Monday, October 23, 2006

"The Billionaire's Sleep"

Manish's post on Tokyo Cancelled a few weeks ago reminded me that I needed to finally pull the book down off the shelf, where it has been resting since S. brought it for me from a trip to Bombay a few months ago. I read it and was well-pleased (though perhaps not overwhelmed) by the imagination at work in the stories.

After a visit to Rana Dasgupta's interesting homepage, I was intrigued to discover he's signed off the filming rights for one of the stories in Tokyo Cancelled to a young Australian filmmaker named Robert Hutchinson. Hutchinson spent six weeks in India this past spring doing research on it for the screenplay he's writing, and kept an interesting blog about it here. Aside from the fact that he misspells "Hindutva" at one point, Hutchinson has some interesting observations to make, both on India and on the script in progress. Here is how Hutchinson summarizes the plot for the film version of "The Billionaire's Sleep," which follows Dasgupta's story quite closely:

Rajiv Malhotra is a billionaire who inherited an Indian steel empire and turned it into a trans-national concern with a focus on India’s ability to provide outsourcing services to the rest of the world. For him every moment of every day in every timezone is an opportunity to provide efficient services. His obsession with utilising every second of the day means he has never been able to sleep. This inability to sleep has also meant he is infertile and has not been able to produce an heir to his empire. His decision to have a ‘perfect son’ made for him through the use of genetic technologies is the inciting moment of the story. From that moment powers beyond his control come into play. (link)

That's just part one. Note that it's Dasgupta who uses the name "Rajiv Malhotra" (there is also a real person by that name, you may have heard of him; hard to know if any connection is intended).

Part two is where it really starts to get interesting:

Sapna is his unexpected daughter, when his wife gives birth to twins, a girl and a boy, Rajiv finds he has a daughter who sleeps beautifully. That sleep is so powerful that as she approaches puberty Sapna’s fertility when she dreams brings organic objects back to life. Her bedhead grows branches and a perfect white flower. The spores in the carpet burst into life over night filling the air with floating tendrils, her clothes basket grows into a thicket of bamboo. This exhuberant fertility frightens Rajiv and he does everything within his power to have this excess of organic material removed from his sight. (link)

There's a little more at Robert Hutchinson's blog, but if you really want to find out what happens in "The Billionaire's Sleep," you'll have to go to Barnes & Noble or whatnot and pick up Tokyo Cancelled (it should be there). I'm pretty envious at this point, because "The Billionaire's Sleep" could make a really great film if done right. (We're overdue for a good outsourcing-themed film, I think.)

A side note: at one point, Hutchinson makes an offering at a temple in Maharashtra with the wish that Amitabh Bachchan signs on to play a part in the film -- presumably Rajiv Malhotra. Good luck with it, Mr. Hutchinson! (Though I should mention that I think Om Puri would also excel at this kind of role.)

Before getting back to diaper-changing and burping, I do have one quibble with the Vij I wanted to register:

Another annoyance in these tales is that they feel derivative, more remixes than totally novel plot points. Much of Dasgupta’s surrealism has been done before by authors working both in magical realism and sci-fi (link)

I actually liked the cross between the fairy tale plot structures with the contemporary speculative fiction themes. And yes, the idea of a misshapen lost twin or offspring has been done by Rushdie several times (not to mention innumerable 70s/80s Bollywood films), but it's also just a plain-and-simple fairy tale conceit going back to the Brothers Grimm: the demon who comes back to haunt you, who demands the secret be unveiled, and the payment due.

p.s. Which desi actress should play the part of Sapna?


Blogger apu said...

Amardeep, I have to say, I hated Tokyo Cancelled so much, I couldnt even finish it. The focus seemed to be on the technique, the form, the stories themselves were somehow so so boring. I find it extremely pretentious somehow, as though the writer was trying to display his writing ability more than anything else. And whats so fundamentally new about that technique of interconnected tales either, its as old as the Canterbury tales. (I am normally a very lenient kind of reader, and will read anything that comes my way, but I just couldn't bear to finish this one!)

11:49 PM  
Blogger Manish said...

I hated Tokyo Cancelled so much, I couldnt even finish it.

Funny, I had the opposite reaction: it struck me as more interesting than Murakami, the inspiration for your blog name :)

1:19 AM  
Blogger ana beynaam said...

I don't know if anything is really "new" about how some people tell stories. It is using conceits going back to fairy tales, or to Scherezade (I have a feeling I've misspelled this but I hate spelling it this way anyway!) etcetera. It is what the writers do with the conceits that makes them fun and readable (or not readable)

I haven't read Tokyo Cancelled yet, but I did check out Hutchinson's blog, thanks for pointing that out Amardeep. Also, in terms of which desi actress should play the part of Sapna, what do you think? If he wants the Big B, d'you suppose he'll be praying for Aishwariya as well?! *crossing fingers and mouthing "noooo".* :D

12:04 PM  
Blogger apu said...

Manish - no way; Let me put it this way - maybe I am a very basic kind of reader - but I like my stories to have a story. (Unless the language itself is brilliant). To me, Tokyo Cancelled didn't excel on either count.

(Also, maybe its one of those books I disliked irrationally, just like I am quite irrational about Murakami, so no comparisons :))

2:41 AM  
Blogger Manish said...

Yes, and I had the exact same reaction but about Murakami-- the stories feel insubstantial and inconclusive to me.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous cant sleep insomnia said...

Just putting a better description in my name.

7:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home