Bombay Duck is a fish by Kanika Dhillon starts on a promising note with the protagonist Neki Brar contemplating suicide. Before making the leap and while waiting for the playback of her life in highspeed, Neki decides to go through her diary “Nano” to see how she a small town girl who ditched her MNC job and possible Indian-American husband to become a Movie director in Bollywood ended up on the terrace of the five storey Rose Mahal building in Mumbai
Written in first person and as a retrospective narrative, Bombay Duck is the story of Neki who arrives in Mumbai to pursue her dreams of making movies, transforming herself, working towards her goals and holding on to her greatest dream of meeting Shah Rukh Khan. Does she stand up to the pressure of her work, fulfill her dreams or self-extinguish in the process of climbing the ladder of success forms the crux of the story. Hired as the Sixth Assistant Director for Fiza Kareem, Neki is thrown at the deep end of the quagmire from which dreams in Technicolor are spun. Constantly shifting from real world Pali Hill to the make believe world of Film City, the story takes us through Neki’s star struck eyes, her shock at seeing an underwear model from a hoarding, boarding with her room-mate, small time actors on set and falling head over heels for Ranvir Khanna, the second hero of the movie. Through Nano, she takes us through the trials, politics, betrayal, ecstasy, inflated ego’s of stars small and big and how she picks herself up every time, until she finds herself drunk and on the terrace thinking of suicide.
The plot is extremely fast paced and the author taps into the reader’s curiosity in seeing how ugly and miserable people who make Bollywood dreams really are. The blurring of real world and cine world and how easy it is to get trapped in the webs that are spun on set is interesting to read. It is not easy to figure out if the difficulty that Neki faces is because of the puncturing of her ideas of how Mumbai will be or the crashing of her Bollywood dreams. The harsh, back stabbing, deceptive, canny ways in which people are manipulated both in life and in the celluloid one makes her feel like a fish out of water.
The downside to the book was the characterization of Neki. The sad, easy to manipulate, naive, easily led, doormat like character makes it difficult to believe that she has the guts and gusto to make it as a director. The superficial Freudian insights and Siddhartha insights become annoying after a while. Also difficult to believe is her entry into Bollywood. There is very little growth in the character and the makes the reader wish that the tiny glimmers of self-confidence and raring to go attitude could have been developed. The fringe characters are very one-dimensional and at least a few could have been completed well or maybe that is how people becoming while attempting to create four-dimensional characters on 70mm screens.
All in all, a racy, plot with drama, comedy and tragedy. As Neki closes her nano, a new chapter begins for her. Worth a read.