Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Review: Scammed

Reviewed by: Shantanu Bhattacharya
The first question that struck me when I got Scammed in my hand was - why would the author be anonymous (yes, really!)? Was it some sort of an insider's expose of the Financial Consulting and Audit industry? Was it shocking and transgressive? Did it contain names of actual companies and people who could retaliate against the author?  The possibilities were all exciting, and so with anticipation I picked the book up to read to find my answer.

It was nothing like I hoped for.

The most charitable explanation I can hazard for the anonymity of the author is that the book she (and I use the generic, politically correct, 'she' here; the author is in all probability, a man, but I can't know for sure) wrote was so outrageously filmy, so derivative and melodramatic, that her friends, colleagues and family would treat it as a huge joke, making her a laughingstock for years, besides dealing a body blow to a fledgling writing career.

That, and/or the fact that she lacked imagination enough to think of a nice pseudonym.

The story itself is a straightforward morality play, just a little modernized. It's the one you have heard and seen multiple times before - from Shree 420 to Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman, and a hundred films in between. It is the same story of a small town protagonist who comes to the big city (in this case, Hyderabad) with big dreams, is frustrated by lack of opportunity,  gets into wrong company and habits to makes money, and becomes (very) financially successful. Till, of course the facade crumbles, and artifice is wiped away, the world crumbles around him, the scales fall from his eyes,  and the love of a good woman rescues him from the world of frivolity and superficiality, leading him to a new start.

Winced at the parade of cliches in the previous paragraph? That sort of gives you an idea of what I went through as I read page after page of this novel. The protagonist is a Gujju boy - Hitesh Shah - working for an international-sounding audit firm, Smith & Donald, whose working methods seem loosely modeled on Satyam's auditors, PWC. As the auditor designated for a wobbly, outdated, automobile company , Supreme Motors, he discovers layers upon layers of corruption in the company. Aided by a whistleblower who provides him evidence and exits the country, and the book, forever, Hitesh realizes that everyone and their uncle are involved in corruption - the owner, purchase manager, HR head - everyone seems to have been enriching themselves for years.

Hitesh, of course, gets sucked in to the morass of corruption himself - using his financial acumen to start a new (and very successful) fleet taxi venture using Supreme cars and low prices. He is bankrolled by industrialists and also secretly, by a major politician. At the same time his love life looks up as the college beauty, and now model, who never looked at him earlier is now more amenable to his advances, especially since he gets her a lucrative gig as the face of the new venture. Before that of course, there was his "assistant" from Smith & Donald who he sleeps with. Oh, and there is the mousy secretary who he never notices till she sympathizes with him when things go wrong... - no lack of traditionalist misogyny here. 

You see where this is going, right? So did I, from miles away.

Things happen, the shit hits the fan and things start to unravel pretty quickly. People get arrested. The politician gets embroiled. Model girlfriend ditches him for career and a tattooed Lokhandwala-biker-stud type when she gets better gigs in Bombay. The police get after him and he pulls a powder on them, accompanied by the, you guessed it, secretary whose smile is suddenly sweeter and figure, more sinuous. Love story blooms. The nice girl turns out to be the ideal mate - not the flashy model types. 

All this is resolved in a expectedly filmy manner when he comes out on top at the end. But then you knew that. I am not really providing any spoilers here. Not unless you have not watched any number of Hindi films in the last 50 years. If you haven't, I apologize for ruining a splendid surprise.

Look, I know what you are thinking. So what if the plot is old? After all it's a well known adage that there are only 7 plots in the Universe. What matters is presentation, and style, and structure. 

Okay then, let's talk about language for a minute, shall we? Or maybe not. Not at any great length anyway. Not after reading that someone "stood prostrate" - a massive feat of physical achievement. And that so many people keep looking at each other out of "the corner of (their) eye". In a couple of cases the usage of phrases is hilariously incorrect. In one case Hitesh says the a threat "left me cold" when, from the context, the author obviously means the opposite i.e. left him nervous and worried. Maybe he wanted to use "blood ran cold" instead? In another instance, someone is described as having a "perpetual baffled expression on his face" when the context indicates an "earnest expression." 

Is that enough? No? Okay, one more hilarious example - "Hitesh sat stoned". Given that there is no drug use described in the book, it's safe to say the author actually meant "turned to stone" or "shocked".

Add to this some basic editing errors, e.g. "Sahil" instead of "Hitesh" and you understand that this is a pretty shoddy effort overall.

In summation, all I can hope the next book by Anonymous (if there is a next book) will be better edited, better plotted, and better written. Of course, I get the feeling that would be three things too many to ask for.

About Shantanu: I work as Chief Learning Designer with Tata Interactive Systems. I hold a Masters in Literature and love reading and movies - though I have very little time for either nowadays. I am active on social networks like Facebook and Twitter (@shantanub) and am a complete news and current affairs junkie. Currently though, my most satisfying job is being father to a 5 and half year old girl.

1 comment:

  1. Shantanu,

    Have you heard of a book called "Oh Shit Not Again" or something like that by one Mr Mandar Kokate. Don't ask me how I came to read it, and I hear it's been revised a few times, but still if you should have the courage to read it, you might find some connection between this book and that one . In all fairness, I must warn you that "fairly cringe worthy " would be a mild description of that book.