Swati Chaturvedi’s Daddy’s Girl is the quintessential metro read. The novel has it all – sex scandals, incest, a gruesome murder that shakes the bourgeoisie, and heavy melodrama played out against the backdrop of India’s all-pervading corruption. The protagonist is an honest journalist fighting to prove that an influential lawyer and his family – the Nalwas – killed their teenage daughter. Politically-motivated hawks with vested interests, corrupt cops and unknown powers from the Rashtrapati Bhavan all pull the chords of the narrative. There’s also a sob story of a distant, mentally-challenged poor cousin – the other victim who is forgotten by the media that is feeding the frenzy with plump conspiracies on prime time television. Go on, prod your memory. Doesn’t it remind you of the Aarushi Talwar case?
Included in the cast of characters are some archetypal Indian caricatures – bloated politicians and police officers. Sadly, they don’t have the dimensions it takes to admire or hate them. The central character, Meera Upadhyay, isn’t extraordinary either. She fits into the greased mould of a righteous journalist, one driven by her need for newspaper bylines. The cop Arun Singh, however, has a lot of depth and colour. In a novel dominated by the binaries of good and bad, he is the only character who oscillates between the greys. He struggles with a system eager to sabotage his investigation even as he attempts to ensure justice for the young victims at the cost of his career.
Still, even with all these sensational elements, Daddy’s Girl falls short. The plot is concocted with the reader in mind but all its scandals, as revolting as they may be, fail to make an impact. There is little or no intrigue in the story that demands the thrill and pace of a mystery. What stands out, though, are the descriptions of the power nexus. While the cops with their big bellies and crooked smiles are portrayed as being intent on extortion and on doing the bidding of Delhi’s presiding politicians, Daddy’s Girl is really a harsh critique of the fourth estate. From scripted stories to newsroom theatrics to augment TRPs and viewership, Chaturvedi has turned the spotlight on a profession that is ideally supposed to deliver just the facts.
In catering to the economics of publishing and vying for the best seller spot by retreading a gruesome true story, Daddy’s Girl has, incidentally, emulated the monster it attempts to expose. Yet, there’s a lesson to be learnt here – that rumours and controversies will always thrive until another upright citizen is curious enough to search for the truth.