Last week, I was asked to look at a book, Faking It, which is an art crime novel, written by Amrita Chowdhury. Currently, Amrita is working as the Associate Director of the India Research Center division of Harvard Business School and this is her first foray into fiction. Passionate about contemporary Indian art, Amrita has set her fast paced novel in the art corridors of Mumbai. According to Amrita, she herself is an avid art collector, and as Indian art is doing so well across the world, this was a good time to set her fictional story around the Indian art scene.
The novel is about a finance expert, Tara Malhotra, who, against her wishes, is uprooted from the United States to Mumbai. Struggling to find her footing in Mumbai, indulging in extensive party hopping and high-end shopping, she ultimately decides to set up her own art gallery. But, for that to happen she needs to have that perfect piece of art in her personal collection to impress her social peers. So, when an opportunity presents to buy a newly found work by Amrita Sher-Gil she succumbs hook, line and sinker, spending all her savings in the process. And, as luck would have it, the painting turns out to be a fake. The second part of the novel is a chase around town (car chases to the airport included!) to nab the forgers, and eventually, to trap the kingpin behind this multi-million dollar racket.
The book turns out to be quite informative about the business side of Indian art and is full of little details on how the market functions, but I’m not sure how an art-unfriendly reader will respond to it. The vacuous life of a socialite as she flits from one party to another and buys every designer label in sight, paints a pathetic picture of a returned-from-abroad Indian who tries to compensate for the sense of isolation and displacement. While, the second part of the book portrays how the protagonist evolves and comes into her own.
It would not be fair to compare this book with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code or even Jeffrey Archer’s False Impression – both of which have art as the basic premise. Nevertheless, Faking It is a perfectly enjoyable read that focuses completely around Indian art. A breezy, easy going style of narration manages to keep the reader sufficiently interested to keep turning the pages to the very end.
After reading the book, it is very likely that you may want to take a look at some of the works by Amrita Sher-Gil or by one of the numerous artists mentioned in the book (from the Bengal school or the Progressive art group), in which case you could take a walk through NGMA, Bangalore and you are sure to find most of these artists there.
(Published in Bangalore Mirror)