India Today

Mastering a New Trade

Having excelled in several genres, Ashok Banker now checks the right boxes with a gripping thriller

- —Aditya Mani Jha

Ashok Banker is one of those rare Indian writers whose body of work has always been hard to categorise. They have written coming-of-age novels set in 1980s Bombay (Vertigo, Byculla Boy),

Ramayana and Mahabharat­a re-imaginings, sequences of novels about Krishna and Kali as well as a couple of gripping whodunits. They have been a journalist and a screenwrit­er for television.

A Kiss After Dying, Banker’s latest work, is a ‘howdunit’ in the best tradition of James Hadley Chase and Ira Levin (whose novel A Kiss

Before Dying has inspired Banker’s title and the skeleton of the story).

The novel follows its protagonis­t Hannah (an Indian posing as a student in Zurich) and her elaborate revenge plot against the superficia­lly charming, unscrupulo­us Ricky Manfredi, whose super-rich father was responsibl­e for the deaths of Hannah’s father and brother many years ago. A Kiss After

Dying is expertly plotted and its irresistib­le anti-hero never lets the action flag.

Talking about their fourdecade-long career, Banker

says: “I knew I wanted to be a novelist when I was nine years old. I began writing my first novel at the age of 12 and completed it at 15. I worked as a journalist in order to learn the craft of storytelli­ng. Even in those news and feature stories, I soon found my strength lay in longform writing. In short, I am a book writer first and last. It’s my first, last, and only true love.”

A Kiss After Dying, like the novel that inspired its name and basic structure, is about a ‘righteous avenger’ who feels that the ends justify the means, a luxury that was often not extended to young, female protagonis­ts—up until Gillian Flynn’s bestsellin­g and widely acclaimed thriller Gone Girl, of course. “What Flynn did in Gone Girl was nothing less than the reinventio­n of the thriller, taking it out of the misogynist, chauvinist, testostero­ne-driven domain of male action heroics and setting it in deceptivel­y placid suburbia, distilled through feminine angst, paranoia and #metoo distrust of male drives,” says Banker.

A Kiss Before Dying represents the best qualities of contempora­ry genre fiction: A KISS AFTER DYING IS ABOUT A ‘RIGHTEOUS AVENGER’ WHO FEELS THAT THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS, A LUXURY RARELY EXTENDED TO YOUNG, FEMALE PROTAGONIS­TS whip-smart, coolly ironic and propelled by complex motivation­s, this is a thriller that will have you up way past your bedtime. It is also incredibly cinematic, with a lot of the chapters clearly informed by the basics of episodic screenwrit­ing. Banker, of course, was the writer of the 1995 Englishlan­guage Doordarsha­n TV series A Mouthful of Sky, produced by Mahesh Bhatt and Amit Khanna’s production house Plus Channel.

Featuring future stars like Rahul Bose, Milind Soman, Ayesha Dharker and R. Madhavan, many of the show’s episodes had been directed by Bhatt himself. Banker says, “For Mouthful, I ended up writing the entire show myself, working almost around the clock for almost a year and a half, except for two weeks. Over 250 halfhour episodes, or 125 hours of television, written at the rate of a script a day, from story to screenplay to final shooting scripts, all written on the fly by me in real time.”

Banker recalls how there would only be a backup of five or seven episodes, so almost anything they wrote on Monday would be on air on DD Metro by Friday or the following week, at best. No better training than TV, when it comes to writing quickly and effectivel­y, and it has held Banker in good stead—they have now written scores of books across several genres, and at 58, they are still going strong. ■

 ?? ?? A KISS AFTER DYING by Ashok Banker MICHAEL JOSEPH `320; 400 pages
A KISS AFTER DYING by Ashok Banker MICHAEL JOSEPH `320; 400 pages
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