Manu Joseph’s 2010 drama fiction novel Serious Men has been adapted into a film. Starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and directed by Sudhir Mishra, it will be dropping on Netflix on October 2.
Joseph’s novel centers around Ayyan Mani, a Dalit who like many others lives in the Mumbai slums. However, unlike them, he works at the Institute of Theory and Research, as an assistant to the director. If the class divisions are broadly marked, so is the caste. Posited so close to social mobility and yet acutely aware of not being part of it, Mani crafts a tale of lies and deception to carve his own path, all the while weaponising people’s perception of him being the underdog. It is his 10-year-old who wittingly becomes part of this web of lies as his father goes to limits to convince the world that his son is a prodigy. Apart from painting a tight portrait of caste politics, the 2010 novel also subverts ideas like underdog and privilege, humanises them, and through its compelling prose also compels to look at people beyond concepts that are assigned to them.
Serious Men was hailed and even won a number of accolades including The Hindu Literary Prize and the PEN Open Book Award in 2011. On winning the former, the author was quoted as saying in The Guardian, “Indian writers in English usually take a very sympathetic and compassionate view of the poor, and I find that fake and condescending.”
“Most Indians readers of literary fiction written in English are of a certain class, and one of the recreations of the Indian upper class is compassion for the poor. I think the poor in India are increasingly very empowered, and the time has come when the novel can portray them in a more realistic way. Ayyan is still an underdog but that is due to his circumstances, not due to his intellect or aspirations,” he had added.
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