Bombay Duck is a fish - Review

My first thought on picking up a book called ‘Bombay Duck is a Fish’ was curiosity on why a fish would be called a duck. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. Apparently this fish, native to the waters near Mumbai used to be processed, dried and transported to East Bengal on the Bombay Mail (Bombay Dak) train during British times. The fish gave its odor to the train popularizing the term ‘you smell like Bombay Duck’ (Dak corrupted) and in return the train gave the fish its name and so the fish came to be called Bombay duck. So what has this got to do with a story on Bollywood? Well, isn’t Bollywood an illusory world of glitz and glamour where things are not what they seem? A world where what seems a duck may be a fish in reality! A world where on screen fantasy is a fa├žade behind which lurks a dark world filled with politics, backstabbing and debauchery. This book explores the journey of a small town girl who comes to India’s tinsel town with a dream.

Neki Brar, the protagonist of this book is a MBA from a middle class family in Amristsar who ditches a cushy corporate job offer in Delhi choosing instead to come to Mumbai in pursuit of her dream. Many stories have been told about men and women with dreams of becoming actors. The story of someone wanting to become a film maker however comes as a breath of fresh air. It takes the reader inside the engine of a movie to explore the cogs that make the movie work. It all looks so simple on the screen and it is often so easy for spectators to watch the movie and criticize. But a movie is not just about hero, heroine and story. There are so many other things to coordinate – the songs, the music, the backdrop, the camerawork, the dances, the supporting cast, the costumes, etc! The director and her team of around half a dozen assistants have to combine all these elements together and provide a seamless viewing experience to the spectators. Neki starts her career as the junior most member of this team. This book provided a wellspring of information on all the efforts that take place behind the screen. The fact that the author Kanika Dillon herself has been through this path lends an air of authenticity to the narrative.

One must say this book definitely has its heart in its right place. Neki comes across as a genuine person, someone who we come across in our day to day life. One can definitely relate to her aspirations and feelings. In some ways she reminded me of the female leads in the English movie ‘Devil wears Prada’ and the Hindi movie ‘Fashion’. However I did not find Neki as endearing as the other two. Probably Neki’s stoic cynicism was infectious making me experience a sense of detachment from her travails. Also I feel the story moves on flat terrain like a toy train rather than like a roller coaster without any elements of surprises, shocks and euphoria. There is always a sense of impending doom and the victories seemed minor and kind of Phyric.

As far as the characters go, Neki’s character was definitely quite well etched. There are quite a few other interesting characters too – the other assistant directors, her room mates, the second hero Ranvir Khanna for instance. But most of them seem mere shadows hardly making an impact. I could hardly remember anything about any of them at the end of the book. The only character who left a lasting impression on me was Aslam the line producer, a shrewd manipulator with a dirty sense of humor.

The narrative is in first person, some of it excerpts from her diary and some reflections on her past as she sits on the terrace contemplating suicide. But somehow the diary entries and memories are not well demarcated and kind of flow into each other. Giving her diary a name ‘Nano’ was a cute feminine touch. The narrative has quite a bit of sarcastic humor. But I felt it was half hearted and there is continuous vacillation between trying to win the reader’s sympathy and being sarcastic. Both these positions kind of neutralize each other. But there are lots of portions that do give a good laugh. It is also interesting how she keeps introducing some piece of trivia and relating it to the events that are happening. She also tries connecting the events with her mother’s diet tips, her father’s favorite book 'Sidhartha' by Herman Hesse and Freudian theories. Whereas this works handsomely in some places, it seems artificial, contrived and out of place in others. One of the things I really love in the narrative are the letters to her mother in which she twists the facts and gives a sweet sugar coated version of the happenings in her life.

Overall I give thumbs up to this book. Kanika is a new voice in Indian literature with an honest story. This book might not win any literary awards or be a mass entertainer like ‘5 point someone’. But she still definitely manages to holds her own. The reader would definitively get value for his 195 Rs and 6-7 hours.

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

Ender series (Bean Saga) Review

There’s nothing more pure and cruel as a child” says Jet Black in the cult classic anime Cowboy Bebop. This might seem quite paradoxical and totally contrary to our opinion of children as the paragons of all human virtue. But if we think of it, it actually makes sense. Innocence and lack of guile, which are the key virtues of a child, also gives the child immense power to commit acts of terrible cruelty without a hint of hesitance or remorse. In real life, probably we do not come across these instances so much because children are too weak and their actions tend to be restricted by adults. But a closer observation of their behavior with insects and smaller animals will probably bring out the point. Read the rest of this post here on my dedicated science fiction blog.

Dune Series Review

As far as good writing goes, usually the devil is in the details. When writing about the present, many authors usually try to draw from personal experience. Some authors go to length to experience really dangerous and awkward situations to be able to depict them accurately in their stories. That can be a challenge but it is not impossible. Things get tougher when writing about the past. Here one can't rely on personal experiences unless some day time travel becomes a reality. So the writer has to depend on second hand information. He has to pore over numerous accounts regarding the period of time he is covering in his story to get a mental image of how things would have been in those times. Wherever details are not there, he has to fill up the gaps with consistent assumptions. Now how about the future? That too not the near future but really distant future! This is the task faced by writers of science fiction. Different writers deal with this differently. Easiest way is to keep the narrative sketchy. Another way is to keep most of the things same as current times but add futurist elements in some aspects alone. A third alternative is to go full throttle but hope the reader would forgive them for internal inconsistencies. It takes a real master to take up all the aspects of environment, society, economy, politics, technology, culture and social values and extrapolate them into the distant future in full detail and weave a story around them. The one master who has accomplished this is Frank Herbert in his Dune series – a magnum opus indeed!

Click here to read the rest of this article on my blog dedicated to science fiction, fantasy and Historic Fiction.

Legacy of Bharatavarsha

A pall of darkness spread over the land of light.
Plundered and looted century after century,
Our ancient mother land lay bound in shackles
Enervated, helpless and worn out, a legacy lost.

Invaders powerful came sailing from far away seas
With a hand of iron the land they ruled, for were they
Of war craft, masters; of umpteen battles, veterans
No answer had we for their canons and muskets

But one hero stood in their path of complete dominion
He held no gun, no sword not even a humble kitchen knife
Half naked, thin and starved, was he; a most unlikely warrior
But held he a weapon secret, most powerful and potent

One weapon to rule them all, one weapon to bind them all
Lord of all swords of metal that cut wood and flesh
Is the sword of truth that cuts through deception and lies
This sword, the legacy of this land, he held in his heart

For this is the land of the noble king Harish Chandra,
The noble Raja who to keep his word gave away his kingdom,
Sold into slavery, himself, his queen and his one and only child
Never ever an inch swerved even in face of grave calamities

For this is the land of the wise scholar Nakkeeran
The learned poet who held steadfastly on to truth
Even against the wrath of the mighty God Shiva himself
To ashes be burnt he chose rather than truth forsake

For this is the land of the saintly prince Siddhartha,
Who home and hearth, wife and child leaving went
Into the wilderness, all alone in search of the truth
Seeking relentlessly, till the truth itself revealed

Truth, his blade and armor, absolutely no fear had he, this hero
The baton blows, he boldly faced, not even an eyelid batting
A whole nation he inspired to stand up and her legacy reclaim.
In defense of truth laid down he his life, and immortal became.

This is the proud legacy of our ancient mother land
The legacy preserved by sages and kings of the yore
The lost legacy, our nation’s father reclaimed for us
The legacy of truth, Bharatavarsha’s gift to the world

Dark clouds now loom ominously over the entire world
Succor is desperately sought from the ancient land of light
Will she regain her lost spirit and reclaim her ancient legacy
In time to save this world engulfed in lies and deception?

This post is a part of Patriotic poetry contest by Gurukripa. If you liked these poems, please check out my other poems by clicking here.

Chrestomanci series Review

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'Diana Wynne Jones'. Name sounds quite a mouthful, eh? In spite of considering myself a connoisseur of science fiction and fantasy for both children and adults, I had not heard of her for quite some time. So when I picked up the book ‘Charmed Life’ from the local British Council Library, it was to be just another dose of any children’s fiction that I need from time to time to maintain my sanity in this insane adult world. I was so pleasantly surprised by the caliber of storytelling that I had to read the rest of her Chrestomanci series. Looking her up on Wiki, I came to know that this had not been my first introduction to her. One of my favorite anime movies ‘Howl’s moving Castle’ had been based on a book by her.

Click here to the read the rest of this post on my fantasy blog

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces