August 27, 2011

Book Review: Bombay Duck is a Fish

I had always been fascinated by the medium of films. And when in my final year of under-graduation, I realized it is not brick and concrete I want to chase, but capture stories through moving images, it was truly a moment of realization. A calling.

I signed up for this book mainly because it was about the Bollywood film industry. It's blurb read interesting, real and also entertaining. Almost like a dhamaakedaar film that scorches the screen on its opening day!

'Bombay Duck is a fish' is as refreshing a book as its title. The allusion to the misnomer in the title, very precisely suggests what the book mockingly narrates- how Bollywood is not as glitzy as it seems.

It places itself much higher than any chick flick, but falls a tad short of being a layered master-piece of fiction. But what it ends up as is an enjoyable must-read.

Kanika Dhillon most interestingly delves into the life of Neki Brar, an aspiring filmmaker from Amritsar who leaves home to Mumbai, and joins as the last AD on the sets of Fiza Khan's multi-starrer film. Being a student of film, I have my wee bit of experience in being on film sets and dealing with the exciting madhouse that sets could be. The accounts in the book were absolutely authentic and had a lovely progression of action in it. It played like a film in my head, although Farah Khan kept playing the role of Fiza in it! The supporting cast of the remained true to what Bollywood and the author claim to work most of the time- stereotypes. And quite justifiably so, stereotypes exist for a reason of convention and association that the majority of the audience have been  trained to understand over the years.

And so in Kanika Dhillon's book, we come across the typical 'Mumbai-mein-struggle-karke-naam-banaana-hain' dream of small-town girl Neki, the success-hungry-doing-favours hero Ranvir Khanna whom Neki falls for, the petty jealousies between lead actresses, the powerful Prateeksha Devi and well..., in short, there is the entire Bollywood package in place, albeit in a tongue in cheek fashion. Other interesting characters like Zoya, Sam, PJ, Aslam, Punjabi and Goku make the ride through the book interesting and liven up things immensely.

What makes the book un-put-downable and highly entertaining, is the fact that it does not let itself be just a racy story, but goes beyond it and throws in philosophy, some really good wisecracks and situational authenticity.

The letters that Neki mails her mom after every incident would remain the best part of the book for me. The contrasting nature of the letters from Neki's reality is sheer wry humour.

In the season of cameos and item songs, can a book on Bollywood be far behind? Our author brings in the inimitable Shahrukh Khan for a little role in the book. (It might be noted, that in reality , he released the book). The cameo, however, seemed a little forced in the book, as far as situational flow goes. One feels that the author could have as seamlessly strung it in, as she did the rest of the incidents in the book. The author's real life adulation comes across unabashedly here. I DO know that it is difficult to not be awe-struck by the amazingly self-made man that SRK is, especially in an industry dominated by starlets. But somehow, one wishes that the wide-eyed wonder could have been kept a tad under control.

I was glad that the end did not turn out to be a mushy tear-jerking end to a masaledaar hindi flick, but instead became a bit surreal, and therefore, a better end. I would have still preferred a different end to the book, and I must say, it left me a little disturbed. Anything more I reveal here, and I'd be killing the book for you, and hence I relapse to omerta. 

For once, one can judge the book by its cover. A special mention must be made of its wonderfully designed cover by Rupin Suchak: yet another reason for me to pick this book.

On the whole, however, I would recommend this book to every one who loves their Hindi films. Here is a book- vibrant, interesting and honest, although dealing with the world of the larger-than-life. So go, pick it up, and get lost in a world that oscillates between the reel and real worlds of Neki Brar and Co.

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

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