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Anirban Bhattacharyya’s India’s Money Heist: The Chelembra Bank robbery is a gripping, true account of one of India’s biggest money heists. It chronicles the Kerala Police’s investigation of a bank break-in that led to the disappearance of 80 Kg of gold.

In 2007, a robbery at the Gramin Bank at Chelembra, a sleepy town in Kerala, sent shockwaves throughout the country. The lockers had been broken into and the missing assets were to the tune of 8 crores. A crime of such magnitude was unheard of, and the Police headed by SP P. Vijayan was under intense pressure to crack the case.

Vijayan assembled a team of his best officers to solve this crime. A cat and mouse game ensued where the mastermind of the plot was always two steps ahead. Red herrings were strewn aplenty; Was this the work of Naxalites? How had they managed to blast their way in so easily? Could this be an inside job?

The story is narrated from two perspectives- one of the Police and the other of Babu, the brain behind the bank break-in. Babu is a layered character; meticulous to a fault, and emotionally scarred. Inspired by the movie Dhoom, he aspires to pull off a near-perfect crime. He cleverly manipulates the loopholes in the system, most of which are related to improper identity verification, be it at a mobile shop, or at a hotel. How the Police crack this case forms the rest of this fabulous narrative.

The amount of research and technical detailing is astounding; be it the description of the forensic investigations, or the explanation of the mobile tower mechanism. The Malayalam phrases, dialogues, and tidbits of history inserted, make the reading experience immensely enjoyable. The author has hit the nail on the head with the cultural references, especially the emotional significance of gold to Malayali households. If the gold thali (marriage necklace) of a woman is pawned, everyone in the house will work hard to win it back; it is a matter of pride.

You don’t expect to find humour in a true crime book, but the author manages to pull that off too. There is a recurring Andaaz Apna Apna joke that had me chuckling. The book features photos of the crime scene and the police team that cracked the case. It felt surreal to put a face to the name. The reader develops immense respect for the police force- they work long hours, away from their families, with only limited resources to keep crime in check.

Reading this book was like watching a full-blown potboiler. I do hope Vijayan Sir can be played by Mohanlal (only an icon can play the role of another icon) and Babu by Fahad Fazil (he has the mettle to play a role that is a combination of intelligent and diabolical). Hope to see this adaptation on the big screen very soon!

In summary, India’s Money Heist is a riveting page turner, and what makes it fascinating is that this is a true incident; proving that ‘real life’ is stranger than ‘reel life’!

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