum, an assistant director on the TV serial who had seen his now late boss take all the credit, and a prostitute who has to contend with her demented mother and a strange "uncle".
All of them come into involuntary contact after the director's half-decomposed body's found and the police come in, led by an efficient but jaded officer, to investigate.
As tensions rise between the various characters as the police investigations threaten to bring out long-buried skeletons (figuratively), vested interests take prominence, and someone is deliberately leaking secrets to the journalist, the scene is set for an explosive finale. But how many of the characters will be around with us till then?
That is the question that drives on Lakhera's story through a series of unnerving and disconcerting episodes dealing with various characters till all collapses in a welter of blood, gore, and even insanity for most of the (rather despicable) characters - though a couple do get chance for redemption.
But while the writing is terse, tense and gritty, there are a couple of small issues that bedevil the narrative - especially a little too much sex (graphic) and profanity. Also sometimes the continuity is not as smooth in segueing of the various episodes into a composite seamless whole, and some vital issues don't get as much play - especially the big, evil pharmaceutical company, whose role is not fleshed out sufficiently beyond its sleazy legal affairs chief.
On the other end, Lakhera manages to instill a distinct motif of foreboding and menace, the characterisation is vivid and the sense of place of the "Dune", as the setting is called, is evocative. And then the police officer and the journalist are too good to remain confined to a one-off.
Overall, it is a compelling, though much disturbing, tale about the less than prepossessing relationship between corporate greed, celebrity culture (including of endorsements) and a rather complaisant media, but in a largely subtle manner.
It may not be a very comforting read, but it is an essential read.
- IANS (By Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)