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, and is currently a judge of the Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014, and the Independent Scholastic New Children's Prize 2014.
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.
Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigourfilm
Bannatyne leaves Dragon's DenTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Howard Jacobson: Let's see the 'criticism' of Israel for what it really is
- 2 Game of Thrones author George RR Martin says 'f*** you' to fans who fear he will die before finishing Westeros saga
- 3 Belgium fan Axelle Despiegelaere lands L'Oreal campaign after World Cup viral photo
- 4 Britney Spears sings 'Alien' without Auto-Tune in embarrassingly brilliant leaked audio clip
- 5 PornHub begs users to stop uploading video clips of Brazil getting beaten 7-1
Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons' employment, say government advisers
Australia facing international condemnation after turning around Sri Lankans at sea
7/7 memorial defaced on anniversary of 2005 attacks with ‘Blair lied thousands died’ graffiti
Even when it brutalises one of its own teenage citizens, America is helpless against Israel
There’s a nasty smell in the political air – and it’s coming from the Tories
Vanessa Feltz criticises 'vile' reaction to Rolf Harris allegations