Viking, £12.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop
The Village, By Nikita Lalwani
An engaging morality tale about a TV crew's manipulation of life in an open prison in India.
Arifa Akbar is literary editor of The Independent and i newspapers. She has worked at The Independent since 2001 as a news reporter and arts correspondent before joining the books desk in 2009. She was a judge for the Orwell Prize for books, 2013.
Saturday 23 June 2012
There is a defining moment in Nikita Lalwani's second novel, when Ray Bhullar, a fresh-faced TV director commissioned to make a documentary about an open-prison in India, gives us a glimpse of the heroic – and naïve – idealism that will lead both to her undoing, and her salvation.
Ray is sitting in a rickshaw with Nathan, a worldly ex-con and TV presenter, describing the film she hopes to make. She tells him how important it is to represent "these people as human beings rather than as ciphers or ideas. That she was Indian and that the British audience would see this film and understand what being Indian really means. How much beauty, honesty, trust, dignity and inspiration there was in the country".
As Ray talks, the reader can almost hear Nathan scoffing silently at her. Sure enough, her endeavour to make a high-minded film about the progressive model prison in Ashwer is stymied by her colleagues' agenda to make television that is confessional, emotive and ultimately, exploitative of the inmates that Ray intended to hold up as shining examples of rehabilitation.
The subject of media manipulation is a topical one, given the intrusions highlighted in the Levenson inquiry and the growth of "real life" stories on TV. "Television... was the least elitist tool, the most egalitarian," says Ray in her earnest monologue, but it turns out to be a highly manipulative tool in the hands of her BBC crew. Gradually, Ray slips into complicity with her colleagues, even as she inwardly protests against it.
Lalwani previously worked as a documentary maker, and there is a great deal of authenticity in the television-making processes described in The Village, particularly its claustrophobic voyeurism. If the three-strong BBC team have come to study the inmates and edit their stories, the inmates are watching their Western visitors, weaving narratives to their lives too. Despite her ideals and camaraderie with the Indian families, Ray looks at them as subjects, framing them in her mind's eye as if wielding an invisible camera. Her older, more hardened colleague, Serena, has ceased to think of the ethics behind their "storylines".
Though Serena is an under-developed character whose cynicism seems one-dimensional, the competitive relationship between her and Ray gives the book its greatest dramatic tension. The moral battle about how best to make the documentary is played out as a personal battle between them. Their later contest to win Nathan's affection might have been unconvincing, given how unimpressive a man he is, had it not been for this psychological showdown between them.
This is a coming-of-age story, not unlike Lalwani's feted debut, Gifted, about a precocious teenager's struggle to free herself from overbearing parents. Ray's struggle is against the corrupting media machine, and she too manages emancipation.
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
The battle for control of Stieg Larsson's £30m legacy
Arts & Ents blogs
Heavy rain and years of 'benign neglect' may have caused Apollo Theatre roof collapse
Christmas TV guide 2013: Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all
The Harry Hill Movie, film review: Screenplay isn't so much offbeat as utterly feeble
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
- 1 Tim Sherwood challenges Daniel Levy to set out vision for Tottenham Hotspur’s future
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 #Teamnigella: It’s the only side to be on
- 5 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- < Previous
- Next >