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 façade 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!


Sunil Padiyar said...

Sounds interesting & something different...

The Fool said...

Definitely worth trying out, Sunil.

The Gooseberry Garden said...

you write book review?
how divine!

awesome job.

The Gooseberry Garden said...


How are you?

Jingle Poetry has moved, we are doing poetry picnic now, our week 1 theme is

“Adam and Eve” ,

Please feel free to join us, all are very welcome!
Blessings fly your way!

The Fool said...

Thanks, Gooseberry. Could not paarticipate this time. Will try next week.

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