Mystery writing is an art mastered by certain people whether they use original ideas or plagiarize others’ ideas but it’s by no means an easy job. Those who are able to pen enthralling murder mysteries become quite popular in the world of readers. I don’t think that any such author (or authoress) is able to think of his / her own murder even in the wildest of his / her dreams. However today I am reviewing a novel which contains the mystery of the murder of a person who himself is a mystery writer by profession. Eminent Hindi mystery writer Surendra Mohan Pathak has penned this novel under his Sunil Series. The title of the novel is Front Page.
Front Page contains the mystery of the murder of an eminent mystery and thriller writer Ram Faujdaar who pens novels in Hindi in the style of Sidney Sheldon. He is a bachelor but has fostered his niece Soni like his daughter only. Soni’s late father has made such a will that she will be able to inherit his property only when she marries a suitable boy chosen by her uncle, i.e., Ram Faujdaar for her. But she is in love with a boy Shashank Saalvi who is considered as unworthy for her by Ram Faujdaar. Shashank has been arrested twice by the police, first time under the charge of raping a Sweedish tourist lady and second time under the charge of shoplifting. His sister Shobhna Saalvi is a known dope-addict and is said to be having an illicit relationship with a famous (as well as notorious) self-proclaimed godman – Rangaswamy. Their parents are no less in the eyes of Ram Faujdaar. Father Shivnaath Saalvi has gone bankrupt in his business of printing paper and now functions through a silent partner whereas mother Suman Saalvi used to perform full nude cabaret in the pre-marital period of her life. Quite naturally, Ram Faujdaar is not at all ready to allow his niece to tie the sacred knot with a boy like Shashank.
Otherwise also, there is no love lost between Ram Faujdaar and the Saalvis. Faujdaar is currently busy in penning a novel titled as Dozakh Ke Keede (the insects of hell) in which he is said to have created many characters like the Saalvi family plus a colourful occultist who terms himself as a godman but is actually involved in lascivious and immoral activities. This information has reached the Saalvis because Shivnaath Saalvi is the supplier of printing paper to Faujdaar’s publisher Alakhnaath Paandey and it has, but natural, further aggravated the hatred and tension in the hearts of the Saalvis towards Ram Faujdaar. Ram Faujdaar as well as his secretary Subroto Majoomdaar is concerned about the reaction to be faced after the publication of this novel less from the side of the Saalvis and more from the side of Rangaswamy who is having strong political connections in addition to the huge band of his followers.
And then Ram Faujdaar gets murdered in his felicitation function itself arranged by his publisher Alakhnaath Paandey at his residence-cum-office. He is shot dead when the function is underway and he is addressing the audience from the dais. The hero of this novel – crime reporter Sunil Kumar Chakravarty and his close Punjabi friend Ramakaant Malhotra are also present in the function and they are surprised to see that though Faujdaar has been shot dead, there is no apparent movement pertaining to his shooting and the murderer seems to have vanished in thin air just after shooting. Now investigation of the hero proceeds on the line parallel to that of the police. The mystery gets intensified when the investigating officer is also found as shot dead in the premises itself. Finally, our journalist hero is able to unearth the whole mystery and unmask the murderer.
The title of this novel has nothing to do with its story. This title has been kept only because of the profession of the hero who is a journalist and works on full time basis for a national daily – Blast which is published from the fictitious city of Rajnagar (created by the author for this series of his). Anyway, the novel is damn interesting right from the start to the finish. The curiosity of the reader has been maintained throughout the narrative and with ample doses of humour, the novel has been rendered a high entertainment value by its author, i.e., Surendra Mohan Pathak.
The author has very skillfully developed the character of the murder victim who is a sensitive person within his heart though he maintains a stern persona while dealing with others. He wants his niece to follow the right path and be able to differentiate between true love and fake love before choosing her life-partner. He does not want to come in the way of her joys but she misunderstands him because of her lack of maturity. Another character that stands out due to the author’s efforts is that of Subroto Majoomdaar who is the author’s secretary and has been hand-in-glove with his employer in his lifetime.
The author has also highlighted the life and activities of the self-proclaimed godmen through the character of Rangaswamy. When this novel was written (first published in 1988), a well-known self-proclaimed godman (Chandraswamy) used to remain in the news headlines. He had strong presence in the corridors of Indian politics also and that’s why the readers of this novel (in that period) were able to contrast the fictitious character of Rangaswamy with the real life character of Chandraswamy.
Written in spicy Hindi, the novel keeps the reader hooked for more than 200 pages. Though I feel that a reader who regularly reads murder mysteries can guess the identity of the murderer through deductive reasoning, this fact does not dilute the quality of the book.Front Page is an engrossing murder mystery and underscores that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. A mystery writer himself can be murdered in a mysterious fashion and that real mystery may be more intricate than the fictional mysteries penned by him.
I wholeheartedly recommend Front Page to all the mystery fans who can read Hindi.
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