Format: Paperback
Language: English
Publisher: Blue Salt (Penguin Books Imprint)
ISBN: 9780143421016
Price: INR 250

If one had to point out why Neeraj Pandey is one of the most respected writer-directors in the Indian film industry right now, the answer would be because of the highly original & extremely entertaining stories he seeks to tell through the medium of cinema, evident in both his films till date – ‘A Wednesday’ and more recently, ‘Special 26′. And as he ventures into previously unexplored territory with his first novel, the end result is not very dissimilar.

Following a non-linear style of narration, ‘Ghalib Danger’ opens in Paris, 2007 as the protagonist Kamran Khan strolls into a nearby departmental store to pick up a few things, only to find himself surrounded at gunpoint by policemen. It is then revealed he is a wanted man back in India on multiple counts. The plot then proceeds to the present day when Kamran is about to walk out of jail on bail & hereon his story is told mostly in flashbacks – how a honest, hardworking taxi driver in Mumbai turns into the most feared criminal in the city by a spate of unforeseen (and unfortunate) circumstances. This twist of fate sees him becoming the protege of dreaded mafia don Mirza, who believes the solution to every problem in life lies in Mirza Ghalib’s poetry. Kamran inherits this philosophy as well & the rest of the plot delineates his transformation to Ghalib Danger.

As the blurb from acclaimed actor Naseeruddin Shah rightly points out, this book is a delectable dish for anyone who loves a masala film. ‘Ghalib Danger’ reads like a masala potboiler from pretty much every angle & there is much to be enjoyed here. Noir lies at its core and so this book is not short on blood & gore, but it is never unnecessary & over-the-top.

The book is not short on characters but Pandey does full justice to both the central as well as peripheral ones & some of them, especially the mafia dons – Mirza Azmat, Yakub Mental & Farookh Khitkhit stand out as being extremely well-written. The women in Kamran’s life also get sizeable roles (unlike the molls we get to see in most Bollywood gangster films) – be it the lovely Salma who breaks his heart or Sonia, who tries in vain to mend it.

Since the name Ghalib is present in the title itself, there is a substantial amount of his poetry that appears at different junctures of the plot. Now, my limited knowledge of Urdu meant the meaning of most of it was lost on me but this literary device would undeniably work in favour of the book provided one understands Ghalib’s poetry, since each verse resonates with a particular situation Kamran is in at that moment.

Ghalib Danger’ might eventually feel like ‘nothing new under the sun’ to some, but it is just like good old wine in a new bottle – much like those stories we’ve heard before but never tire of being recounted again & again. Highly recommended for those who enjoy pacy, first-rate crime noir.

Rating: 8/10

If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here: