BBC Radio 4, 1-15 January 2012
Ayeesha Menon's decision to relocate the action of Dickens' Martin
Chuzzlewit in contemporary Mumbai proved a sound one. While India has undergone rapid economic expansion in recent
years, the process of transition has proved painful; the old social order has been challenged, and poverty has rapidly increased.
Such themes are especially important in Dickens' novel, which takes a searching look at the effects of capitalism, and how
it can destroy existing family structures.
Menon's adaptation portrayed a family at war with itself. Martin Chuzzlewit
(Roshan Seth) lived in the company of his carer, twenty-four-year-old Mary (Nimrat Kaur), who would inherit nothing on
Martin's death. However this arrangement was thrown into disarray when Martin discovered that his grandson Mickey (Zafar Karachiwala), had fallen in love with Mary. Martin disinherited Mickey, and pursued a
hermit-like existence, unwilling to see anyone if he could help it.
Other family were prepared to try anything to get their hands on Martin's money.
They spent much of their time concocting intrigues, while expressing profound mistrust for one another. In this
kind of dog-eat-dog environment, virtues such as love and respect were forgotten; everyone was expendable in the relentless
pursuit of money. Sacha Puttnam's ominous-sounding music, which was frequently heard in the background as the characters spoke, expressed
the emptiness of this world. The episode
ended with an unexpected death - the inevitable consequence, perhaps, of a fearsomely competitive environment.
The story was narrated by orphan Thomas (Karan Pandit), apprenticed to Martin's cousin Pinto
(Rajit Kapur). Rather naively Thomas expected Pinto to promote him on account of his years of loyal service; he did not realize
how the world had changed. Thomas was a representative of what might be described as the 'old order' - one that placed a premium
on loyalty and respect, and did not value money for its own sake. Although dimly aware of how contemporary Mumbai had
changed, Thomas did not really want to accept it: when Mickey asked Thomas to drive with him, Thomas politely declined,
in the belief that this type of behaviour was not appropriate for a mere servant.
Recorded on location in Mumbai, John Dryden's production vividly caught the sense
of teeming life in the city, full of extended families living and working close together. In this kind of environment,
an apparently insignificant word or action can lead to major consequences.