It’s raining ‘authors’ inIndia. And perhaps it is the best time for wanna-be authors to get those manuscripts out in the market. That’s because, my dear friends, there is a reader for almost any book in the market today! Thanks to a few good friends turning authors, free books from a friendly portal and an invite to review a book for a book discussion, I have added some debutante authors to my bookshelf.
The latest addition is Kanika Dhillon and her debut novel Bombay Duck is a Fish
Kanika’s book is a parable for almost every starry-eyed entrant in the world of dreams. The fact that she mentions Shah Rukh Khan as one such erstwhile struggler in tinsel town, is what makes us look for similarities between her protagonist Neki Brar and her favourite actor SRK who is nothing less than a God to Kanika. Of course everything falls in place when you read a little more about the author. She heads the Creative Content Division at SRK’s Red Chillies, has written the screenplay for his most ambitious home project till date and that he launched her debut novel, clearly makes her a writer who has a story worth reading. But is it?
Let’s begin by saying that Bombay Duck is a Fish is a book that I would write if I were in Kanika’s place. She shares my roots, that is of being a small town girl, goes on to study in one of the most premier colleges of the country and that’s where the similarities end. She has a degree from LSE and then chooses to work in filmdom, whereas I decided to get a degree in ‘non fiction’ and chose the idiot box as my medium. But there is an inherent desire to work in a feature film, to dapple in the supposedly magical world of cinema, live my little Bollywood dream and see my name scroll by at the bottom of a long-winded credit roll at the end of a film. And yes, if I have SRK as my mentor, who knows I may have my name in the opening credit too!
The opening of the book is promising. A drunken girl perched at the ledge of her house’s parapet, flipping through her diary and contemplating the best way to make a defining jump! Neki Brar hooks you at the word go! Kanika’s heroine is a tragedienne, a comedian, a satirist, a fighter, an observer within her world. Playing to the stereotype of a newbie in Mumbai, she fights as long as it is in her to fight…and then gives it up! It takes a lot for this Amritsar kudi to convince her authoritarian father and almost senile mother that she is not made for an MNC job, that film making is her passion. And once the game of persuasion is played, she packs her bag and jets off to Mumbai. It is here that the first impressions of a small towner help Kanika write Neki’s character. Consider her very first post in her diary:
“…In my mind, Mumbai is beautiful; in reality is stinks. Thankfully memories don’t smell, so when I read this a few years from now I will be able to forget the musty smell and re-live this moment stench-free!”
Neki reaches Rose Mahal and standing at the threshold of her new home she is welcomed by the fabled Mumbai monsoons…who wouldn’t love this beautiful welcome? Her room mates, Shikha, Rosh and Zoya intimidate her and the reader, but leave you with a promise that they are likeable characters. Which they turn out to be! Neki’s professional life as it begins sweeps away a maximum part of the book. Considering Kanika started her filmy career with Farah Khan on the sets of Om Shanti Om, it is little surprise then that Neki is selected to work for Fiza Kareem and her magnum opus is called Hare Rama Hare Krishna. Little connections work and help you read the novel better. While I have never worked as an AD on a film set, I know for a fact that it isn’t one of the easiest places to work in. Being the 5th AD is definitely not a celebratory position and definitely does not paint the rosy picture that Neki does for her mother in her letters. But the struggles that Neki keeps away from her mother are true! Karan, Shivani, PJ, Sam and Kriti are for real – they are stereotypes easily identified in familiar circles of Ads. The hostility, the competition, the blame game is for real and Neki’s trials are believable. While Neki moves a lifetime within the span of one film, she also loses herself in the journey. Why do small towners in an author’s world have to fall in love with the wrong man, get bumped and pushed to the edge of nadir? What makes their tragedy truly unsympathetic is that they are aware of their mistakes, and despite their ‘know all’ helplessness they let themselves become victims! So, on the one hand, Neki’s mistakes as a novice on the film make you smile and empathize with her, on the other, her doomed love affair with an actor makes you cringe in every line! She is stupid…and in that is her tragedy.
Neki works hard to make friends. She loses some, earns some others. She learns the ropes of Bollywood. Paints a rosy picture for her mother, but remains honest to her diary. But in all of this she loses her battle too soon. Neki is predictable; some of the other characters too and in this familiarity lay the very filmy formula of this film writer! In parts the book is a good read, especially the parts when Neki muses over her life’s experiences; in some others the familiarity breeds contempt. I wish Kanika had worked a little more to tighten the nuts and bolts.
The writing is simple, conversational and pacy enough. The constant juggle between what Neki thinks at the moment and what she had written in her diary make for an interesting time travel motif. The length and titles of the chapters are catchy, good to push you to turn those pages.
Pick up the book if you are an SRK fan like Kanika. Pick it up if you love Bollywood. Pick it up if you are awestruck by the world of film making. Pick it up if you are an outsider in Mumbai and look up at the city as the place that will fulfill your dreams. But don’t pick it up if you are easily discouraged. Don’t pick up the book if you don’t have the mettle to fight every roadblock that comes before you and your dream. Don’t pick up the book if you are a small towner and believe that your fight is only worth a little! And definitely don’t let your parents read it if you like Neki look at film making as a dream job!
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