You can’t get unluckier than Samay Agrawal. If you think you have hit the bottom of the pit, pick up a copy of The Debt Collector’s Due . At the end of 174 pages you may want to thank every lucky star in the firmament for not being Samay Agrawal.
Adhirath Sethi’s protagonist, Samay (‘time’ in Hindi) has neither time nor luck on his side. A bright student in school, “often topping the class in maths and frequently sought out by weaker kids to help them with sums”, he comes from an affluent family. With all the “ingredients that one needed to be popular in school”, Samay breezes through his early teens with great confidence. “A certain Saturday”, however, changes his life. Samay rises from bed to get ready for a cricket match early morning and goes back to sleep the next minute. From that moment on, sleep, like the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea , wraps its tentacles around Samay. He sleeps through his college exams, he sleeps on when his father’s business falls apart and the family loses its home, he sleeps till his parents, tired of the parasitical son, kick him out of their tiny flat. It is only after being banished to a small rent-controlled apartment in central Mumbai — a gift from a benevolent uncle — that Samay realises how sleep has robbed him of life. That includes Amrita, the feisty girl from college who left him for a career in journalism many years ago.
“Left with nothing to build his life on”, he walks from office to office with a resumé that is as good as blank. He struggles to pay for a glass of fresh lime soda. He runs errands for his aged neighbours so as to escape paying for any repair and renovations in the building. The only job that comes his way is that of a debt collector. And Samay — well-mannered, well-dressed, even good-looking — is the exact opposite of the image of the debt collector. Just when it seems that Samay is walking into another disaster, Sethi chooses to give him some respite. With his smile and newfound perseverance, Samay manages to trace every defaulter — some of them hiding under tables(!) — and recover the money. Slowly, Samay slips out of his smart casuals into a jet-black suit, in a bid to look more businesslike.
From recovering a few thousand bucks, Samay moves on to collecting lakhs. All seems to be going better than he hoped for until a defaulter, an elderly man, puts a gun to his neck and commits suicide. That spells the end of the only good time in Samay’s life. Sethi pulls Samay away from the tree-lined avenues of the Parsi colony — the scene of death — and the serpentine alleys of Crawford Market. Amrita makes a dramatic comeback and the plot shifts to Panchgani.
As we said earlier, Samay will make you feel good about yourself, and you might want to laud Sethi for doing fairly well at that. Except, the twists and turns after the re-entry of the college flame border on the filmi , which, again, you may not have a problem with. Sethi may leave you with images of Amol Palekar, the evergreen simpleton from Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. But do look out for flashes of the chivalrous hero forced to grow up overnight. What is strikingly real is the portrayal of people living under huge debts — disturbingly common in the age of instant loans and credit cards — and the drastic measures they take to evade the collection agent.