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May 29, 2011

Book Review - 32 : The Body in the Back Seat

Author: Salil Desai
Publisher: Gyaana Books

Senior Inspector Saralkar has just returned to his desk after attending a Secrets of living course for police officers in Pune. It clearly did not offer him peace. He is now eagerly waiting to sink his teeth into a new case. A body has been found in the back seat of a car in the tow yard of the Chaturshringi police station in Pune. To PSI Motkar is seems to be a straightforward case of suicide, but the senior inspector is not convinced. He has a dark little soul that's always conjuring up homicide.

Reading Salil Desai's 'The body in the back seat' is like being excited about a dish prepared by your mom, only to realise that a little salt is missing which would have made your meal just perfect. Don't get me wrong, it is much better than any of the fiction novel you have across in recent times specially in the genre of murder mystery but it fizzles out exactly at the point it should have picked up steam. Dissecting the book into further details will be like giving away too much away, and that is one crime you don't want me to commit. But let me just say, it could have been so much more. It's all foreplay and much less playoff in the end.

The book starts off brightly and briskly when we are exposed to the murder in the back seat of the car and how the traffic cops identify the body. In the next 100 odd pages, we are introduced to a Rajshri-style saga consisting of victim's family members, friends and business associates. At this point, author's attention to detail and pitch-perfect accuracy in describing the state of mind of each of the characters is commendable. The writer adds human touch to the way the cops deal with the crime and pushes the envelope by inserting psychological games they play with the suspects. However, the episodic nature of interrogating each of the characters with almost similar set of questions slackens the pace considerably. Shifting from one character to another in the screenplay, the writer delves into the emotional psyche of each of them even when it is clear that a few of them may not be associated with the murder in any form.

Relying more on treatment than content to take the story forward, author exposes to the dark secrets of the victim's life as the two cops tries to unravel the mystery using various clues. From here on, it gets inconsistent with its own logic. If you look back after finishing the book and tries to fit in pieces, you will definitely wonder at reactions of the main culprit at certain points in the narrative. There are a few coincidences and last minute character thrown in to get out of tricky screenplay situations to resolve the mystery. It is only with avoiding any self-indulges or side-tracking into sub-plots, the author keeps the narrative on a tight leash.

Apart from this, there is one particular scene (and you will know if and when you read the book) between Sarlakar and one of the main character which give away too much information, too soon about the motive of the murder. If you have exposed yourself to reading murder mysteries over the years, it is not difficult to even guess the killer from here on. Hence, it become a slog to finish the book as i was just waiting to read how the murder has been committed, having identified the motive and almost second-guessed the killer. It is my genuine suggestion to edit this chapter so that the suspense stays on just a little longer.

Also, this may be a nitpicking but i am surprised no one at the publishing house noticed how similar are certain "personality traits" in murder victims of this book and Saurbh Katyal's No flying from fate, latter released last year. For any other reader this may not pose any problem. But since i have read both the books in the same month, i was seriously underwhelmed at finding the same murder "logic" being used to pan out the screenplay. Though i must quickly add that the treatment of murders in this one is deftly handled and craftily written with major emphasis on internal catharsis as opposed to external reactions in NFFF.

I am going with 3/5 for Salil Desai's debut novel, The body in the back seat. It is well intended, neatly packaged and crisply edited book. It has got it's heart in the right place all through, but other body parts are scattered all over by the time you reach the end of the book. Still, i make a recommendation to read it. It's not perfect, but still there are lot of things to enjoy. Just like junk food, you will enjoy the guilt-ridden outing but later will always complain about the mom-made, a little salt-less meal.

Why Long-List of Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2011 is a sham?

I wanted to post this couple of weeks ago when the list was released but there were some issues in the blogger platform and hence, it somehow remained as a draft version. Just like every year, the long-list of Vodaphone Crossword book award was released earlier this month. You can see the whole list in every category here. At the outset i want to make one thing clear - i am not casting any aspersions on the award or the sponsors of this award. These awards are judged by a competent jury and all the past winners have been worthy of all the accolades which are showered upon them.

I have no issue in any author vouching for "2-minute-fame" by getting mentioned in this list. But really, what is the logic behind creating such a long list? To keep everyone happy? To keep all the publishers and authors happy? To allow the sponsors of the awards to get maximum mileage by getting a mention by major publishing houses and authors. I defies complete logic why any award will have such a long list. To satisfy my disturbed mind, i decided to check out the rules of this competition for the first time in all these years.

I realised to be eligible for this award, procedure is simple: Just fill the form, book should be released within the stipulated time and proof of Indian citizenship need to be provided. And voila, you are part of prestigious Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2011 long-list. This time, it led to an absolute shameless guilt-free outburst by everyone associated remotely with books; be it authors, publishing houses, journalists or even bit players like book reviewers. In an interesting incident, one debut author decided to bestow us with this great achievement by sending an e-mail to all his Gmail contacts, which unfortunately included me. You could very well imagine what happened next - "Reply-All" was used magnanimously making the inbox choked with unbridled joy and enthusiasm.

Now, i am not going to be cynical or politically correct by saying i was not happy with all the award nominations. I personally congratulated few of the authors who i genuinely felt were worthy. I even felt happy that certain books which could have been even better were also nominated and deserve the success. But, without taking names, there are certain books in that list which are present just because they are published by heavy-weight publication houses or by big celebrities. These books have been unanimously trashed by public and reviewers and have not gone beyond second, and in certain cases even first edition. Keeping these books in the list is an insult to all those authors who have worked hard on their manuscripts, laboriously researched to find those subtle details and have made personal sacrifices to get the book in the market. I really feel sorry for them.

In a way, this also sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Since the application form is filled by the publisher, it can be directly construed that you need to be in their good books all the time to get the nomination. Anyone who has been in the business for some time will know that almost most of the authors don't remain on exactly similar friendly terms with the publishing house after the release of the book as compared to the time when they first kick in. This is also evident by the body of work of those authors who have changed publishers many times for their books.

All i can hope is that they have an screening round where the long-list is not more than 15-20 books in each category, which will then be pruned to 5-6 books for final voting. Only then the initial round of this award will have some meaning and will save us from this unabashed publicity of the award, which to be frank is quite a nuisance. We need quality writing to be promoted, not just any writing.

May 23, 2011

Book Review - 31 : Dreams in Prussian Blue

Author: Paritosh Uttam
Publisher: Penguin India

First-year student Naina is utterly smitten by her senior, Michael, acknowledged genius and resident rebel of the Fine Arts College, Mumbai. So when he proposes that they drop out of college and live in, she readily agrees. But life with Michael soon turns into an emotional roller coaster. Temperamental, opinionated and incredibly selfish, he expects Naina to run the household so that he is free to paint. Naina tries her hand at several odd jobs, but when an accident leave Michael blind, their life together begins to come undone as she can only helplessly watch. And in trying to pull it together, Naina is driven to being what she has never been - a liar and a cheat. Will Michael forgive her when he learns the truth? Will she forgive him for what he has done to her?

This is one Metro read or young India fiction which is done correctly. At 200 odd pages, it is fast-paced, emotionally compelling and takes you to an enjoyable roller coaster ride. I have often complained earlier in my book reviews about debut novels being overly long and self-indulgent. However, this book is a perfect example to show you don't have to write more to engage the readers... no spoon-feeding is required, people are intelligent enough to understand subtle nuances. Shuffling between the past and the present, we are simultaneously told the story of how the couple fall in love and how they are dealing with their marital life. This happens till the middle of the book when both the screenplay collides and merge into one, in which Michael is now blind and making rigorous efforts to paint again.

The character of Naina is written with warmth and affection. Her long suffering live-in life with Michael and continuous struggle to make the ends meet touches chord in your heart. You will instantly develop a dislike for Michael, who is obnoxiously self-centered but can't help sympathizing when the accident leaves him blind. He hardly cares for materialistic pleasures because in his own inner world, he is contend with just painting and being fed by Naina. It is commendable that the author even though skating on a thin plot on paper, still manages to develop these characters sufficiently enough so that you can relate to them. Their bickering and complications, grief and irony in their life is what stays with you till the end.

On a deeper level, blue colour plays an important role in delving into the emotional psyche of Michael and his relationship with Naina. I don't know how much the author knows about painting, but even if he has researched it to write this book and incorporate into screenplay, it is quite enthralling. I almost wanted to know a little more about painting after finishing this book. The description of Prussian blue colour paintings almost defines the temperamental nature of their relationship; the whims and fancies attached to it, the bouts of anxiety and anguish related to it. Also, how the art work is defined in terms of perceptions of the buyers and NOT really on the basis of quality is almost a satirical take on the thriving painting business.

There are some niggles right at the end. The climaxed is wrapped up with such ease, it just appears the writer was running short of ideas or time or both. It is never fully comprehended how Naina's illicit relationship to a friend's wife is exposed. The writer goes for an hurried ending, not investing enough in the emotional metamorphosis which Michael suffers when the truth is out in the open. The climax is all good in the poetic-justice sense, but since it is done so conveniently, it looks contrived. Apart from this, certain dialogues at times are far-fetched and almost clingy to read. But as i said, these are mere nitpickings in an otherwise competent, confident debut.

I am going with 3.5/5 for Paritosh Uttam's debut novel, Dreams in Prussian Blue. It reassures the pleasures of a urban story, rightly told. For most of the narrative, it moves swiftly without any issues till the bump right in the climax. But still i make a strong recommendation to read it, won't take much time and will left you with a goody-good feeling. Sometimes, that is the best thing of reading a book, isn't it :)

May 22, 2011

Indian Premier League - 4: The Play-offs

As i sit down to write this, the league stage of an uninteresting fourth season of IPL is about to be over. The four teams to qualify are: Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), Chennai Super Kings(CSK), Mumbai Indians (MI) and Kolkata Night Riders(KKR). So that's 3/4 for me as far as my predictions go, made before the start of the season here.

The surprise package, no doubt, has been RCB and their success has one major reason - Chris Gayle. They were dwindling after the first few games, but Gayle changed the whole momentum with some blistering hitting at top of the order. It is ironic that other big hitters like AB Devillers and Saurabh Tiwary had hardly got a bat after he has come in. And this non-practice by other players could hurt RCB in the play-offs. However, they have become the first team to qualify for the CLT20-2011 and the first team to qualify in all three seasons of CL-T20. Quite an achievement from being branded as a 'test team' at the start of season one of IPL.

The fourth team which i picked instead of RCB was Pune warriors (PW), which surprisingly finished second last from the bottom (and RCB at top of the table, phew!). It's difficult to pin-point what exactly went wrong with that team, but definitely nothing much went right from the start. After winning the first two games, they slumped to seven consecutive defeats. Losing Angelo Matthews and Ashish Nehra at the start of the tournament was never going to be easy, they also lost Smith due to injury and Ganguly returned when they were well out of reckoning of the playoffs. I really think, they never got their selection right, right through... too many changes in the batting order, too much chopping of players is never good in a long, drainy IPL. Only bright spot for them is Rahul Sharma - the leggie who overcome a facial half-paralysis attack during the early part of the tournament to take so many top-order wickets. He had to take eye-drops in one of the matches after every delivery to spot the ball during fielding. Talk about will-power to play, take that!

Chennai Super kings have been a little inconsistent, but come the play-offs and no one would take them lightly. Dhoni's midas touch may continue a little longer as CSK plays their fourth consecutive play-offs in as many seasons. As i write this, Mumbai Indians are well on their way slumping to fourth consecutive defeat. Suddenly, nothing is working for them - No Malinga yorkers, no Symonds-Pollard hitting, no magical innings from Sachin. I will be actually surprised if they make it to the finals, consider their current form.

But the team to have really come on their own is no doubt, Kolkata Night riders. They have qualified for the first time and are my favourites to reach the finals, if not win there. A team who has always been in limelight for the wrong reasons has finally delivered on the cricket field. They did dwindled in middle part of the tournament and with 2 rain-affected games have to actually wait till the last to qualify for the play-offs, but they are a serious contender for the title. I am sure, no one in Kolkata will be celebrating, after all Dada is not playing ;)

My pick for the final: RCB vs KKR, with KKR winning the IPL-4!
Cautious Note: Gayle needs to have a bad day in the final. Like, really :)

PS: Delhi Daredevils finished last this season, but there is always next time. They can go only up. Isn't it :)

Updated: yes, yes. I know MI won over KKR. what a fucking last over that was from L Balaji. Tremendous hitting from Franklin and Rayadu. Well, that changes the equation a little bit. Interesting final week ahead of us in IPL-4. Happy cricket watching! :)

May 20, 2011

Book review - 30 : Mice in Men

Author: Anirban Bose
Publisher: Harper Collins India

Mice in Men is a collection of 10 short stories, some of them written against the medical background. The presence of medical jargon is a little too much at times in the narrative and is quite unsettling. However, it suffers from the basic problem most anthologies face - there are only a few stories which make a mark. Rest of them are plain boring.

'The New Job' recounts the story of Rizwan Sheikh who has to come out of retirement to find a job so that he can manage expenses for his back operation. He contemplates giving up everything, but discovers love while witnessing an extramarital affair of his boss. Touching, but simplistic. 'The magic of medicine' is about a doctor who after suffering a lifetime of prejudice and humiliation is finally able to confront his own prejudices while attending to a man in the throes of a stroke. 'Neologisms' and 'The Balloonwala' are quirky, but linear screenplay makes them predictable. 'Mice in Men', the titular story is the second best tale in the book. Can the simple act of saving a mouse teach an insecure, ordinary man to rise above his affliction and his love? Even though quite implausible in the real life, it still provides a hefty mix of loneliness and lust.

'Stockholm Syndrome' is the best short story i have read this year, forget just this book. I will even stick my neck out and say, it is better than any of the short story in other anthologies of this year, Urban Shots, Turtle Dove or even Delhi Noir. Is love a neurosis that the famous psychiatrist unwillingly falls victim to? - that is the basic premise of the story. Dwindling between the past and the present, it delves into the mind of the protagonist who is trying to play with the minds of the interrogating officer, who himself has a past as he attempts to solve a murder. It is quite fascinating to read their interaction, how they literally bludgeoned each other with verbal overdose and finally how one of them wins the battle.

'Temptation of Fate' is an interesting take on astrology and fate, but two pages into the story and you can pretty much guess the end.'The Right way to eat Mango' has an interesting premise but couldn't really live up to the expectation because there is hardly any dramatic conflict in the narrative. 'The Faithfulness of traits' and 'The world's greatest Oiban' are just there to make up pages.

I am going with 2/5 for Anirban Basu, Mice in Men. It may be a controversial thing to say on a public platform, but the best way to enjoy this book is to go to any bookstore with a coffee shop attached...Pick the book from the shelf, order a coffee and read it... specially the stupendous story 'Stockholm Syndrome'. It will save the agony of going through other below par stories. I have read more entertaining anthologies this year, this one doesn't quite match up to those standards. A let down for me after the author's competent debut novel, Bombay Rains, Bombay Girls

May 19, 2011

Band Baaja Baarat - return of romance in Bollywood.

Is it not ironic that Bollywood which was once famous for making only romantic movies hardly make good films in this category now. Come to think of the perfectly done romantic comedies in 2000s, you can actually count them on fingertips - Kaho na Pyaar Hain (2000), Hum tum (2004), Jab we Met (2007). Even if you are a little generous by ignoring certain flaws, you may add Sathiya (2002), Chalte Chalte (2003) and Love Aaj Kal (2009) to this list. Point is, why romance has almost vanished from our films and most importanly, why films like Band Baaja Baarat (2010) came as a breath of fresh air in this era of mindless potboilers where screaming at the top of the lungs is considered to be the best entertainment (Akshay Kumar, are you listening?).

There is so much to adore in BBB. To start with, the main lead does not come with stereotypes.... So Shruti Kakkar (played by Anushka Sharma) wants to be the best wedding planner in India while Bittu Sharma (played by Ranveer Singh) is so scared of working at his dad's sugarcane farms in Saharanpur that he tags along, albeit with an iota of infatuation for her. She wants to carve out her professional niche before settling in with the personal goals of husband,family, kids, card etc. They choose the best setting in the old-world-middle-class homes of west Delhi to start their 'binness', with an eye to upgrading on Sainik Farms weddings. Even the bit players - the flower caretaker, the surd caterer, the dude DJ, the bulky ladies-style sitting dad...everyone fit in like a glove.

What fascinated me most about BBB is how subtly, at a micro level it makes a point about business partners sleeping with each other in this fast paced corporate world. On one hand, the lead pair's life is kindled by the spirit of entrepreneurship and still that same passion is exploited to break the first rule they set in - never mix business with pleasure. Their closeness in the relationship is not dictated by over flowing romantic hormones but with an increasing companionship during the working hours. You can't help thinking them to fall for someone else, because they complement each other so perfectly, at work mind you.

Watch out for the scene after the intermission when they wake up after the overnight kaand in each other's arms. There is an awkward fumbling of words, change of language from "tu" to "tum", an eerie silence in which both of them waiting for each other to say something. They sit together on the bike and move away from the Shaadi Mubarak office. It seems such a mundane, almost unnecessary scene as they take the round about the Hari nagar Ghantagar, move down the District Centre flyover to Shruti's home at 1/106, Janakapuri West. But look closely and you will realise it is actually the most important scene in the screenplay. They are drawn together by the passion and spirit of their work, but moving away by the fare of breaking the business rule they have set before starting off. They love each other but don't know what to do with it. There is a sense of belonging for each other, but no sense of blurting it out to each other. He is getting wary, she is getting vulnerable. And they both can't avoid the inevitable of falling for each other.

The film is not short of flaws - the second half is too long for me. The bickering and constant flights after the fall out in the business goes on and on. Even the item song in the final marriage almost seems forced. At this point it become threadbare and predictable. But take nothing away from the refreshness of the movie. It is a kind of romantic comedy we are slowly forgetting to make. This one is done correctly, deliberating avoiding stereotypes and most importantly, with lot of warmth, courage and love.

May 16, 2011

Book Review - 29 : Hickory Dickory Shock!

Author: Sundip Gurai
Publisher: Rupa Publications

Tuten(210) Chatterjee, a mathematical whiz-kid with an uncanny knack for finding pattens, chances upon a web chat between two mysterious people-HICKORY and DICKORY, and learns about the deep conspiracy brewing inside SHIVAN computers. Things take a murky turn when a software innovator is murdered in a packed auditorium by an invisible killer, an unseen assassin kills a software visionary in a locked room, and a mysterious masked man sabotages a server room and vanishes with LoRD - a cutting-edge software invention from India. The trouble heightens when Raja, Chairman of SHIVAN Computers, hatches an accounting fraud of unimaginable proportion by manipulating the accounting books of LoRD. 210, along with Geetika (210's romantic interest), Gurpreet (210's mom), and others are now inadvertently sucked in a race against time to save LoRD and the livelihood of thousand of techies. They have six hours before all goes topsy turvy. Will the techies succeed in stopping the villains, or will SHIVAN computers fade in the hoary mists of time?

Murder mysteries have always fascinated me, but i need to have certain basics in the story well defined to keep me hooked. The basic plot of setting a murder mystery at the backdrop of an accounting scandal in an IT company (clearly inspired from the Satyam Scandal) is an unique and well-thought off concept. The answer to every mystery in this book lies locked in a trail of bizarre clues- Bhagavad Gita, CD-ROMs, flutes, Napolean, Newton, Hitler, Vedic Math, Lord Ganesha, Indus valley scripts, secret codes and more. The research is impeccable and is seamlessly woven in the narrative. But is that enough to provide us with a taut, racy murder mystery it promises to be?

The narrative is brisk, things seldom drag here. The dialogues are short, sharp and to the point. The technical jargon may irk a few readers, but it is being kept to minimum so that readers can relate to it. Moving between past and present, it provides an optimum balance in showing the resolution of a murder mystery and the murky details of an corporate scandal brewing in the top management of the company. It even does not have your typical stereotypes, which is such a refreshing change- so there is a mom who is an ex-Kabaddi champ with a flair for wisecracks and a Girl friend with a razor-sharp brain. But again, should this be enough to hook the readers with a pacy, well-packed thriller it promises to be?

The basic flaw in this book is even though it keeps you hooked on a fast racy ride, it leaves you dissatisfied in the end. The narrative falls flat because the author abundantly uses convenient coincidences and creative liberties to get out of tricky screenplay situations. Sample these:

(a) 210 is the prime accused after the twin murders. Still he roams around freely in the company collecting clues including in the 'closed' room where one of the murder has happened. So basically no one in the company (or the villains to be more specific) is bothered what he and his accomplices are up to. Not only this, the exact character who accused him of being present during the murder, ultimately leading to 210's arrest actually starts helping him. He even goes abroad to deliver a presentation in-spite of being under the police radar. Quite implausible, some would say!

(b) The police disappear miraculously from the initial interrogation scene leaving 210 and his accomplices to carry on all the investigations. Considering that SHIVAN computers is such a high profile company in turmoil of an accounting scandal, this negligible role of the cops is difficult to believe. Infact, in one of the sub-plots, police actually help 210 verify an important suspicion. Really...what does he done to deserve that? He is the prime accused of the murders, right?

(c) The leaving behind of clues by a major character in the company cafeteria is again tad confusing. Using these clues, 210 finally solve the riddle which gives him a bigger clue to solve all the murder mystery. But are you trying to tell me that 'someone' quietly comes everyday, put on those clues on the wall without anyone noticing and move away in full presence of highly secured cameras and a well-guarded corporate place. This is a company where a murder investigation and a scandal is on, right?

These kind of loopholes are generally the albatross around the neck for any good screenplay. But it still provides a decent read because it is well edited and researched. It moves at a such a speed that it hardly gives you a moment to ponder how impractical it is actually turning out to be in the end.

I am going with generous (2.5+0.5=) 3/5 for Sundip Gorai debut novel, Hickory Dickory Shock. It is a kind of book which you desperately wants to like more because of the research efforts put in by the author. It could have been an excellent, almost unique thriller set in the Indian corporate world. Unfortunately, for me personally, there are too many loopholes to enjoy it more.

May 14, 2011

Book Review - 28 : Siya Seth Decides to Die

Author: Sneha Mehta
Publisher: Diamond Books

Siya Seth has committed suicide. It is then, after death that she decides to 'tell-it-all.' A school girl at 17, she is a victim of parental incest since the age of 8. She tries to do everything that has the propensity to give her some peace and anything to divert her attention. She dates a hunk Randeep much to the irritation of her best friend Reva. She bribes a policeman at Marine Lines after bunking school. She bluffs her always-on-guard mummy. She visits Hasina Syed, a past life therapist, who claims to heal her soul of only Rs 999. But, all in all, does it helps? Or are some things too sleazy to be discussed, when alive?

There is more than one way of interpreting this book but the way i see it, it essentially explores the failure of the main protagonist to cope up with the misfortune she has been subjected to. The action here is dark and gritty and the story initially unfolds in such a manner that it is difficult to keep up with. The disgust over the incest actions looms largely over the book, yet the author keeps the mounting tension layered with a dose of humour. It takes its own sweet time to arrive at the central conflict and could have got away with a few lesser self-indulges, but in the end it portrays a throbbing portrait of incest relationship between the father and her daughter.

Siya Seth is essentially a flawed character. She is brazen and outspoken, blatantly utter cuss words, dismissive of anything 'normal' around her and absolutely arrogant to everyone including her mother. The author employs non-linear narrative to take us through her life, from the first time she is raped to her suicide. In between these two plot points, her failed attempts to find herself are explored where she dates a hunk, gets involved in a bribing incident with the Mumbai Police and attends a quack session of spiritual healing. All these incidents ultimately take her back to the molestation sessions with the father and thus, further explores her inner frustration and dilemma. At these situations, Siya's internal pangs, betrayal of trust innuendos and the existence of an isolated life are well captured.

There are few chapters interspersed in the narrative where the point of view of every other character on Siya is provided. These chapters even though well written stand out like sore thumbs. Almost all of them have clunky transitions with respect to the previous plot points and sudden change of tone in the narrative provides hindrance in maintaining a smooth flow of ideas. I have always been fan of non-linear screenplays. However, it doesn't quite work in this case mainly because the reader does not get an idea about the exact time when particular incidents of rape happens in her life.

I am going with 3/5 for Sneha Mehta's debut novel, Siya Seth Decides to Die. It is a dark, disturbing story told with lot of panache and craft. It has some clunky transitions and does meanders in between with self indulgences but makes up for it with hard-hitting notes. In these days when the market is inundated with books about love, life and all that jazzz (oops!), very few writers in their debut novels take on difficult subjects and explore them well. Do give it a chance, A worthy weekend read.

Book Reading Challenge 2011 by IMB and BRL

I signed up for the Book reading challenge 2011, jointly organised by IMB (In My Bookshelves) and BRL (Book reader Lounge). The competition runs from 1 April, 2011 to 31 May, 2011. The theme is INDIA. You can find the FAQs and other details here.

Following are the 10 books which i have read and reviewed as part of this challenge in the stipulated time period:

2. Kkrishnaa's Konfessions by Smita Jain
3. Urban Shots edited by Paritosh Uttam
4. Johnny Gone down by Karan Bajaj
6. Family Values by Abha Dawesar
7. Love over Coffee by Amrit.N.Shetty
8. The Game Changers by Fake IPL Player
9. No Flying From Fate by Saurbh Katyal
10. Anything else but Love by Ankita Chaddha

I will continue reading and reviewing as time permits for this challenge. Great way to share thoughts about books with enthusiastic bloggers, writers and authors. Go for it!

May 11, 2011

Why THIS is never equal to THAT ?

**Mera tumhara, kya rishtaa hain... Kuch bhi nahin.
Agar kabhi tum guzartha dekho, Kya tum mujhe bulaogi, Shayad nahin...
Agar jo phir hum kabhi na mile to, Kya tum yaad aaogi....


Kyunki tum meri koi nahin...
Mein jantha hoon magar,
Jab meri koi nahin...
kyun lagthi ho mujhko parayi nahin...**

Sometimes destiny takes you to a path where you may reach accidentally, but staying there lies completely in your own hands. Just in one of those monotonous and sulky days, I stumbled on a precious little gem. Problem was that as soon as I started observing, I wanted to know more about her, and more, and more and more. End result was always destined to be pegged with disastrous consequences. There was an inherent sincerity to be explored...something which will distort the chords of the heart, something which will tinkle with the arcs of the mind. There was a pause in between the conversations, a stop to take the breath while looking at her tirelessly, something which was making me fall in love many times, in and out all the time. There was a mundane schedule, yet a stunning incident in her back story. Why did i felt THIS? More importantly, Did she felt THAT? And Why THIS was never equal to THAT? You always wonder, isn't it! :)

**Ek ajnabee se...
Itni na ki thi, Baatein Kabhi....
Jo chahaa Dil ne, Kehta gaya mein...
Tumse koi doorie lagi na kabhi...
Pass tumhare aaya tha Kitne...
Yeh ehsaaas ho raha hain mujhe abhi...

Par tum meri koi nahin...
shayad mujhe hain yakeen....
Par jab tum meri koi nahin...
Kyun Lagthi ho mujko parayi nahin....**

**Mera Tumhara from the movie Socha na tha (2005)

May 10, 2011

Book Review - 27 : Anything Else But LOVE

Author: Ankita Chadda
Publisher: Cedar Books

Shewali Singh is a simple, sweet and appealing girl who cares for family and its values. She has just moved to Bangalore to head a project. Always engaged in work, somewhere she has imagined a list of qualities her guy should have. But as her fate would have it, she bumps into a guy who works in the same office as hers. And not only that, he's a flirt, a prankster, who calls himself 'the' Avi Malhotra, who not only misfits the list, but also manages to get a rise out of the generally very easy going Shewali. What follows is, daily fights, gradual friendship, sudden likeness, and then - all the rules of the artist's sketch of their better half are thus broken.

If i am given one word to describe this book, it will be - Bollywood. I cannot think of any other debut novel in recent times which packs in so many plot points from Hindi movies as this one does. Sample these - There is a bride running scene from Na tum Jano Na Hum, there is an Achla Sachdev type dadi moment from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge, there is a Mohnish Behl-Salman Khan marriage confusion between brothers scenario from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, there is a fake proposal scene at the airport from Hadh Kar Di aapne and there is a midnight dinner scene from...well, you got the drift, right!

It is unpretentious in its approach, a kind of book which makes no bones about the kind of environment it is setting itself into or even minutely flinching away from its target audience. The chemistry between the two main leads - Avi and Shewali is undeniably good, it oozes warmth and affection. However, the basic flaw here is that author can't seem to decide the tone in the book. So characters either over react on simple situations or does not react in complex situations, making things worse and giving us predictable twists and turns based solely on misunderstandings in relationships. The conflicts are superficial in nature because there is no issue in the narrative which can't be solved if people give a few seconds to explain their point of view. It's the kind of screenplay in which every obstacle in the characters' lives could be overcome by having one sensible conversation which for some strange reason, they never have since everyone here is ready to snap at each other at the drop of a hat.

One plot point which i particularly found offensive is the background of a corporate world, which is far away from the reality. There are files being stolen under the eye, boss accuse you of theft without any proof, women are being arm-twisted and verbally attacked, employees being accused of incompetence without giving a chance to explain themselves and sexual accusations thrown in like a routine event. All these bewildering acts make up for some pretty unconvincing reading and leave you unattached to the pain of the characters.

The book would have still worked better if it was a short, breezy read. But at 300 odd pages, it is long to the point of boredom. There are too many reference of the Avi and the teacher; too many falling-in-the-arms and twisting-the-arm moments. All this cumulatively leads to emotional repetitiveness and chaos, which does the book more harm than good. In the end, what is left with you are few tender moments between the characters which the author has created with craft. Unfortunately, these moments are few are far in between but nevertheless, makes you smile once in a while.

I am going with 2/5 for Ankita Chadda's debut novel, Anything else but love. There is a sincerity attached to each of the characters, but there is very little originality in any of the plot points or the story as in whole. Ironical it may sound, and quite anti-spirit to the theme of this blog but i guess i am getting a little old for these bubble-gum romances. This book, however, is strictly for the die-hard romantics!

May 6, 2011

Book Review - 26 : No Flying From Fate

Author: Saurbh Katyal
Publisher: Gyaana books

When detective Vishal Bajaj receives a call from his old flame, Aditi, on a Sunday afternoon, he is staggered by the resurgence of buried emotions. Aditi married Sunil three years ago. Now, Sunil's elder brother, Anil, has been found murdered at their farmhouse, and the first person Aditi turns to for help is Vishal. He sets out to solve the mystery with his hopeless but faithful sidekick, Pranay; and Inspector Babu, a pompous and limelight-loving policeman, for company. Will they be able to solve the mystery?

The Indian detective-thriller genre is sadly an unexplored one. The most important ingredients of this category is that it should hook you till the end. Each plot point should be deliberated and re-deliberated before their actual resolution. There should be minimal loopholes and creative liberties taken, and even if they are...there should be a solid reason behind them. A lot of authors fails terribly while tying all the loose knots in a murder mystery. Thankfully, NFFF is a refreshingly smart thriller which respects reader's intelligence and always prompts you to be one step ahead of the narrative.

One cannot reveal too much about a murder mystery, but there is so much to like in this book. Almost every character in the narrative is under suspicion, murders keep happening, hidden truths are being revealed every other chapter and the twists are thrown at you in almost every second page. There is a business tycoon family, a news-hungry reporter, a gay-lover, an ex-flame and an attention seeking cop to throw in the mix. The final clue coming from, guess what, a couple swinging party set in India is a master-stroke. Infact, the scene where Vishal encounters another female swinger is one of the best i have read this year. It is funny, mysterious yet so enjoyable.

The writer draw the readers into the minute intricacies of the murder at each step. He keeps prodding and re-prodding to think about the method of crime and motivations related to it. The dialogues are witty, concise and makes you think always in an attempt to guess the killer. The writer also doesn't shy away from showing the flawed side of Vishal who is going through an inside turbulence at seeing her ex who dumped him years ago. But it is really commendable that the author doesn't get self indulgent and start a romantic track between the two ex-lovers. The focus always remains on the murder mystery.

Ultimately what doesn't take this novel to even further heights are some clich├ęs which could have been avoided. The cop and the assistant detective are a little too dumb for my liking, they don't necessarily have to be so unidimensional. The detective is a charmer for every women, so it gets predictable when each of them fall for him... all the time. Paras Kapoor's (Anil and Sunil's father) character became a caricature by the end because in almost every scene, he is over reacting on situations and just keep howling all the time. There is a sub-plot of Nishant, a one-side lover of Aditi but i couldn't really comprehend the significance of it to the main story.

Keep these small nitpickings apart, and you have an absolute page turner in your hand. I am going with 4/5 for Saurbh Katyal's debut novel, No flying from Fate. It is that precious murder mystery set in Indian context which is both smart and engrossing. You should kick yourself if you miss out on this one!

May 4, 2011

The Car Conversations...

He: What are you doing?
She: Practicing Judo...can't you see?
He: Why are you driving so slow...even snail can race past us.
She: What, I am driving at 60.
He: There are no cows on the road, you can drive faster.
She: What's the hurry?
He: I want to get laid today.
She: Really, what makes you think are going to be lucky tonight.
He: Your horny eyes.
She: My eyes are on the road..and you bloody stop gazing at me.
He: Stop driving slow then...
She: Duh...what's the connection"?
He: Big connection.
She: Prove it.
He: Fine, stop the car.
She: What, are you crazy?
He: I will show you the connection.
She: Fine.

(Car stops. 'He' and 'She' exchange the seats)

She: Fine, now show me.
He: Show what?
She: The connection.
He: Oh, i was just kidding.
She: What the hell.
He: i just wanted to drive. You were driving me nuts with slow moving.
She: Dog...
He: Yes, baby...Doggy is going to be, tonight.
She: Shut up, i am not doing anything.
He: Fine, throw tantrums.
She: These are not tantrums.
He: Oh ya, sure.
She: This is my birth right.
He: Good for you.
She: (Silence) Hmm...
He: (Silence) Hmm...
She: Ok, drive are going too fast, over 100.
He: Why?
She: Because it is safe.
He: who wants to take the safe path with you?
She: (Blushing) I'll kill you.
He: You are doing that already...come here, give me a kiss.
She: Nooo, be patient.
He: I don't have such petty things to take care... (moves forward)
She: Watch it....

(Brakes are applied, screeching sound, car comes to a halt)

She: Should i drive fast?
He: Your wish.
She: Really, we can like go at 100 if you want.
He: No, it's ok.
She: You were horny naa.
He: Not anymore, specially after giving 500 bucks to the thulla.
She: Tsk Tsk....
He: Drive carefully, you don't want to jump 2 red lights in one day.
She: Ya, right.
He: Shut up.
She: What's my mistake? You wanted to kiss.
He: Yes, all mistakes are mine.
She: Ok, ok...we will not talk about it.
He: OK
She: Atleast smile now.
He: No, i don't want to.
She: Don't be a spoil sport.
He: I don't want any soiled sports.
She: Not even the one with whipped cream tonight.
He: (Smiling) Not really.
She: Really?
He: Yes, really.
She: Fine, so where should i drop you?
He: At my home.
She: OK
He: You forgot.
She: (thinking) What?
He: your fridge is not working.
She: So?
He: The whipped cream at my place will be fresh.
She: (blushing) Good for you.
He: For us.
She: I love you!
He: After 500 bucks sounds so materialistic.
She: After 500 kisses, it will feel all orgasmic.
He: Then drive faster, i don't want to miss it.
She: (accelerating) Yo!
He: Ok, listen...i love you too!
She: (smiling) I know!

May 3, 2011

Book Review - 25 : The Game Changers

Author: The Fake IPL Player (FIP)

Publisher: Harper Collins India

Indian Bollywood League, India's premier T20 cricket tournament, is all set for its second edition. With the hard cash that it spins around, the league is as much about cricket as it is about the stars involved - both on the field and off it. Upsetting the apple-cart for many of them is FIP, the Fake IBL player, spreading gossip and tainting reputations with the scandalous revelations on his blog. Now super-sleuth Parminder Mahipal Singh a.k.a Detective PMS, has been roped in to go undervcover and find the treacherous 'rat'. With big bucks, bigger personalities and fragile egos battling for supremacy, can politics, conspiracy and deception be far behind? Will PMS be able to stop the Fake IBL player from spreading his poison?

TGC is a compelling cast of characters from Kings of Bollywood, glamorous starlets, cricketing demi-gods, business tycoons; a setting where everyone has something to gain and a whole lot to lose during this 35-day extravaganza. It also gives an inside view of what exactly does happen behind the scenes in cricket's richest league. FIP blog in 2009 developed a cult following and this book extrapolates it further in the realms of fictional events and incidents. The book is thoughtful and provoking, yet provides insight to those little nuances of cricket.

The main punching point about the blog or even the book is how uneasily it mixes fact and fiction in equal proportions, never making any pretension of crossing those sacred lines. It is not an easy story to appreciate specially if you are not very well versed with cricketers and IPL teams. There is a story within a story, each of the characters has two names - one in the story, one on the blog, and add a third one if you connect it to real cricketers. This just increases the possibility that you may miss some of the in-jokes. At 400 odd pages, no doubt it is long but with brisk narrative and short crispy chapters, the author keep the interest alive. His trademark tongue-in-cheek humour is pretty evident here. My only regret are the portions cut-paste from his blog entries of IPL-2. Someone who has followed his writings in 2009 will find them repetitive and to an extent, boring.

The sub-plots involving the Indian cricket captain’s love interest and the power equations in the cricketing world, add the right masala ingredients to make it a Bollywood potboiler. The digs on SRK or Sreesanth alike characters are exactly what legends are made up of. However, my favourite portion in the book is when the actions of FIP are compared to a poker player towards the climax. It is engrossing because here FIP deliberates how he made a fool of everyone by just observing reactive action of the players and reading their minds, but at the same time making sure not to reveal his own true identity.

I am going with 3/5 for FIP's, The Game Changers. People who don't follow cricket may be bored with it, but then this book is not meant for such philistine people in any case. The message is pretty clear, the cricket in IBL is strictly secondary... the machinations and the mind-games behind the scenes is what makes this tournament so exciting. Worth reading for all those cricket fanatics!