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March 27, 2011

Book Review - 17 : The Long Road

Author: Dr. Vivek Banerjee
Publisher: Cedar Books

It is the story of the young doctors as they pursue PG in medical college and then make their way into the real world. Rahul and Sarika are in love right from the UG days but they keep fighting till a potentially fatal accident decides it for them. Hina, a young women from the by-lanes of Bhiwandi, find the lifestyle of her co-students more difficult to adjust to than the academic challenges. Ranjiv, a rich kid turned rebel who would travel his own path rather than the one laid by his famous doctor dad. Sagarika, who finds her American dream shattered unexpectedly.

I was skeptical to pick up this one, mainly because the theme of Medical romance has been exploited numerous times in the past specially on Indian TV with shows like Sanjivani on Star plus and Dill Mill Gayye on Star one. Most of these shows start as medical dramas but ultimately side track into full blown romances. 'The Long road', however, creates an optimum balance between the challenges of the medical profession and interpersonal relationships of doctors and hospitals.

Not as funny as Anirban Basu's Bombay Rains, Bombay girls nor as emotionally compelling as Erich Segal's Doctors, its a done-and-dusted kind of book which won't stay in your head too long once you are done reading it. But it has inherent sincerity attached towards it, the dialogues are relatable and effectively brings about the pressures of the medical profession. Relying more on content than treatment, the book moves at a brisk pace shuffling between the vulnerabilities and complications of professional and personal lives of its characters. The charm of the narrative lies in its simplicity and your ability to feel empathic with the four main characters here.

However, the 5th character of Sagarika is poorly developed and could have been completely edited out as it makes an iota of a difference to the main story. She disappears miraculously after her initial introduction scene at the start of the PG degree and appears only on the last day of the college. The twist in her 'American life' is not only cliché but so predictable, you can guess it as early as the first scene after her marriage to a NRI husband.

Paradoxically, the strength of the book is also its drawback. It is so simple in its narrative that the inherent drama is almost absent. The conflicts between the characters are resolved too quickly and too easily making you wonder what was the fuss all about in the first place. The only saving grace is tight editing and avoiding self indulgences which have become so common with debut authors. On the other hand, it suffers the same too-much-info-in-chapter-title as Chitralekha Paul's Delayed Monsoon, it just gives away all the suspense.

I am going with 2.5/5 for Vivek Banerjee's first book, 'The long road'. It's fun in parts and at 176 pages, it is a easy, breezy read. If you are fan of simple storytelling and not looking for too much investment in a book, this one is just right for you. But I tell you honestly, Dr. Banerjee can do much better than this!

March 26, 2011

Book Review - 16 : Of Wooing, Woes & Wanderings

Author: Amitabha Chatterjee
Publisher: Gyaana Books

Rajarshi can barely stammer a few words in Spanish. Marisel does not know a word of English. He is an young, inexperienced Indian with the baggage of Indian values in tow. She is an expressive Venezulean, bold and open in her ways. They met at the welcome party to his new job at the oil rig. And hence begins Rajarshi's humorous saga, across continents and cultures, as his job takes him from one oil rig to another.

OWWW is set in a unique milieu of oil-rigs around the world. The tales of Rajarshi move from Venezuela, Syria, Qatar, Egypt, Oman and India traversing lust, love, cultural differences and relationships in between. The narrative moves at a brisk pace, never indulging in unnecessary details than required and provides a feeling of belief about the characters. The work related issues and politics behind close doors is assured and at times, remind you of your own professional life. It is unpretentious in its approach, which is a highlight considering the author himself has spent years working in those oil rigs. In the end, it traverses journey of Rajarshi from a carefree bachelor to a responsible husband and a father which will charm you endlessly.

The real strength of the book lies in sensitive handling of a cross-cultural romantic relationship shared between the two main protagonists. It has that believable, non-filmy romance between them which is not easy to find these days in Indian fiction. Both of them share a smoldering chemistry and their sexual advances are well captured. The married life situations are real, the marital problems are common, their reactions to those problems are non-superficial and cleverly avoids any OTT knee-jerk actions. Hence, when the twist do come in the story... it doesn't look contrived at all because you know exactly where the venom in their words is coming from.

It does have certain bumpy moments interspersed in between these numerous travelogues. The oil-rigs portions are very dry sometimes, devoid of any humour and looks straight out of those National Geographic documentaries. There is a sub-plot dealing with the mysterious death of the cousin in Calcutta and Rajarshi rushing back to encounter it, but in the end it is self-indulgent, don't quite fit in the bigger scheme of things and required some editing to cut down in length. The Spanish dialogues may just irk a few readers, but they are kept shorter in length to keep the interest alive.

My favourite scene in the book is when Ankit, a colleague of Rajarshi explains how the owner of the oil rig spend on his sexual adventures from Bangkok to Dubai to Bali in one single weekend. It is a hard hitting scene because it brings out the irony of a man who is working so hard at his job to earn just that extra for his family, who incidentally is slipping away from him because of the same job. On a deeper level, it also highlights the gaping divide between the haves and have-nots in the society where the haves are becoming increasingly more stronger and the have-nots are left behind to make all the compromises.

I am going with 3/5 for Amitabha Chatterjee's first book, Of Wooing, Woes & Wanderings. It is set in a new, almost unexplored world and has a bunch of wonderful moments. It does meanders along in between, but holds on to the narrative with some poignant and engrossing writing. If you are a reader who likes to explore a different world in books, this one is just that right pick!

March 25, 2011

Chicken Soup for the Indian Couple's Soul

A short story penned by me will appear in The Chicken Soup for the Indian Couple's Soul. This anthology of 101 short stories is edited by Rajyashree Dutt of Write-Arm fame, and published by Westland Publications. It should be out in the book stores by the end of November 2011. This particular edition of CS series deal with relationship themes faced by couples along the lines of love and support, overcoming obstacles, coping with death and dying, aging and living your dreams.

For those who are not aware of Chicken Soup format, here is a little blurb. The series, which is an old American format consists of short stories featuring real inspirational narratives. Launched first in 1993, the series now has more than 200 titles under it and is available in 54 languages across the world. Debuted in India about 3 years back, there are several titles mushrooming the book stores under The Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul series.

At this point of time, i do not have an exact idea of other writers who have contributed towards this book but will keep updating details in due time along with it's availability across Indian bookstores and relevant websites. And of course, i will be reviewing the book right here on this blog as soon as i get a copy of my own.

March 20, 2011

Book review - 15 : Truly, Madly, Deeply

Author: Faraaz Kazi
Publisher: Cedar Books

A pompous Rahul is head over heels in love with Seema, his beautiful female equivalent from the same school. After a whirlwind of innocent encounters, their teenage romance blossoms yet both of them never confess their love to each other. A series of misunderstandings and ego clashes cause them to drift apart. Rahul loses his sanity and ultimately his love. By the time he realises the magnitude of his loss, it appears to be too late. Will Rahul get back his Seema? Or will Seema never realise the depth of Rahul’s feelings?

Rahul Kapoor is straight out of those Bollywood movies of the 1990s, a complete all-rounder. He dances like a dream, give 3 minute long speeches without a stutter, hit sixes to win a cricket match, fits the tall-fair-handsome persona to the T, make even teachers sing on his tune, bash up rapists to save a fellow acquaintance and every girl is dying to be with him, be it Mumbai or Pennsylvania. Even Rajnikant will be proud of his persona, i tell you.

Stripped to it's bone, TMD is coming-of-the-age story of an individual who has fallen in love to lose everything later on owing to ego-issues and misunderstandings. Dwindling between past and the present, the narrative keeps you on a roller coaster ride till the story is concentrated on the fledgling adolescence romance between the two main protagonists. But it goes downhill when bogged with unnecessary detailing of extra curricular activities in the school. Three consecutive chapters - a Lagaan inspired cricket match, an overly melodramatic democracy speech in the debate competition and an excruciatingly long quiz competition completely saps away your energy and makes you wonder where is the narrative heading. These are nothing but self indulgences on the writer's part, contribute very little to the main story and required some serious editing.

You can pretty much tell if the book is working for you if you can instantly connect with the characters. In the second half of the book, i couldn't really do so with either Rahul or Seema. There are enough indicators with references of K3G, chalthe chalthe and second season of KBC that this story is set in early 2000s, time where internet has universally been incorporated in our daily lives. But then why in this whole world, Rahul never uses a simple e-mail to clarify the misconception is quite beyond me. In those days when conflicts in relationships were quickly resolved over IMs and letters, why Rahul is hell bent on destructing himself left me quite confused. Similarly, why a career-oriented girl like Seema suddenly decides to get engaged to her first cousin or never bothers to confront Rahul even once is bewildering to say the least.

The author is much more sure footed when it comes to portraying the romance between Rahul and Seema in the first part of the book. There is a charming chemistry between them and scenes at the beginning oozes warmth and affection. Their telephonic conversations, the digs at each other and the intrinsic humour in the writing will remind of your own school days. These portions are engaging because they turn out to be regular situations with which we can identify with our first crush or love. The trouble is that these terrific moments are buried into too much plot and too much preachy love chatter. The story needed to be more shorter and less flabby to create a better impact on readers. Moreover, the transitions between past and present should have been more smoother and the poems/quotes/snippets interspersed between the narrative act as speed-breakers and ultimately, adds to the length of the book.

I am going with 2.5/5 for Faraaz kazi's first book, Truly Madly Deeply. It doesn't hit all the right marks it sets for itself but it provides just enough crackle to keep you hooked till the twist in the end. Read it on a day when your romantic hormones are in over-drive, you may not be entirely disappointed. A fresh voice on the writing circuit, but very self indulgent and exhausting in the end.

March 17, 2011

Book review - 14 : The Diary of a Social Butterfly

Author: Moni Mohsin
Publisher: Random House India

Let me start with the basics, the book is inspired from the collection of author's own columns written for Pakistan's national weekly, The Friday Times. It is in the form of a journal written during a crucial period in Pakistan history from 2001-2008 as the country faces tribulations - from 9/11 to the tsunami to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Here we meet Butterfly, Pakistan's most lovable but silly socialite. An avid party goer, inspired misspeller and unwittingly acute observer of Pakistani high society...she is unfazed as the world around her glides through in turmoil. Each of her diary entry begins with two contrasting headings, a political heading, for her husband Janoo as she fondly calls him, and another one to her own self.

To be entirely honest, The diary of a social butterfly doesn't actually feel like a book at all because there is no cohesion. At 228 pages, it is just a selection of columns slapped back-to-back in a chronological order. Books like these are small miracles of life, no one from the author to the editor to the publisher knew what actually they are trying to do with the written material. You look at them, and wonder how, at any stage of its publishing, anyone could have thought a little about the lack of a plot in the script. The characters go in and out of the narrative at their own whims and fancies and have nothing to show in terms of character sketches or growth.

The humour is derived from the constant misspellings and incorrect pronunciations, which keeps you a little engaged at the start of the book. So, angina attack becomes vagina attack, botox become buttocks and Bangkok becomes bangcock. All this makes you howl with laughter, but it gets boring after a point. After all, how much humour you can extract by being dumb. The jokes starts drying up, the one-liners become corny and you start to get fidgety while reading it. It's a book that compels you to ask many, many questions but offer very few answers in return.

On the other hand, reading about the brand orgy in this silently reminded me the reason why i have always disliked Sophie Kinsella's Shopholic series. After all, how much fun you can extract from the mad "excitement" of owning designer wears and shopping for them. I can safely say after 28 years of my existence on this planet, i really don't understand this facet of women. I mean, what is such a BIG deal about owning a brand new Louis Vuitton bag or a Gucci matching belt.

I am going with a generous 1.5/5 for Moni Mohsin's 'The life of a social butterfly'. There are some genuine LOL moments, hilarious one liners and kept me in spirits. But after that, i was seriously bored. Try it, you may feel different about it. Just filling up the pages with blonde dumb talks is definitely not my way of spending good 3 hours with a book. I am definitely not chasing this butterfly again in the future. (Yes, there are talks of a sequel, #&&!#****$**$*!!!)

March 15, 2011

Book Review - 13 : Chanakya's Chant

Author: Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher: Westland Publications

A hunted, haunted Chanakya vows revenge for the gruesome murder of his beloved father. Cold, cunning, calculating, cruel, he becomes the most powerful political strategist in India pulling off a wicked and astonishing victory and succeeds in installing Chandragupta on the throne of the mighty Mauryan empire. But history, which exults in repeating itself, revives Chanakya two and a half millennia later, in the avatar of Gangasagar Mishra, a Brahmin teacher in smalltown India who becomes puppeteer to a host of ambitious individuals—including a certain slumchild who grows up into a beautiful and powerful woman, Chandni. Can this wily pandit—who preys on greed, venality and sexual deviance—bring about another miracle of a united India?

When was the last time you read a book wishing you could start reading it again as soon as you complete it so that the excitement in your stomach stays longer? Well, Chanakya's Chant provides one such instance of THAT sheer pleasure in flipping through the pages. There are so many plots, sub-plots, flash-backs, intrigues and counter-intrigues that you definitely need a master guide to keep a straight track. Going for a parallel narrative, the author presents a stunning amalgamation of the past and the present. The life of the two main protagonists - Chanakya (2300 years ago) and Gangasagar (in 1900s) are identical but take entirely different routes to achieve their means, ultimately turning it into a thriller novel.

Watch the trailer before start reading as it provides a nice build-up to the book. And it may also helps to read about Chanakya so that you are not caught off-guard with the history when the action begins as early as the second chapter. Released recently by Shashi Tharoor, the main strength of the book lies in its extensive research of the Chanakya era and cleverly mixing the details to present nuances of current politics, corruption and twisting of principles based on one's own convenience. The dialogues are witty and charming, and even though they do get corny at times, you tend to neglect them in the fast pace provided during the story telling. It is a little funny when Chanakya utter a liberal dose of cuss words, but as they say it's all in the game.

True that some of the characters are unidimensional, there is very little growth curve for them and may leave you underwhelmed. But then the story is not about side-kicks, they are mere puppets in this fascinating tale of two cunning and manipulative people in politics who will go to any length to make things work for their proteges - Chandragupta Maurya and Chandni. It could have been a little shorter, there are portions where copy-paste has been used liberally and this could have been avoided with some better editing. The climax where Gangasagar helps Chandni becoming Prime Minister of India is a little too far fetched to say the least and makes up for some unconvincing reading.

But in the end, it provides enough crackle to keep you hooked. That's 4/5 for Ashwin Sanghi's second book, Chanakya's chant. If you are bored with the numerous chick-lit or debut author novels, it's a perfect time to pick this one up. The treatment is completely desi in its essence and never shy away from showing the good, bad and ugly of Indian politics through two entirely different ages. This is one history lesson you won't find boring!

March 14, 2011

The Post-match Conversations...

He: Hello.
She: Why were you not picking the phone?
He: I was busy.
She: with whom?
He: (irritated) No one.
She: Still busy?
He: I was just watching the match.
She: Oh yes, India lost na...
He: (more irritated) thanks for the update.
She: (winks) Anytime yaar.
He: whatever
She: hmm...
He: Hmm....
She: What's up?
He: Ceiling.
She: oho, ok..tell me. What's the plan for tomorrow?
He: Nothing, you tell
She: We were planning to watch 'Black Swan', remember?
He: (murmurs) Black sheep... Nehra is an asshole, can't even bowl to save his life.
She: From where the hell Nehra came?
He: From today's match yaar, where else.
She: You are still stuck with that boring match
He: No, i am stuck with you. And who said match was boring?
She: No one.....(rattled) To hell with you and Nehra and cricket and India
He: Don't know about others, but Nehra is surely going there.
She: You should also go, quick!
He: Why should I go?
She: Because at least there you won't talk about cricket
He: Sadly you won't be there to listen to it.
She: Good for me.
He: Good for other people.
She: OK, don't fight.
He: You said, go to hell
She: That was just an expression.
He: This is just a reaction.
She: Good for you.
He: Hmm...
She: Hmm...
He: Ok, where you want to watch Black sheep, i mean (forgetting the name of movie)....whatever.
She: Let it be.
He: Why?
She: Not in the mood now.
He: Mood swings?
She: Yes
He: Are you down?
She: (irritated) Nooooo, are you out of your mind?
He: Nehra has mind-fucked me.
She: We will talk later then.
He: Why? (realising the mistake) Ok, no more cricket talks.
She: No, it's ok
He: Ok, i am sorry....(changing the topic) How was your day?
She: Nothing special.
He: Are still...what you did the whole day?
She: I was watching the match, Zaheer was sooooooooo cute, bowled an awesome 49th over.
He: What the fuck!! why all this drama then...
She: Aiwieen...
He: (Super irritated) to hell with you.
She: Ok, listen na....
He: what?
She: I love you!
He: I don't, bye (disconnects)

He Calls after 43 seconds.

She: kya hain?
He: I love you too!
She: (smiling) so where are we going to see Black Sheep?
He: Anywhere except hell.
She: Done.
He: Done.
She: Bye then, see you tomorrow...
He: i'll pick you up, sleep well.
She: You are a sweetheart.
He: Good night (sound of a kiss)
She: Sweet dreams (sound of a kiss)
He: (disconnects) Saaala Nehra, Kamina !!

March 10, 2011

Book Review - 12 : Turtle Dove

Author: Divya Dubey
Publisher: Gyaana Books

The six short stories in Turtle Dove are about ordinary and, sometimes, not-so-ordinary people. Though based in and around Delhi, these stories are really about people anywhere, any-when; about people like you and I, and the eccentric world we live in.

For the second consecutive time this year, i have been pleasantly surprised by a collection of short stories. After reading and reviewing Delhi Noir, i thought it was difficult to cross that standard. But i guess i just underestimated the literary talent floating around in the Indian book market. So, while in 'Delhi Noir', the trials and tribulations evolve from the external circumstances, in 'Turtle Dove' the complications and catharsis come mainly from within the individuals. The best part is that the book never insults your intelligence, there is no spoon- feeding here and you are required to read between the lines, understand the subtle nuances at times on your own. A wonderful feeling for me at least!!

"Best friend" displays a dilemma we must have faced in our lives at some point of time - should you keep up with a friend even when he/she is good for nothing. So, here Shailaja is patient and provides all the emotional support she can, but Sonali never stick to one decision and always uses her as a punching bag for the endless rants and mindless ruminations. The narrative is assured and even though rapid moves between past and present is a little unsettling in the beginning, it settles down admirably after that. The author has an eye for detail, however the long descriptive portions with excessive use of adjectives can be frustrating for few people.

"Arnab" is etched with so much sincerity that my heart went out to the central character while reading this story. It is a flesh and blood character dealing with effeminate emotions that seeks no validation, but commands so much adulation by the silence it portrays. The family pressures lead him to a path of self destruction and then causes a string of tragic events in the people around him, specially for his mother who has always longed for a daughter. The story strongly indicates gender stereotypes in our Indian society and its effects on the psyche of an individual.

The title story "Turtle Dove" is definitely the best tale in the book. The concept of incest is dealt in a dark, engrossing manner that is ironical and hard hitting at the same time. It is an amazing story of union and separation within the boundaries of family relationships, very bold and provocative yet sincere and endearing. The erotic portions come as a breath of fresh air in these times where subtlety is quietly vanishing in books while narrating such scenes. The symbiotic relationships each of the characters share have undertones of love, lust and most importantly, to create destruction in each other lives.

"Naani" portrays generation gap in bold and brave strokes, yet the colour of the story ranges from depressing and dark, with shades of bright and beautiful world interspersed cleverly. It is engaging and provides a very credible style of narrative, as the scenes are lifted straight from the Indian households. There is lot of panache and craft in this storytelling, so even though there is a possibility that the character come out to be caricatures, the author has stood his ground because she knows exactly where to draw the lines. It also highlights the scheming ways women can undertake to thrust their superiority, ironically towards women in their own household.

"Barkha Rani" is poignant, bizarre and ugly, all in the good form of the word. It portrays a journey of an ordinary domestic maid who is bounded by traditional and old-fashioned way of living, but still manages to surprise when it comes to the harassment dealt to her own daughter-in-law. I just wished a little more detail could have been given to the emotional turbulence she undergoes before taking THAT big decision. Ultimately, it talks about women emancipation in a broader sense but not investing enough in the metamorphosis the character should be subjected to. But it does manage to capture the Indian psyche beautifully within the different stratas of society.

"The science wizard" portrays emotions of a child prodigy who gets himself entwined in the bad world of crime and drugs. It deals with his rise, more rise, fall and more fall with the practicalities of the world and brings about an important issue of peer pressure, right from the school days. Even though it is dealt with deft sensitiveness, the story loses its grip in the portions when the action shifts towards his friends and does not remain focussed on the central protagonist. Written in almost a journal kind of style, it leaves you with an open ending which forces you to think about the vagaries of a regular life.

So that's 4/5 for Divya Dubey self-published anthology, Turtle Dove. The first four stories are engrossing and enjoyable, last two left me a little underwhelmed. But i still make a strong recommendation to read this one. The cornerstone of her writing lies in evoking emotional responses through her characters. Most of the time it is not pleasant, but then the magic of reading always lies in exploring the unexplored. A commendable effort from the first time author, someone to look out in the future for sure!!

Bollywood Best Lines - 3

Hi priya.....haan mein.......Magar mein.......suno to....tumne to....lekin mein.....kab se keh......Mein.. aakash ke yahan

- Dil chahta hain (2001)

Everybody is somebody in Delhi. No one is nobody here.

- No One killed Jessica (2011)

Daam jo tum kaho, kaam jo mein kahoon

- Sholay (1975)

Rishabh can be a pain in the ass, and i mean, quite literally.

- Turning 30 (2011)

Tum us ladke se shadhi nahin karogi jisse tum pyaar karthi ho, tum usse shadhi karogi jisse mein pyaar kartha hoon

- Golmaal (1980)

Thoda khao, thoda phenkho

- Jaane bhi do yaaron (1983)

Jisse aap khareedna chahte hain na seth, uski peshaani par likha hain - NOT FOR SALE

- Avtaar (1984)

The game is not over yet

-Dhoom 2 (2006)

Mere pass maa hain.

- Deewar (1975)

(R) Ki agar tum likhoge, to dil ke kisi hisse mein main jeeti rahoongi (AB) Kambhaqt woh dil ka hissa mera kab tha !!

-Kabhie Kabhie (1976)

Kaun kambhaqt bardasth karne ke liye peeta hain, hum to peethe hain taki tumhe dekh sakhein, tumhe bardasth kar sake

- Devdas (2002)

Zindagi jeene ke do hi raaste hote hain - ek, jo ho raha hain usse hone do, chupchap rehte raho aur doosra, zimedari uthao aur aage badho

-Rang De Basanti (2006)

Tha nahin, hain....aur humesha rahega....Gurukant Desai

-Guru (2007)
Bhai, tension nahin lene ka bhai.

- Munnabhai MBBS (2003)

Thappad se dar nahin lagtha saab, pyaar se lagtha hain

-Dabaang (2010)

Yeh Dhai kilo ka haath jab kisi par padtha hain na, to aadmi udtha nahin, uth jaata hain

-Damini (1993)

Bambai ka king kaun....bhikhu mahatrey!!

-Satya (1998)

Dosti mein no sorry, no thank you

- Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989)

Goli woh chalathe hain, jo dimag nahin chalathe hain

-Bluffmaster (2006)

Kahan tha na sahab zinda rahe to phir milenge, aur itefaq dekhiye....aap zinda bhi hain, aur hum mil bhi gaye

-Kaal (2005)

Kyunki mein uss abhagi shanti ka beta hoon Mr. R.K.Gupta, aur aap mere najayaaz baap.

-Trishul (1978)

Aaagar ek kagaaz par mohar nahin lagegi to kya Tara pakistan nahin jaayega

-Gadar (2001)

Shart Manjoor hain

-Lagaan - Once upon a time in India (2001)

Koi Pyaar karen to tumse karen, tum jaise ho waise karen...Koi tumhe badal kar pyaar karen, to woh pyaar nahin sauda kare....aur sahiba, pyaar mein sauda nahin hota.

-Mohabbatein (2000)

Dosti, jo har risthey se upar hain, kyunki dosti hi har risthey ki shuruhat hain

-Mujhse dosti karoge (2002)

(K) Tum jaise ho waise dikthe nahin ho (M) Kamaal hain, saare ghar mein sirf aap ne hi pechaana humhein

-Tanu Weds Manu (2011)

March 7, 2011

Book Review - 11 : Zero Percentile

Author: Neeraj Chhibba
Publisher: Rupa publications

As a brilliant young boy Pankaj never imagines that he will ever be swamped with problems. Life with his friends Motu and Priya is fun. Always destined to go to IIT, a cruel incident makes him end up in a place he has never heard of before, Volgograd - a Russian 'City of heroes'. Zero percentile is a heady cocktail of the fascinating adventures of Pankaj, a less flavored son of destiny, across two completely different countries, India and Russia.

I am glad someone took an initiative to write a book about people who try their level best to get into IIT but don't succeed for some reason. There is also an equally pertinent issue about the exposure of young people from India into a drastically different booze-babes-BJs ridden culture and the subsequent ramifications on their personality. It can be a very depressing and life altering event for such individuals and if done well, can make up for engrossing read. Luckily, Zero percentile quite achieves in that sphere of writing with some witty, charming and cunning moments.

Having lived in Russia for close to 7 years, the author is well versed with the kind of environment he is leading us into and the detailing of the hostel life is endearing. The book's basic plot remains faithful to the blueprint of your coming-of-age story, but the screenplay is bursting at its seam with numerous tricks to keep you on your toes. So we have an head-master who can do anything for your grades to earn quick money, a sex-addict friend who don't think twice before sleeping with any Russian chick he can lay his hands, an old couple who treats Pankaj as their own child and a bisexual girlfriend who ditches him for another girl even when he is busy making plans to convince his parents to marry her.

Relying on some keen observations about the life of the good-bad-ugly side of Russia, the writer explores the personality of every possible individual from various strata of society associated with the college. Almost all the characters are grey here, full of flaws specially when it came to the portrayal of those involved with the local mafia gang. With elements of hope, sex, violence, campus gangs and revenge, it offers almost all the pot-boiler moments of a Bollywood film. I particularly liked the sub-plot of role reversal of lives of Motu and Pankaj at various points in the narrative, it is ironical and humorous in equal mix.

The book is not free of flaws, there are some clichés which could have been easily avoided. In the end, they just add to the length of the book. The pun intended on the fascination with male child is hilarious in the first part of the book, though a tad over-stretched. The whole quizzing competition even though riveting is lengthy because the bond between the three friends has already been established sufficiently. The last act of getting back to Priya is done so conveniently that it looks contrived, emotionless and reeks of bizarreness to say the least. However, keeping in mind that the author is penning down its sequel, it may not turn out to be such a farce. The blurb of the book is too long as it gives away all the major twists and turns in the narrative, which is quite preposterous for me. I want to explore them, not just read at the back of the book.

But these are small nitpicking's in an otherwise engaging masala book which provides a good time pass read on a lazy day. I am going with 3/5 for Neeraj Chhibba's first book, Zero Percentile. Even though it is quite predictable in parts, it covers up by some smart writing. It is set in a new world, and has a bunch of wonderful moments. It delivers more than it promises. Sometimes, that's all you want from a book!

March 5, 2011

Rang De Basanti - Did the nation wake up?

Rang De Basanti (2006) or RDB as it is fondly called is just not a film, it refined Indian society in more ways than one. For the ignorants, RDB is a story about a British documentary filmmaker who is determined to make a film on the Indian freedom fighters based on the diary entries of her grandfather, who incidentally was a jail officer during the British rule of India. On coming to India, she meets a bunch of young college students headed by Aamir Khan (DJ) who are less 'Indian' than she ever imagined. When their dearest pilot friend dies in a MIG crash and accused by the defence minister of negligence, all hell breaks loose. They murder him in broad day light, triggering a series of events which ultimately lead to their death by the end of the movie.

RDB is a film that seems to shake people out of their somnolent apathy into taking a stand and doing something for the country. It questions the indifference with which we have accustomed ourselves to the armchair political agendas and social stigmas. Obviously, things have changed since it's release in early 2006 with the advent of social networking websites and mushrooming of numerous TV channels who keep shoving the 'right-vs-wrong' debate down our throats. But still a cleverly disguised history lesson is turned into a modern tale of patriotism which touches the right chords because it hits bang-on for that elusive, almost sick dichotomy of India - we won't do anything for the society till something bad happens to us.

RDB speaks for the middle aged middle class in the guise of speaking through the young. The youngsters here are not the protagonists but the instruments through which the concerns of an earlier generation are represented. The source of outrage is not really the minister's corruption, but his insensitive blaming of the pilot for the crash. The patriotism felt by DJ &Co. is as much petulance as righteousness. The mode of resolution is also keeping with the gratification seeking times we live in. Justice must be instantly bought. The killing of the minister and the subsequent elimination of the protagonists fulfills our need for a cinematic spectacle that stimulates out angst glands without causing any serious long term dysfunction. It is sad, startling and scintillating all at the same time.

RDB eventually denies the possibility of the very change it goads us to the up we cudgel for. It speaks for the patriotism that is defined as dying for your country in a blaze of media glory than toiling for it under the shroud of anonymity. It allows us to consume a sense of outrage in a packaged form. It is a great film because it pushes us as far as we can be pushed. It works because it makes us comfortably uncomfortable, which is all we can handle. In doing so, it holds up a mirror and what we see in it is not very pretty. By starting with apathy and moving on to activism, it allows us to locate ourselves in the narrative. Whether we are able to find ourselves in this mess is a question waiting to be answered, extremely urgently and quite impatiently.

March 3, 2011

Book Review - 10 : I bought the Monk's Ferrari

Author: Ravi Subramanian
Publisher: Rupa Publications

Excited and nervous, a fresher of twenty-three, takes his first career flight from Bangalore to Delhi. He peeps out of the window as the flight takes off-and presto! He sees on the road below, fast fading from his vision-an immaculate bright red Ferrari. Thus, begins the quest of his life... for his own FERRARI.The author provides a step-by-step approach towards begins successful and acquiring one’s own Ferrari. The Ferrari here is not a mere luxury car; it is way worthier than that . . . it is something that even the monks wouldn't want to relinquish.

Let me first confess that i was pleasantly surprised with Ravi Subramanian's first book, If God was a banker. I thought even though it was a little too dry in portions, it knew exactly what kind of readers it was targeting and what milieu it is setting itself into. Within those limitations, it was a breezy and a real good time pass read. So with a decent first impression of the author, i decided to pick his next one. Add to the fact, that i haven't read the self-help type book for close to 4 years was worth a shot.

Having said that, I personally have never been a great fan of self-help books. I guess it is the revolting side of my personality which always pumps me up to live my life the way i want it and not pussyfoot myself based on someone else decisons. It may suit someone (like the writer's personality) but there is no guarantee that it will actually help mine. I also feel self-help books are set in a perfect environment and an ideal world, something which will never happen in practical life.

In IBTMF, Ravi borrows the basic premise from Robin Sharma's best seller - The Monk who sold his Ferrari and try to give it a twist in the Indian context. He give us the ten commandments of success which can make you "successful" in life. Problem arises because it is presented a little too preachy manner and is quite laid back. So even at a short length of 160 odd pages, it never manges to capture your attention.

Also with all due respect, i don't think the writer is such an awe-inspiring personality that i will actually get positively influenced by him. The only saving grace in the book are the few examples provided in the Indian business context specially that of Rajnish Behl, retail head of HSBC Bank.

I am going with 1.5/5 for Ravi Subramanian' second outing, I bought the Monk's Ferrari. I have read much well-written and inspiring self-help books. You can safely skip this one. And as far as the writer is concerned, get back to fiction writing, it really suits you much better.

March 2, 2011

Because everyone is a little sad inside....

Everyone is a little sad inside.... the melancholy pulping within, the dilly-dallying of the emotional upsurges, the bouts of anxiety creeping periodically. All sounds fading away to a dull roar, mixed together; all images moving away to a fading vision, muted together.That humongous monster of black bile always throbbing in the throat, even in the best moments of triumph is actually an uncompromisable beast gradually eating into your peace. We have all mastered to hide our true feelings, oblivious to the person with which we are communicating our thoughts. An obnoxious world is brewing inside, where the egos are turning into super-inflated monsters, where the real emotions are trapped with materialistic ambitions, where the feelings are instantly crushed with the unvindictive stance.

We all need attention, period. There is no problem in craving for it, except that it does not have any upper limit which in turn makes life more complex than we ever imagine it to be. Is there any end of asking for more fame, more virtual 'friends' you can be in touch, more acquaintances than you can handle in your life? I doubt it, instead everything has been replaced with a non-chalant attitude of 'I-don't-care' or worse, with all those F-or-S-or-both words slinging through our verbal continuum. There are dreams of hatred more than love, there are reasons to kill more than live, there are dark nights more than the sunny days. Because everyone is a little sad inside.

Many people say that bringing changes in your life fade away the curled up sadness. You know, I really doubt it. If not anything else, changes creates more confusion to the existing state of mind. Changes disrupt the natural way of enhancing the curiosity value about someone or something. Imagination is far more important than knowledge to remove that maudlin sensibilities around you. The feeling of trying your level best even when the chips are down, the guts exhibited when you want to show the world your true worth, the passion of throwing away the luxuries of life in THAT tough phase brings home a feeling of success. This may change away the realities of life, but it also brings in more cosmetic changes to suit your sensibilities. And again it starts a vicious circle of evaluating your self worth where you have to suck up to own something of your own. This will happen, and will always happen, trust me. Because everyone is a little sad inside.