High art in high society

Faking it
Amrita Chowdhury
Hachette, 2009,
pp 340, Rs 250



Faking It is all about art and crime in high-end society. Not quite the stuff the common reader can easily chew over as the characters deal in crores (and get duped in crores too). But due credit to Amrita Chowdhury, the drab world of brushes and strokes springs to life, mainly because of the energy levels of the now-confused-now-determined protagonist Tara.

Of course, the erstwhile World Bank employee loves contemporary Indian art. But it is the ‘Asian woman syndrome’ that forces Tara to start an art gallery. A successful and high-earning finance pro, Tara is suddenly reduced to a ‘trailing spouse’ who has to give up her career and follow her husband to Mumbai after the latter discovers greener pastures in BRIC economies. Tara decides to get even by buying art and blowing huge holes in her hubby’s pocket. But the ‘revenge’ takes a con turn when Tara’s mini-treasure of a painting is labelled a fake.

Before sketching the artistic tastes of the leading lady, Amrita Chowdhury details every moment of Tara’s disastrous landing in South Mumbai from the US. The ‘ordeals’ of the Newly-Returned-Indian range from smelly armpits of cabbies to finding a vacancy in an international school for her four-year-old. Doing justice to her high-end lifestyle, Tara simultaneously begins a hunt for a multimillion-dollar apartment ‘with a sea view’. The writer adds some bling to the proceedings as Tara binds with her new circle of friends — P3 regulars and arterati who have rubies and diamonds dangling from all over their anatomy.

Slowlyand gets into desi groove. And she finds her calling in Saloniere Star — the gallery she opens with a partner. Reality bites pretty early as she learns that owning even a ‘small Husain’ requires Rs 60 lakh and that running exhibitions and finding buyers translate into tonnes of sweat and travel.

Then comes the rude shock in the form of a fake Amrita Sher-Gil. The painting sets the pace for a mad chase where a cheated Tara takes on a well-connected network of criminals.
But the author builds up suspense in a hurry and the story dashes to a Bollywood-like climax. Tara does some unbelievable detective work and daredevilry that unknot the criminal threads in record time. Add to that a private jet crash and Faking It reaches its logical conclusion at an illogical pace. That is the only grouse. Otherwise the story evokes considerable curiosity even in those disinclined to art.

Amrita Chowdhury knows her subject, has done her homework and delivers an art thriller.

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