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Book Review
‘Faking It’: Amrita Chowdhury’s art thriller
Amrita Chowdhury’s debut novel is a rare art thriller. An avid art enthusiast and collector herself, her ‘Faking It’ is strategically set amidst the fondness and frenzy for art. The engrossing crime tale is deceptively woven around a frantic chase for trophy art.

Tara Malhotra is an affluent newly-returned Indian compelled to leave her lucrative job as a finance expert in the States. She unwillingly accompanies her husband transferred back to Mumbai, and finds it tough to get adjusted to the sudden geographical and cultural transformation. Searching for succor and keen to find something worthwhile into her glossy, bejeweled but hollow, high-society life, the lady decides to develop taste for art. Keen to discover joy of collecting and displaying art, she is introduced to a recently-stumbled-upon masterpiece by Amrita Sher-Gil. She cannot simply allow it to fall in some one else’s hands, she is told.

The naive art novice musters all her energy and financial resources to acquire it. She puts in an astronomical sum to acquire the legendary artist’s supposedly rare work. However, soon doubts are raised over the authenticity of the work. The painting, supposed to be a priceless possession, unfortunately turns out to be a fake. The twist of fate and a chain of personal tragedies devastate her life. But Tara Malhotra decides to fight back, determined to unearth the roots of forgery. As she launches her search against the culprit, skeletons start tumbling out of the cupboard. The captivating drama catapults readers into a flurry of mental stimulation.

‘Faking It’ is a wittily written, absorbing and deeply entertaining crime thriller built around the usually calm and serene realms of art. It has propelled the first-time novelist into media attention. She has been through a rollercoaster ride just like the one narrated in her fascinating fictional take with a tinge of reality. Incidentally, the ex-IITian, ex-UC Berkeley and a number-crunching engineer, Amrita Chowdhury holds seven-US-patents for semiconductor fabrications. She has been collecting art for over eight years. She terms her work of fiction, an exciting art thriller. Revealing the secret of the sparks of imagination that spurred this new creative sojourn, she has mentioned in an interview, "We were needed to study other courses, too, at IIT. I pursued a course in art history."

For her breathtaking work of fiction, the author has thoroughly researched contemporary Indian art market, drawing comparisons with the western art markets. The immediate provocation to document the ‘fake’ drama, as she recounts, ‘was huge hue and cry raised over a Picasso work on the online sales section of Wal-Mart. The dust only settled after the late master's family declared it to be a fake.

Although a fake Amrita Sher-Gil, mistakenly affiliated to the contemporary genre, the author has conceived a fast-paced thriller in the dizzying backdrop of Indian art. The art world in India is evolving. The book makes an effort to expand the vocabulary of art. “For education of art to happen, there’s a growing need to make a lot more information available,” she points out. According to her, the solution to this menace (of fakes) is educating art lovers and orienting them about the value and credibility of works they buy. Art education in India is still a neglected area in spite of the stellar growth of Indian art.

What also keeps the book engaging is the human drama depicting a reverse migration tale; the strained relationship of the couple caused by the husband’s transfer back to Mumbai, further widened by her purchase of a fake painting. The book subtly tackles the high-gloss world of homeward NRIs and the problems they face in re-settling in the land of their origin. It’s the enchanting evolution of Tara, a fun-loving, gutsy protagonist who decides to tackle problems head on, as the author puts it.

‘Faking It’ (Pages: 340; Price: Rs 250) has been released through Hachette in June 2009. Hachette UK's books have been widely available in India for many years. The publishing firm, looking for the fully rounded presence in the country, hopes to do so with ‘Faking It’.