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April 19, 2011

Book Review - 21 : Johnny Gone Down

Author: Karan Bajaj
Publisher: Harper Collins

Nikhil Arya was an Ivy league scholar with a promising future at NASA. An innocent vacation turned into an epic intercontinental journey that saw Nikhil become first a genocide survivor, then a Buddhist Monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant, a software mogul and a deadly game fighter. Now, at 40, he is broke, homeless and minutes away from blowing his brains out in a diabolical modern-day joust. Nikhil aka Johnny is tired of running. With the Columbian mafia on his trail and his abandoned wife and son 10,000 miles away, he prepares for his final act, aware that he will have lost even if he wins.

I guess whatever i am going to write down in this review will not be of much significance as far as the readership is concerned. The book has already been claimed as a best-seller, having reportedly sold 80,000+ copies thanks to an extensive PR exercise and cost which can even make the Barista coffee look doubly expensive. But should this be enough for a book to engage you? To ignore it's serious glitches, fatal flaws and cringing cliches?

The biggest problem with JGD is that it is less of a book with some credible story-screenplay, but more a book literally begging to be made into a Bollywood movie. Bajaj's first book, Keep off the grass is rumoured to be made into a movie for close to two years now even though nothing concrete has ever come out in public domain. My simple question is, as he has claimed in an interview at the back of the book - if you are not writing for money, and you don't want to write a book to get film contracts - why this Bollywood style screenplay and OTT twists and turns? Why all these compromises with the growth and transition of characters? Why these convenient coincidences spread all through the narrative?

It is not that book is a trash, far from it actually. The pace of the narrative is brisk, and the twists come flying from all directions which makes you ignore the pedestrian humour at times. There are some marvelous moments that stay with you till the end. The detailing of Nikhil's character is deep and distinguished, his cravings compelling. His musings interspersed with spiritualism, even though long and unwarranted at times, is still endearing because you really want to sympathize with him for all he has gone through in life.

However, it is difficult to believe that writer who came up with such layered subtlety is also responsible for gaping holes in the script. The narrative hustles from one plot point to another without providing any logic or character flair. Nikhil keeps whining all the time, doing hardly anything positive to improve his situation. People say he is super-hero, i say he is an idiot who keep repeating the same mistakes and get himself into trouble all the time. The transition to different countries is superficial as there is hardly any background characterization which makes you identify with those new settings. None of the other characters are particularly well defined neither they get any attention to be relatable.

The final act of the book where all loose ends come together is so contrived and bizarre, you really don't care a bit about the so called filmy transformation of Nikhil to Johnny. This is not because you are just so put off by this absurd and incoherent story trying to shove the coolness down your throats, but because the author has taken the audience intelligence for granted. One final thought, Let me spring the biggest question straight away, why the book was not named as 'Nikhil gone down'? Quite frankly, i don't know and by the end, i hardly gave a damn.

I am going with 2/5 for Karan Bajaj's second book, Johnny Gone Down. I secretly hope that one day, Karan Bajaj will read this post and provide a soothing balm to my distressed soul by answering these genuinely valid questions. Till that time, I guess we have to live with the fact that in today's times, just like our movies, advertising of books is far more important than content and quality.


Smita said...

hehehe I wish these authors come & read our reviews and get a reality check!!!

Seriously they write so that a movie can be made out of them!!!

Ben said...

I seriously believe there is nothing wrong with writing with Bollywood in mind. JGD is an entertainer, and a good one. I would not call it a classic, and I am sure That Karan Bajaj was not aiming for a classic when he was penning Johnny. As for the unusual name, I emailed him asking about it and he replied that it was influenced by Bollywood movie 'Johnny Gaddar'.
And if you are a movie buff, you will find shades of many Hollywood movies in the book.
As for the role of P.R. agency created hype in the success of a book, that is indeed food for thought and one day you must write an article on that as well.

Amit Gupta said...


Oh well! The mind boggling sale numbers will conveniently allow them to be blind folded about the reality check, i can bet you that. Even Chetan bhagat's, 3MOML is being made into a movie, clearly Bajaj is inspired by him! As some critics say, KB is the Rakhi Sawant of Indian literature! :)

Amit Gupta said...


I have absolutely no problems if someone wants to write with Bollywood move contract in mind. But at least don't pretend that you don't care about your books being made into movies, clearly the PR exercise is evident in this case to cash in. To me, that's double standards in pure words.

If you had the opportunity to read my previous reviews, in few cases i have been forgiving about the lack of proper plot in the books because at least they engage me with the humour and action in a logical manner. Examples being Amit Varma's My Friend Sancho and Sidin's Dork. I have also enjoyed Bollywood kind of books like Neeraj Chhibba's Zero percentile. Problem does not lie in writing with Bollywood style, but how you can engage the audience. There are so many loopholes in the script, logical lapses,poor character sketches that it will take me another post to discuss all of them. Now, if people expect to be entertained without being logical, what can i say? Only that, my standards are high in that regards.

I still have no idea how Johnny Gaddar inspired him to rename Nikhil to Johnny in the book. How PR agency helps in creating publicity about the book requires a long post to discuss the nuances, hopefully some other day will come for it.