This adaptation of V. S. Naipaul’s first novel, with a screenplay by Caryl Phillips and direction by Ismail Merchant, is the lightly comic tale of Ganesh Ransumair (Aasif Mandvi) and his rise from poverty to political office. Set mostly in a small Indian community in Trinidad in the ’40s and ’50s, it’s full of colorful characters and quaint but not cutesy incidents as it follows its hero’s accidental rise to prominence. Accidental because Ransumair sets out to be a famous writer and ends up being something else altogether.
For Ransumair, books are nearly sacred items and he longs to be among those who create them. His auto-didactical approach to learning how to write consists of spending hours copying passages from other people’s books, not to incorporate them into his own work but rather to get a feel for the flow and rhythm of published writing. It’s a very literal version of what most developing writers do, which is to mimic, consciously or intuitively, those writers they admire, at least those within reach.
Unfortunately his ambition is greater than his talent and when Ransumair finally produces his debut book, it’s an unpromising pamphlet called 101 Questions and Answers on the Hindu Religion. Realizing that he’s not going to make his fortune as an author, Ransumair decides to follow in his late father’s footsteps as a masseur, which in this context means more than just kneading the calves of the overworked. It also includes a type of faith healing, complete with elaborate garb and pseudo-mystic double-talk. Finally he’s found his forte and he soon becomes a popular local shaman, abetting his practice by publishing more pamphlets, which have now taken on a decidedly pop-metaphysical bent.
Although Ransumair develops from a naive and aspiring writer-scholar to a rather pompous fraud, he remains a likable character because there’s no malice in his deceptions, only the innocent desire to make a mark. The first two-thirds of the film, with Ransumair contending with an impatient wife and a rascally father-in-law, maintain a low key and unpatronizingly amused tone, but once he gets involved in politics, the film strains for a significance it doesn’t achieve. Ransumair is an engaging character, but the wider implications of his progress are beyond the film’s reach.
Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail him at email@example.com.
We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.
Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.
Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.
Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.