Though Anver Abdulla is an accomplished name in Malayalam Detective fiction (he has given us some genuinely memorable detective Novels like Compartment and Onnaam Saakshi Sethuramaiyyer), not many know that he is also a screenwriter and Director. The writer’s fascination for the film industry has been evident in some of his past work (Operation Blue Star, Republic, Camera- the Novella in ‘Kappal Chethathinte Raathry’). But it is in 1980 (his latest work and the fourth installment in the Detective Perumaal franchise), his knowledge and mastery over the visual medium has come out in full glory.
One night, an old acquaintance turns up in Detective Perumal’s house with a rather odd request- re-investigate the accidental death of the yesteryear Super Star Jagan! Jagan died almost 40 years back in the sets of a film named Padayorukkam during its Helicopter climax fight sequence shooting, which had received widespread media attention. So, when the Detective is confronted with this rather strange request, he is taken aback by the sheer absurdity of this request and he immediately dismisses it.But a rather strange turn of events forces him to go back on this decision and pretty soon Perumal finds himself in the middle of the most challenging murder investigation of his career. Will he be successful in bringing out the mystery behind one of the most ‘notorious accidents’ from the past? 1980 is the story (but not limited to ) of this latest investigation by Detective Perumal.
1980 is a work never confines within the limited realms of crime fiction .This can also be called as a a work of speculative and altered historical fiction. With almost all the characters modelled on real-life personalities and real-life events, and the author’s perspective and imagination spicing up the proceedings, it often becomes impossible to distinguish the thin line between fact and fiction. Even the enigma around the late actor Jayan’s unreleased film (Panchapaandavar, incidentally set in Bombay) which had a stellar cast of Jayan, Raghavan, Poojappura Ravi and two others gets the author’s take in 1980. The Novel also serves as an ode to the Malayalam Cinema of the 70 s and 80 s. The story also has genuine heart warming moments. The episode involving the yesteryear stunt master , and his final moments were delicately done. It is also pretty evident that the writer has also been inspired by some of the youtube interviews of yester year technicians of Malayalam and Tamil Cinema. It is remarkable that Anver Abdulla could come up with a gripping tale around an incident that shook not only the Film industry , but the whole of Indian Film Industry in the 80 s. The incident also paved the way for serious debates about the safety in the film shooting sets.
On the downside, the book also has it’s own share of cheesy moments. Some of the wild guesses of Perumal, including the speculative theory about Jagan living a secret life in America turned out to be unintentionally funny. Like wise, the portions pertaining to M.V.R’s crush with Saumini was also stretched a bit too far. Also at times, the reader finds it extremely difficult to differentaiate the real life personality from the fictional character. You also feel like Kamalhassan, Prem Nazir, MG.R, Latha , Balan K Nair, I.V Sasi, Seema et al are reprising their real life roles as fictional characters in the Novel which was some sort of dampener for the reader in me.The climax was also a bit convenient.
On the whole, these minor flaws aside, 1980 is a brilliantly written work by one of the finest writers of Detective Fiction in Malayalam.