Monthly Archives: August 2011

Bombay Duck is a Fish – Review

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.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!


Chanakya’s Chant

Politics is a cliched field..nothing new ever happens. The new too, is not necessarily an improvement of the past. “Chanakya’s Chant” by Ashwin Sanghi is a parallel reading of the original and the cliche. The book takes us in a rocking time travel machine to roughly 2300 yrs ago where kingdoms that squabbled in what will be “Bharat” to present day India where the squabbling continues. Greatness as Malvolio puts it in the “Twelfth Night” is not something to be afraid of “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” That seems to be the running theme in the book as it focuses on people on whom greatness is thrust upon, on the ones who were born so and more importantly on the two people who achieve it. Chanakya’s chant traverses the life of Chanakya whose mission is to install Chandragupta Maurya on the throne of Magadha, defeat Alexander and unite the various warring kingdoms to create a strong, self sufficient Bharat. His greatness is achieved through a series of events in his life, which shapes his philosophical as well as his political views. With the Takshila University forming the background, the setting is laid for the master strategist to craft a worthy revenge against the King of Magadha for murdering his family, while plotting the downfall of Alexander who comes to India seeking fame and new lands to conquer. His biggest coup-d’etat however will be seeing his protege Chandragupta Maurya become the king of Magadha and usher in the Age of Empires through the Mauryan empire.

Roughly two and half thousand years later, Pandit Gangasagar Mishra in Kanpur with providence and divine luck on his side, uses similar strategies to bring his protegee Chandini Gupta to power by making her the Prime Minister of a united India. Every means, be it lying, fudging the truth, murder, concealment, inciting violence, threat or plain cunning strategy is used to justify the end. Both Kautilya and consequently Gangasagar believe in the principles of Saam, Daam, Dand, Behd – Equality, Enticement, Punishment, Dissension. They use it strategically to extract the maximum benifit resulting in book that is fast paced, gripping and riveting to read.

The research and the fictionalized history blend beautifully and makes the tale of the two Chanakyas enchanting. The part I found interesting was how both Chanakya and Gangasagar keep chanting the Shakthi Mantra as a means of strength and in Gangasagar’s case wisdom, and yet have no qualms in using religion itself as a means to achieve the end.

Two things that disturbed about the novel was the lack of a higer goal for Gangasagar mishra. Chanakya’s every move and every strategy was planned with two things in mind, to usurp the hedonistic King of Magadha and install Maurya, therby creating Bharat and putting a break on the Alexander war machine that threated the subcontinent. Mishra’s goal however revolves entirely around making Chandini the PM on India. Chandini’s character could have also been etched better. Maurya’s character worked with Chanakya because of the teacher student relationship they shared all their life. Chandini and Mishra on the other hand seem more forced together because of the lack of background on Chandini. The historical part was more tightly woven and well written, the present becomes tedious due to a few exagerrated events and conversations and the juvenile humour in places.

The novel as a whole is excellent and the reader does not tire of the constant move between past and present. In a lot of places, the conversation bear a heavey resemblance to Jeffrey Archer novels like “Kane and Abel and “The Prodigal Daughter”. A tight, fast paced reading of fictionalized history that fits beautifully into the present.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!