This novel sees Inspector Ghote take on the Bombay film industry, as he is called out to the Talkiestan Studios to investigate the murder of the film star Dhartiraj, who has been crushed on set by a 5K light, whose ropes have been severed. Inspector Ghote may take his family to the cinema every now and then, but he is not very well informed on the world of films. Yet, with unsubstantiated confidence he plunges into the case:
‘Yes, he might have to make guesses from time to time and there would be things he did not first understand, but he would be a match for it all. He would be. He must be.’
However, Inspector Ghote quickly realises that everyone from the Producer and Director to the Production Manager and the actors are more interested in managing publicity and continuing their current box office hit: Khoon Ka Gaddi, (which Inspector Ghote translates as the Throne of Blood) than finding the actual killer. Khoon Ka Gaddi is an adaptation of Macbeth. Unlike the last Inspector Ghote book I reviewed, The Body in the Billiard Room (1987), where Western characters were imposing Western cultural/literary expectations on the Inspector in the form of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, in Filmi Filmi Inspector Ghote (1976), the Bomay film industry is appropriating Shakespeare and altering it to fit the expectations of Indian cinema goers. For example, the role of Macbeth has been changed to that of a villain rather than tragic hero, as according to the Director in the book, no one wants to see the hero die.
Inspector Ghote, aside from his lack of film knowledge, also has to contend with unhelpful witnesses such as Seth Chagon Lal, the producer who threatens the inspector to not interfere with his production and is not at all impressed by Ghote’s firm belief in following the letter of the law:
‘I am having to make one thing clear. A murder has taken place, and in due course there will be a person to be charged under Section 201 of the Indian Penal Code. Sir, if that person comes to hand – and I will be sparing of no effort to achieve that eventuality – then that charge will be made, whatever effect it may or may not have upon the progress of your film or upon Fifteen Arts Film Private Limited’
Moreover, proving anyone was at the scene of the crime at the right time is a significant obstacle in Inspector Ghote’s case, although as the case progresses, he does manage to find several motives for killing Dhartiraj, a man initially everyone says was universally loved. Was the killer a rival actor who is tired of being kept in the lime light? Or perhaps the murderer is not a rival over professional reasons, but in matters of love? Maybe the person responsible is a chumchas, a hanger on of Dhartiraj who is finally tired of waiting for their chance to shine on set? Inspector Ghote has many false leads and red herrings to sort out before finally reaching the truth, not only spurred on by justice, but also by the intoxicating power of Nilima, a legendary actress, who sets Inspector’s Ghote’s heart racing. But with so many big names involved and a lack of support from his Deputy Commissioner, will this case be the undoing of Inspector Ghote?
A key process which occurs in the novel is within the character of Inspector Ghote himself. He enters the case firmly believing in his duty as means towards justice and upholding the letter of the law. But very quickly the inspector becomes infected by the possibility of the fame and rewards he could receive for finding the killer and Ghote begins to see his role as a detective in a more film star light, perceiving himself as a star actor and even the courtroom as a film set:
‘It was a rich moment. And there would be others for the man who had cracked the Dhartiraj case. They would crowd round him, the reporters, in the years to come just as they crowded round the stars of the filmi duniya.’
‘It was still less than twenty-four hours since the crime had been committed. To have solved the mystery in that time. It would be a star performance. A true star performance.’
It takes most of the book for Inspector Ghote to lose this delusion and by the end of novel, when the killer has been discovered and Ghote realises what he could have lost, he acts with sensitivity and sees that ‘a quiet end to it all’ was for the best and ‘was a fitting end to it for him too’.
In addition this book has been criticised for its lack of subtly and Meera Tamaya (1993) in her work, H. R. F. Keating Post-Colonial Detection: A Critical Study argues that ‘the truth of Keating’s satire of the Bombay film world cannot be disputed, but it is too easy and self-evident a truth,’ describing the characters as ‘cardboard’ like. However, I don’t think this is an entirely fair assessment of Keating’s novel. Inspector Ghote is a fully developed character in the novel, whose juxtaposing firm resolutions to solve the case and his bumbling actions, make the story quite light hearted and fun. Moreover, if some of the characters such as the actors appear less than real, I think this can be interpreted as a way for Keating to show the superficial nature of the film industry and the idea that in such a self-conscious world, there is a need to have a ready persona for others to see. Furthermore, such personas should not be so readily believed and accepted, as who knows what dark secrets they are hiding…
Something else I noted as I read the story was the way women are perceived. Unsurprisingly beautiful actresses such as Meena and Nilima are objectified and are required to use their sexuality in order to advance their careers. Moreover, women are seen as possessions as when discussing with the gossip columnist, Miss Pilloo Officewalla, who might have motive to murder Dhartiraj, she mentions how Dhartiraj had “stolen,” a fellow actor’s ‘keep,’ which is meant to be a jokey reference for a mistress and is placed in the same category as a jeep (rhyme intended):
‘What does a Producer get when he has his first hit film? A jeep and a keep’.
‘Keep’ of course has fairly possessive connotations and in this context women are depicted as items which demonstrate financial and occupational success. However, I did find that the role of Miss Pilloo Officewalla in the novel, did deviate slightly from this more sexist portrayal of women, as throughout the book she is shown as a professional, who is successful at her job and respected for it and Inspector Ghote does have to call on her for help several times in the novel to further his case.
I think overall this was an okay read. It didn’t knock my socks off, but it wasn’t dull either and the actual murder and the placing of the clues in the narrative is well done.
Tamaya, M. (1993). H. R. F. Keating Post-Colonial Detection: A Critical Study. Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.