The one time I felt terrible about an Agatha Christie novel was when I hadn’t actually read it. After picking up a copy from the college library, I was walking to my room when a sadistic idiot passing by me read the headline on the cover, saying, “Oh, the narrator is the killer!” Shame!
So I sent that book back to the library. Which isn’t saying much, given that Christie (1890–1976) wrote the frickin’ 66 murder mysteries, in addition to a collection of 14 short stories, at a pace that probably included a book between breakfast and bed.
Of course, she dominated the bookshelf after she died—only by the Bible and Shakespeare, apparently. And among the English-speaking Indian children of the 1980s and ’90s, in particular, Enid Blyton and the Hardy Boyz and Nancy Drew were best rivaled by the series-writing syndicate.
The country phenomenon had much to do with an Indian bookstore chain established in Allahabad in the late 1800s called A.H. Wheeler.
Deployed on every Indian Railway platform, it encouraged children to pick up a book with just the size and depth for long distance train rides.
Ideally one crusty to go, and the other to go back. So what if it deals with crimes in the posh, polite societies the train was passing through?
Closer to home, with Hindi, the oldies probably picked up the racist novels of the likes of Surendra Mohan Pathak in cheap paperbacks with catchy titles. The influence of which we still see in popular entertainment.
Latest movies and series like Haseen Dilruba and Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen are what, if not an ode to AH Wheeler money-raising pulp! Not that Christie has been left alone.
The film Gumnaam (1965), a thriller based on which novel by Christie, was rated the best of all time, in a worldwide poll on the author’s 125th anniversary in 2015? and then there Were None.
Only if you watch Stale Chewing Gum – Anonymous (as I just did on Amazon Prime Video), you can expect a ‘skip song’ button to lead to the bloody ending. Not that the rest of it matters much.
To be fair to the composer Shankar-Jaikishan, he sang a relatively obscure song, ‘Jaan Pehchaan Lo’ in anonymity. I’ve seen at least two Firangis in my life who claimed it was the only desi track they’d ever heard! “Get to Know” developed a life of its own in the West, first appearing on an LA TV station in the 90s.
This was followed by featuring in the opening credits of Scarlett Johansson’s black comedy, Ghost World (2001), a Heineken commercial, a video game Far Cry 4, an Australian cover … Either way, Gumnan was no Agatha Christie. .
I’ll tell you what it is. In the most heartbreaking moment for Desi Christie fans, Bollywood actor Ali Fazal is seen as Lynette (Gal Gadot)’s personal lawyer, Uncle Edward, while egg-headed, Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) Branagh Let’s check yourself. The directorial, Death on the Nile (2022), is going on in a theater near you!
Ali, known as Guddu Bhaiya from Mirzapur, qualifies as Edward with the firm, British upper-crust, stiff upper lip, matched only by the full-fledged Urdu-speaking desi Tom Alter, who has spent almost his entire life. Played a Brit in life. No one is complaining. You totally root for him as soon as he shows up in the cinema halls of Bombay.
This period film itself remains faithful to the original text of 1937. There’s hardly any re-ducks/re-mastering here—as is the case mainly with Sherlock Holmes.
There’s a kind of adult stillness and cinematic scale that you inevitably find reserved for Poirot, a truly children’s series.
It can tell you from experience: The kind of pastoral beauty and enchanting landscapes – never mind the exquisiteness of a Nile cruise – rarely encounter you visiting Cairo now. But it’s insignificant, of course.
To give you a sense of how seriously filmmakers take Christie’s – consider reading Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, arguably the best book on filmmaking by a filmmaker.
The unmatched eclectic Lumet made nearly 75 films, many of them masterpieces (Network, Dog Day Afternoon, 12 Angry Men, etc.). He devotes perhaps the longest passage in his book to how he pulled off Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
Kis Branagh revisited in 2017—the one you see on Hostar + Disney, stunned only by the quality of the cast—Penelope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench onward—who clearly don’t mind moving parts. have taken. But these actors are fans. Branagh craves the chance to test the symmetry of boiled eggs in the Orient and eat only sweets in the Nile. He wants to play Poirot.
How come some viewers can’t see still? This is nostalgia. The Nile and the Orient are largely similar except that all suspects at the crime scene have been confiscated. Brought on board the first ship to protect his client, as if he were Hercules, it also reveals Poirot’s past love life, and why he feels that romance never goes unpunished.
Say, what if I told you that all suspects are murderers? nothing changes. Everyone knows the stories. Besides, I didn’t tell you that, and it’s not Death on the Nile anyway.
Mayank Shekhar has tried to make sense of the people’s culture. He tweeted @mayankw14
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.