Shashi Warrier’s The Pillow Talk Movies is a political satire set in contemporary India, with a large cast of devious, thoroughly greedy characters out to get what they want at any cost. The narrative begins towards the end of the tenure of an unspecified Ruling Alliance headed by a weak, inept prime minister who is beholden to a dictatorial Party president who is mostly off the scene “to get a mysterious and possibly embarrassing ailment treated in the US of A". Her son, whom she calls the Boy, is referred throughout the book as the Future of the Country.

Need one say more about which alliance is referred to here?

In fact, the timing of this book’s publication, safely after said alliance has been replaced by another that has as many quirks characterizing it did make this reader wonder. However, this cast remains mostly at the periphery, and it is their party colleagues, hatchet men, well-wishers and other assorted characters that take the plot forward.

As befits a political farce, very little about these people’s actions and reactions make sense, but mostly in a good way. Essentially, an ageing party MP who knows everybody’s secrets is going mad, driving his colleagues, family members, political rivals and even the judiciary into a tizzy, as he has solid evidence of everyone’s nefarious doings.

The scramble to make sure he does not do anything that will embarrass his party just before the elections sets in motion an absurd, and unpredictable set of events. Among the specimens of humanity drawn into the melee are a “pudgy, bespectacled" woman assassin inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, a plagiarizing educationist who is a man dressed up as a woman (for reasons too complicated to mention here) and a rich businessman who opens a brothel that offers “happy hours" to clients.

Most of these characters (and there are many) are given back stories that are as wacky as their present circumstances. Thankfully, most of the humour works well, making this a surprisingly perceptive read at times.

For a book that uses humour to make some important points, a few shortcomings must be mentioned. Given that a lot of the action is set in a brothel, no mention is made of the exploitative nature of the work the women perform—they are depicted as mere instruments to please men who avail themselves lavishly of these “services". For instance, one woman is described as a “flower-like twenty-something-year-old with a mouth like a velvet-lined suction pump". There are a few references to rape/sexual harassment narrated in a matter-of-fact manner or played for laughs, which could have been avoided.

Much like in real life, there is no redeeming arc here—most of the characters are so abhorrent that there really is not one person the reader wants to root for—and that is the author’s intention. The real tragedy, however, is this—there is not a single instance that will make the reader shake her head and say “Nah, this can’t happen in India".

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