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January 31, 2013

Mandola ala Pankaj Kapur's Drunken Histronics

Watching Vishal Bhardwaj's 'Matru ki Bijli ka Mandola' earlier this month was a gentle reminder of the blazing versatility of Pankaj Kapur, an actor which in all earnestness has never got its due despite a string of mind blowing performances over the years.He is quite audible during most of the scenes in the movie and considering he is always almost drunk in these acts is all the worth more. 

Considering the meandering screenplay and at times, utterly random meandering of characters in the movies, his performance comes not as a pleasant surprise but mostly unexpected. He literally carries the film on his shoulders and it is to the credit of Imraan Khan rising acting credentials that he does not allow Kapur to completely overshadows him. And in one exceptional scene, when Mandola evocatively outlines his vision of farms turning into shopping malls, he kicks things off with brutal lyricism, by saying this dream has been clawing at the back of his eyelids.

The movie, itself is far from his best work which till date remains his debut movie 'Maqbool' (unless you ignore the largely uninspired climax of 'Omkara'). But it is definitely more accessible than 'Saat Khoon Maaf' and that's a good thing from the director who once was known not to take the audience intelligence for granted specially after 'Kaminey'. But for Pankaj Kapur's performance and to catch the subtle nuances of his acting skills, MKBKM just require a repeat viewing.

January 29, 2013

Book Review - 113 : Melancholic Delight

Author : Tista Ray
Publisher : Smriti Publishers 

‘There’s no love like the first love. There’s no feeling like the desperation to attain true love. Love or lust matters not when two eyes meet, uniting the souls at once’

It’s this love which frees Sri from the reign of darkness and makes her heart rise to lofty heights of anticipated passion with no one to pull her back to reality. It’s Jishu, who appears as the first ray of hope in her overshadowed life and showers her with the ultimate sense of freedom, which she has been craving for. He fills her life with the long awaited perfection. To a flawed person he appears as the flawless. He becomes one among her most perfect acquaintances, but is he really as unblemished as he appears to be. If so, can a flawed person risk a life with the flawless? Do opposites really attract each other or it deviate them from their normal avenues of life?

The writing at times in the narrative, is deep yet distinguished and there are traces of brilliance during the musings of Sri. But as they say, teenagers should behave like teenagers and that's where you will feel let down. There are passages where they behave like adults and that's where you feel that the author has gone too far ahead of herself. Also, i felt the central protagonist came out to be too confused and deliberately trying to destroy her peace of mind. If you know that there is a communication gap and you are intended to deepen it rather than making efforts to bridge it in a relationship, then you can't blame destiny for bringing in the melancholy in your life. Isn't it? You can't have your cake and eat it too. Even though i must add that i enjoyed the regular conversations between Sri and Jishu and hide-and-seek games they play with each other which reminds you of your own school days.

I am going with generous 2/5 for debut novel of Tista Ray's 'Melancholic Delight'. There is talent in the writing, but it needs to be polished and groomed more in the future for better results. In its present form, this book is a one time short novella to be enjoyed once over its short stay of 80 pages.

You can buy the book from here.

January 28, 2013

Mini Come back of Sorts...

It has been some time i have written here minus the pending lot of book reviews looming large for months now. Things have been busy, if not entirely hectic. It started with a new job, a new city and a relationship which was reaching a new start - in the form of marriage. Yes, for everyone i got married on 7 Dec last month and as RHS of this page would indicate, have shifted back to Delhi. So ya, kinda square one in my life.

Cliche it may sound but how much you try and plan, how much you think you will be able to achieve this much in this time, life just keep throwing surprises in one form or another. But really no complaints. I think if all goes well, i am pretty close to achieving what i have always wanted in terms of career and hobbies. All it requires is ton of patience. Easier said than done, of course.

I intend to be more regular in blogging this year, as i promise myself every year. But this time, i am using blogging to overcome writer's block, so see me blabbering over a higher number of posts. And this should hopefully be the year to see where finally my writing career will turn its tide. In all its probability, it will be now or never!!

January 26, 2013

Notes on Blue : The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories from Sri Lanka

Edited By : Ameena Hussain
Publisher : Tranquebar Press

Rating : 2/5

Blue - The Tranquebar Book of Erotic Stories From Sri Lanka is a book that questions the existing sexual stereotypes in the island country through it’s collection of erotic and titillating stories. The 17 stories and poems compiled in the book portray situations and excerpts from the lives of their protagonists, where they all encounter their sexuality. These stories deliver a delicious array of situations where it seems like anything can happen – and often does but alas, it does not turn out to be very engaging.

The book's name is a tribute to the days of blue films, which most of us have watched one time or the other in our life. It will not appeal to diverse range of readers as most of the stories are written by debut or pseudonym authors. The editor attempts to assemble different genres together like teens exploring their sexuality, frustrated housewives, two strangers together in a cinema hall, the love of a convent student for her female teacher, the men bored in marriage and finding solace in phone calls and the unwitting involvement of a young girl in molestation etc. The book has made an effort to represent the various aspects and kinds of sexual relations but has been unable to do anything original with them. The poems are amateurish in the true sense and does not really fit into the anthology spirit. 

Blue is reprinted in India a year after its original Sri Lankan publication by Perera Hussein Publishing House. Its first edition had been supplemented by black and white photography in lieu of story dividers – a gratuity which was dropped in this market, something which might have just taken away some subtlety from the book. It is cinematic equivalent of watching a B-grade Porn. Read it if you must!

January 18, 2013

Notes on Namita Gokhale's 'The Habit of Love'

Author : Namita Gokhale

Publisher : Penguin India

Rating : 3.5/5

A short story is supposed to snap shut at the end with a sort of satisfactory click, but it would be difficult to distort this tale to fit an artistic requirement. My quarrel with the short story is precisely that it imposes a false order and symmetry on events, forcing impressionable young minds to anticipate a similar state from the inchoate mess that is life.

The above lines from Omen 2, one of the stories in the book encapsulates the eccentric and at times, macabre humour dripping from the writing. But all stories (narrated in the first person) manage to convey the habit of love - which is empty and full of hope at the same time.

The Habit of Love by Namita Gokhale is a collection of thirteen stories that reflect and internalize the lives of women. There are essentially two sorts of stories: contemporary, urban narratives and a re-telling of stories from the epics employing a female, subaltern point of view. But they all share the whimsical and quirky humour with which they speak of themselves and their lives.

Most of these women are not extra-ordinary but straight out of your regular lives but at the same time, they are broken - either emotionally or physically or both. They are happy and angry at small things in life and allows the readers to go through their experiences, decisions and multitude of expressions in as little words as possible.

From an older widow woman’s infatuation with a younger man to the messenger swan narrating a story of doomed lovers, Nala and Damayanti, the stories capture the essence without becoming preachy or superficial. My favourite is however, Omens 1 is about Vatsala Vidyarthi, a lonely 'literary lady' who works in an advertising agency. Vidyarthi suspects she has been robbed by her one-night stand during an official junket to Rishikesh and returns determined to bury the hurtful incident; yet it leads her to reassess the nature of faith and trust.

If reading subtle short stories is your forte, then this one is for you. Each of the story will leave you touched, yet wanting more out of it. Trust me, Not a bad feeling after reading a book!

January 15, 2013

Book Review - 112 : The Rozabal Line

Author : Ashwin Sanghi
Publisher : Westland

This review has been pending for a long time. I have read the book quite some time back but actually have to re-read certain portions in order to absorb everything and then sat down to pour my thoughts in the form of a book review. There is tremendous outflow for the conspiracy fans and someone who has always been a big fan of Dan Brown's novels, this one is truly Indian in its approach and that's where you feel more kicked about going through the narrative again.

Ashwin Sanghi has taken up the creative liberty of using various religious facts in order to whip up an epic fictional thriller. He speculates that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion and spent his missing years in India, and that the men searching for Jesus were Buddhist Monks who were searching for the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama. He mentions that the lost tribes of Israel may have settled in Kashmir. He also introduces St. Thomas as one of Jesus’s closest friends and Mary Magdalene as a woman from the ancient Mauryan Empire headed by Ashoka. Sanghi’s hypothesis goes on to establish that Jesus’s descendants are today’s Kashmiri Islamists. The author draws some similar lines between the fate of a group of terrorists and that of Jesus and his 12 apostles. The book traces the roots of various religions and states that all their origins are closely knit.

The life of Christ in India has been the subject matter of many a non-fiction book, but fiction books on the subject are few. Save for the 70’s novel “The Thomas Document” by Hugh Gantzer, I don’t think there has been any other novel that has exploited this theme. To take threads of myriad colour and make something which is good, cohesive and symmetric is no easy task. The religions of the world and their subgroups, international politics, terrorism, secret societies, astrologers, past life regression therapy, temples and churches, international assassins, presidents and religious leaders- this has it all.

Several questions remain, some of them being: Why did Thomas continue to preach Christ crucified and risen to those first Brahmin converts on the Malabar coast when his master himself was alive and living in Kerala? If Jesus didn’t really travel to India, why does the legend of Yuz Asaf resemble him so closely? If Jesus and the hermetic Essene sect (that John the Baptist also belonged to) were not influenced by Buddhism, what are we to make of what is now known as “The Jesus Scrolls” at the Hemis Monastery in Tibet — scrolls that tell of an Essene scholar who studied at the monastery? Where — and who — are Jesus’ Indian descendants now?

It is not that writing is free from flaws. With extra short chapters in between all through the narrative, the ride is at times jerky and in the end, there are just so many characters to deal with that you require a master guide to remember who is who in the story. The narrative at times jumps from one chapter to another across continents and characters which makes difficult to absorb the intentions of all the characters in first reading.

I am going with 4/5 for Ashwin Sanghi's debut novel 'The Rozabal Line'. It is a terrific debut novel which was waiting to be explored. It was first published in 2007 under Sanghi's pseudonym Shawn Haigins in the United States. The revised edition was later published in India under Sanghi’s own name in 2008 before Westland published it in 2010. Thank god for that! Don't miss it, it deserves your money and time.

January 12, 2013

Book Review - 111 : 31

Author : Upendra Namburi
Publisher : Westland 

31, a corporate thriller, deals with a contemporary subject of restructuring and layoffs and has an unique narrative style, with one chapter for each of the 31 days in the month of March. It reveals the ruthlessly cut-throat world of the banking industry, but also its humour, quirks and strange camaraderie.

It is the story of Ravi Shastry, a regional head at Imperial, a multinational Bank. The month of March starts off on a positive note and he seems set for a promotion to the Head Office in Mumbai or possibly even an international assignment. However the next 31 days will change his life forever…

The collapse in Imperial’s Brazilian subsidiary triggers an upheaval within the bank as thousands are laid off across the globe. A restructuring is advocated in the Indian operations and to make matters worse, it becomes clear that a firing list will be released on 31st March which could cull a large portion of the Indian employee base. In such a state of cataclysm, battle lines are drawn, bizarre alliances of convenience are formed and conspiracies are hatched as employees struggle to ensure their name is not on the dreaded list. Ravi sees his friendships dissolving, his help lines disappearing and his reputation withering. He finds himself in a quagmire of deceit, lies and subterfuge.

In a perverted twist of fate, his wife Savitha discovers that her job is also on the line! A series of personal and financial debacles amidst social ignominy pushes Ravi to the verge of insanity. He has been a stellar performer and a fast riser. This is unchartered territory that challenges his principles and demands political acumen. Will he find himself compromising his principles to emerge victorious? Will he keep his family together by 31st March? Will he have a job on 31st March?

Nambudri has managed to create a suitably claustrophobic environment where he throttles his poor protagonist, slowly turning the screw on him by hitting him with one problem after another. This is commendable when you realize that most of the characters actually converse through emails, phone conversations and BB instant messages. Every one is on the run, everyone is saving their ass and it is difficult in such a situation to find out who is your true friend or enemy. The dialogues are fast paced and as action happens mostly in closed spaces, you are bound to feel the urgency and anxiety the characters are going through in their life.

The writing is lucid and the conversations are real. If you don’t like numbers, you may find this book a bit hard to pull through, as there’s a good amount of talk related to the financial number crunching. The climax in intentionally keep opened for a possible sequel and that's where i felt let down. There is a strong tendency these days in Indian fiction to have trilogies made out and this is one of those books where it just does not make sense to have a sequel. Me, as a reader definitely wanted a closure.

I am going with 3.5/5 for Upendra Namburi's '31'. Fast paced and well edited, it is one of those rare corporate thrillers which will make you turn pages with alarming rate. Read it in one go, it will make for even more pleasurable experience.

January 9, 2013

Book Review - 110 : Intermission

Author : Nirupama Subramanian
Publisher : Harper Collins India

Set in Gurgaon, the dazzling face of modernity in India, Intermission takes us into the lives of Varun and Gayatri Sarin, not-so-happily-married corporate couple who are trying to come to terms with life in India after several years of an ordered existence in the First World. Varun is focussed on running his own business; Gayatri yearns for her friends and her life in the US. Their son Anirudh is grappling with his first adolescent crush. From intrusive in-laws and absconding domestic staff to potholes and pigs on the road, there is a new challenge to be confronted every day. Then Varun meets Sweety, young mother-of-twins, who is living her dream life in a nuclear family, and everything changes. For him, for Sweety, and insidiously, for everyone around them.

It deals with a typically NRI problem: resettling in chaotic India after several years spent in an ordered existence in the First World. The book may claim to be a story of relationships in the contemporary India but unfortunately it has very little to offer in terms of a plot. The couple hardly talk about their lives with each other, they are not even ready to discuss their life, the everyday routine activities (as it may appear through the narrative). How can we even made to assure that this is contemporary India? Even if you are holding the mirror to the society through the book and portraying the 'judgement effect', it can't be so boring and flat toned.

There is a lot of sincerity to offer though with the characters. Most of the them have long solo interludes where they introspect their lives. There are upheavals and difficult decisions to be made in tough situations, yet we never see the tension or the usual anxiety in the characters. The extra marital relationship may whine and vouch for each other, but they have very little to understand in each other situations. In the end, book goes no where and just meanders all along. The climax is cop-out and goes for the traditional path without achieving anything of the substance.

I am going with 2/5 for Nirupama Subramanian's 'Intermission'. It is a simply written book, no doubt but there is absolutely nothing new to offer in terms of plot, characters, treatment or climax. It is drab, banal and will make you cringe with the sameness it has to offer all through the story. An opportunity wasted.

January 5, 2013

Book Review - 109 : The Mine

Author : Arnab Ray
Publisher : Westland

What happens when the evil lurking within men is brought out for the world to see? Is the Devil just a fa├žade created to cover the will of God? Is it universally true that the greatest evil lies deep inside?

Arnab Ray describes the terrifying experiences of a group of miners who are employed at an ancient site of worship. They starts experiencing nightmares when darkness falls, and during the day, the carvings on the underground dome drive them insane, albeit slowly. An investigation is launched with a group of experts when things get out of hand, and what they discover next sets the tone for a spine chilling journey, one that they need to get out of - alive.

The book starts sluggishly, taking its time to build the drama. Progressively,you are introduced to the various characters and their intentions — scheming scientists who will stop at nothing to attain their vaulting ambition, a female archaeologist with an insatiable hunger for sex, a clinical psychologist who gives false testimony against an actor to avenge the rape she had been subjected to, children molested by sexual perverts, an elderly doctor indulging in sado-masochism, an innocent-looking schizophrenic waiting patiently for his gory pound of flesh and more.

Philosophical at places, the book shakes you a little with the insights. A diligent mix of Science and Karma, the suspense and the thrill in the book will give you goose bumps with every new page. Ray follows the classic three-act structure to produce a solid narrative though peppered with famous Bollywood and pop culture references. At times you have to disbelieve some of the intentions and reactions in certain scenes as they don't fit in the bigger scheme of things, but since the narrative is kept at such tight leash, you are willing to forgive such minor flaws.

I am going with 4/5 for Arnab Ray's 'The Mine'. Horror in Indian fiction is a rare species, this book may have just started the trend in this genre. It is taut, exciting, eerie and there are flashes of brilliance. As the indication goes by, the sequel : The Mine - Resurrection is on its way. It will be an interesting follow-up.

January 1, 2013

Book Review - 108 : JFK

Author : Jhangir Kerawala
Publisher : Grey Oak / Westland

JFK ... A dying man’s last word ... A plea, an accusation or a clue? That’s what the police couldn’t figure out. What they did know was that they had serial murders in broad daylight, and just one suspect with little motive ... Jatin F. Karunamoi, the dead man’s best friend. Jatin is no hero; he’s an unemployed 50-year-old, desperate to find a job. But his only hope for a life of dignity lies in him finding the real killer. As he jumps headlong into the investigation he has little idea what he’s getting into ... a hunt for the faceless murderer. Each step Jatin takes to unravel the mystery brings him closer to insanity as he encounters unimaginable situations, devious characters, intrigue and ... death.

Jatin steps deeper and deeper into unfamiliar terrain and then the story does a tailspin connect with a crime-that-happened, a real time one that you and I have shuddered over on many a morning news paper. Yes, the police is on the scene alright, but Jatin, the average Bengali guy, has this love-hate relationship with the police officer investigating the crime, and there is even a woman or two and secret societies on the scene, but it all ties up at the end, well almost. The description of Kolkata and the daily life is lucid and evokes a warm response.

However, the narration is slightly ponderous at occasions and it even hinders the pace at which a reader wants to follow the solving of the crime. The twists and turns of the story hints Bollywood, and a Mango-man type in the lead is what makes it intriguing during the reading. But there are plot points that look out of place, specially the secret society in Kolkata. The second part of the book in particular is a drag with narrative moving out of Kolkata and seems to go on  for pages without achieving anything of substance. At this point, the intention of reading a tight thriller is withered away by introducing newer characters and unnecessary sub-plots which takes the focus away from the murder mystery completely.

I am going with 2.5/5 for Jhangir Keriwala's debut novel 'JFK'. It starts with a promise and the first part is written well. Wish you can say the same for the second part and the overall novel. An opportunity to have a tight thriller set in the background of Kolkata seems wasted. A one-time read for those mystery enthusiasts.