The action-packed narrative is both humorous and poignant.
Jump Cut, a comic novel about the deadly-serious issue of copyright violation in the Indian film industry, may be funny but is far from light-hearted. Krishna Shastri is part Wodehouse, part R.K. Narayan and, well, part Krishna Shastri. Jump Cut is his second novel and, by now, one has grown used to (and envious of) his trademark smooth writing, seemingly effortless. With the deftness of a motorcyclist in Chennai traffic, Shastri weaves in and out of what is essentially a theme of universal, cross-disciplinary relevance with his killer digs, asides and adjectives. Humour is everywhere and so too is a sense of moral economy, of right and wrong.
Ray’s father Raman dies of a broken heart because of a broken heart. The scrupulously unscrupulous film director Rajarajan has stolen his script and used it to make a blockbuster film, minting money and fame in the process. Ray, who is resident in the U.S., must wreak vengeance. And so he proceeds to play a high-stakes game involving his childhood buddies and the woman he loves.
Unlike Rajarajan’s films, Shastri’s adjectives and idioms are completely original. Consider his descriptions of his father’s ghost walking around “live as a cricket telecast”, of a Mercedes that “purred like a porn star” or of the security guy who is a “bargain-basement version of the Air India Maharaja”. With his fine ear for dialogue, Shastri successfully captures the Tamil ethos. When Ray lands at Chennai airport, he is greeted by his friend Abie with a “Dei, Ray-Ban, welcome to Chennai.” And yet, Shastri can swiftly change gears and give us a glimpse of other registers he is capable of, such as his description of the hospital sheets beneath which his ailing father lies: “The shifting wrinkles somehow looked like young mountains trying to find their final shapes,” and then, in a quick gear shift again, “Really? Geology? At a time like this?”
The past comes alive through Raman’s diary entries. Appropriately and strategically embedded, they provide both rationale and logic for the craziness of the present. Shastri controls a narrative that is otherwise action-packed, slowing down duly for moments of grief, lingering in the here and now, as when Ray receives news of his father’s death. Jump Cut manages to be both entertaining and poignant. And of the poignant there is plenty. As a child, Ray, following the untimely death of his mother, resolves to be always “prepared” for everything. The memorial service he organises for his father is poorly attended. Ray reflects on his father’s life: “The tens of scripts, the abandoned career in law, the crazy hours, the outdoor shoots in places with no bathrooms to crap in, the constant struggle for money, the near-invisible mention in the title cards, the shelves of reference books bought over a period of fifty years, the library of lovingly collected classic DVDs, the last 10 years of loneliness in Madras with his children gone — is this what life had been about, so that he could die to an empty hall?” That there is a real, human cost to be paid each time someone violates copyright is a fact that one tends to miss. That the cost, in this case, is the life of a man is what makes this so powerful a narrative.
Shastri’s hold on plot is near-perfect, except towards the end when the story threatens to run away with itself. But then, this is Jump Cut, after all and the narrative deliberately mimics the cinematic. And one must buy the story and deal with all that is larger than life and seemingly implausible. There is really no other option.
Jump Cut: A Novel; Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, HarperCollins, Rs.299.