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Book review: Framed

If it's old-fashioned crime drama you crave, this is the perfect read

Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Golden-hearted criminals, policemen who work for both sides and villains in one shade of grey. If one or more of these factors whets your interest, you may enjoy spending an evening with Surender Mohan Pathak’s Framed.

Pathak, a prolific Hindi writer who has written almost 300 books, is no stranger to fans of pulp fiction. Some of his books have been translated into English earlier, and while reviewing The 65 Lakh Heist for Lounge in 2009, Chandrahas Choudhury called the translated version “a kind of canonized and reified pulp", miles away from the real thing in both price and production quality.

In Framed, one of the 42 novels in the Vimal series, Vimal aka Sardar Surender Singh Sohal aka Arvind Kaul aka Banwari Lal horse-carriage driver aka Basant Kumar motor mechanic (I could go on, but you get the idea) deals with a nemesis who strikes at the one place where it truly hurts our protagonist—family. That Vimal will prevail is not in doubt—the only question is how many twists there will be before the final comeuppance is delivered.

For reasons known only to them, the publishers have not mentioned anywhere in the book that it’s a translation and, worse, not credited the translator. This reader found it difficult to settle into the story without confirming whether it was a translation or not. As far as can be established from the Internet, the original book, called Hazaar Haath, was published in 1998 and is the 29th book in the series.

Framed: By Surender Mohan Pathak, Harper Black, 337 pages, Rs299.

To enter a series so far down the order leads to some confusion, and Pathak deals with this by incorporating a chunk of backstory every once in a while, usually through dialogue. This can be confounding initially but you soon get used to it, and it is interesting to see how the writer tries to make his books accessible even to new readers. The translation works for the most part, except a few odd expressions here and there (bro and sis, when bhaiyya and didi would suffice), though some of the humour from the Hindi version does suffer. A character who is fond of adding “as the firangs say" to his sentences is sometimes left looking like a fool as the entirety of his conversation here is in the foreigner’s tongue.

Vimal has been involved in bank heists, has eliminated Mumbai’s largest underworld network and is a wanted criminal with a reward being offered for his arrest. Yet he manages to walk around Delhi (smoking a pipe) without any hindrance, mainly due to a filmy reason readers can discover for themselves.

For all the promise of its luridly purple cover, Framed is a curiously chaste book. There are no sex scenes, explicit or otherwise, and even the expected goriness is missing. At best, there are some mild threats of physical violence. The setting is firmly the 1990s—the characters use public telephone booths and take Sahara Airlines flights. The moral attitude on display does not always age well, though. The main villain, who is physically disabled, is referred to as “cripple", and worse, at many places in the book.

Thanks to an omniscient narrative, the reader understands the thoughts of the main characters, killing much of the suspense. The story is convoluted and wordy, and the book is at least 50 pages longer than it should be, but even as you think it has gone off the rails, Pathak shows he’s still in control, wrapping up matters satisfactorily and setting the stage for the next adventure.

In an era when nostalgia is making a comeback, it is oddly comforting to spend some time in an old-fashioned world that reminds one of old-school Bollywood crime dramas. If that’s what you are looking for, suspend all disbelief and pick up Framed.

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