Book Review: One and a Half Wife

While the Indian author community is hell bent on churning out meaning-less love stories that can be seen all around you, here is one new author who begs to differ. Meghna Pant, a financial journalist by day and an author by night, picks up a wonderful story to tell as a debut novel. One and a Half Wife is like a dab of fresh air and carves a different niche for itself among the collage of zillions of books by Indian authors these days. The back cover of the book states the story of Amara Malhotra who immigrates to America to achieve the Great American Dream but leads quite an unremarkable life until she marries a Harvard educated millionaire, Prashant Roy. However, that is far from a fairytale ending and her marriage crumbles. After which she is caught between two worlds of obedience towards her parents and new friends who encourage her to move on.

The Plot:
The story begins in Shimla in 1991 when 14 year old Amara Malhotra is taken by her mother, Biji, to several fortune-tellers around town to foretell her fate. The prophecy of a fortune telling parrot says that she will be a One and a half wife some day. Biji, a conventional Indian mother, refuses to believe in fortune tellers who predict bad fate of her child and keeps her hope alive to get the Green Card (American Citizenship) for which her brother (Dua Mama) had applied in the US. The lives of Amara, Biji and Baba (Amara’s father) change gears as they get their Green Cards and head to the USA. The Malhotra family cracks the kernel of the ‘dreamland’ called America to find out the shady insides of prejudices and divides among the Indian-American community, much to their astonishment. As the Malhotra family struggle to cope with their new alien abode, Amara is almost ostracized as an outcast among the American schools which follow a very different culture than what she had grown up in.

While Amara’s Dua Mama was supposed to be a rich Godfather for the Malhotra family, opportunity comes knocking on Amara’s doors when a Harvard-educated-millionaire-Prashant-Roy’s mother selects Amara to be the bride for her only son over Dua Mama’s American bred high-class daughters. Much to Biji’s delight, her purpose of seeing Amara settled in America finally becomes true. But life is not that easy for Amara. As she battles a hollow marriage, her parents struggle to sustain after being rendered penniless due to the high cost of marrying-off their daughter. Amara’s Amercian dream is shattered after six long years of a failed marriage and her parents fail to resign themselves to the fact and fate of their daughter.

Much to the family’s horror, they are socially ostracized by Amara’s divorce and the Malhotra family returns to Shimla after sixteen long years in the US only to find how much India has changed and developed both in in face and facets. Divorced women, still, as they find out are not as welcome here and Amara has to deal with angry parents, goons of the local moral police and battle societal norms as she finds her dignity and rightful place in the end.

The Verdict:
Meghna Pant chooses a very bold topic for her first novel and makes sure that she treats the subject with the required delicacy. The novel, is less of a story and more of a journey that the author takes you along with Amara. On several occasions, one can relate with one of the many characters or their lives in the story at many different levels at that. You cannot help but develop a relationship with Amara and Biji right at the beginning of the story and feel the connection grow stronger as you feel closer to the character with every leaf you turn. The novel takes you to a roller coaster ride into Amara’s life and her relationships and you can’t help but feel sympathy with the unfairness of life with her. Even the little subplots and characters have stories that you can’t help but feel is something that you have heard somewhere. All in all the book is a fantastic reflection of reality and many of its unspoken problems.

The two lead characters of Amara and Biji have been defined with utmost care and a solid foundation is built into the minds of the reader. Every emotion and every situation is aptly acted upon by both Biji and Amara, given the kind of people they are. Although Baba, has a silent, but very strong presence throughout. When the characters act the way you would had you been in their shoes, you know that you are staring not into the words of a book but into the naked face of reality. Frankly Speaking, One and a Half Wife is by far one of the best books that I have read in a long time. Kudos to Meghna Pant and congratulations to her on having written such a wonderful story. What should be said has been said, what’s unsaid, dawns on you slowly but surely.

My Rating: 4.5/5 and a very strong word of recommendation. Order it now, you’ll not regret it. Miss it and believe me, you’re missing an unknown face of life.

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Book Review: You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky!

Graduating from one of the top B-Schools of the country and then jumping onto the band-wagon of writing books and love stories at that seems not just to be a trend but a habit in India these days. Such is the story of yet another IIM graduate, Priya Narendra. You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is Priya’s first book for an Indian audience after having published one in the UK earlier (the name of which I was unable to find out sadly). You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is a hardcore romantic story written from the perspective of Kajal a Copywriter in an advertising agency in Delhi. Priya herself being a copywriter, many incidents, in the book, come from her own experiences.

The back cover of the book defines Kajal as a sassy, never-afraid-to-make-an-idiot-of-herself-in-public copywriter who decides to put her love life on hold to focus on her career and this is when after making umpteen mistakes to find the right guy for her, she accidentally meets the perfect man for her. It also states the choices in love she has as well as the collage of problems and difficult-to-deal clients at work. Well, for now, I’ll just say, this is one book you should not judge by it’s cover.

The Plot:
You Never Know….. is the story of Kajal, a copywriter living in Delhi and hails from Meerut. Kajal is a modern days’ girl, in her late 20’s who would prefer to get married to the guy who she falls in love with, but her mother is hell bent on getting her married off to one of her friend’s son Bunty. Kajal has a life that is too unbelievably fucked up. (It seems that either God or the author is one of her arch enemies.) She meets a guy Dhir at a wedding in Delhi, while running away from Bunty. She finds Dhir perfectly compatible for her, but can’t date him because he lives in Mumbai and it’s ‘impractical’ to be in a long distance relationship according to her. Even at work, she is the subject of all jokes in office and is not getting anywhere on the professional front. She gets into a hurried love affair with an acquaintance of hers but gradually ends up dumping him in front of his parents when she finds him to be too possessive and rather spineless. Meanwhile, she meets and makes friends with a neighbor who is famous as an accused ‘molester’ after he saves her life.

Now as luck would have it, she again meets Dhir while visiting Mumbai on an official tour and ends up stranded with him when a massive rainstorm hits Mumbai. It is then that the two fall in love and decide to give their relationship a chance. Once back in Delhi, the rest of the book revolves around how Kajal cracks a crucial ad campaign for a condom company, how Dhir and Kajal try to work out their relationship and what finally happens to Bunty when he goes down-on-one-knee for Kajal in the middle of a crowded New Delhi Railway station. I shall leave all of that for you to figure out.

The Verdict:
I was always curious about what went inside a woman’s head and Priya Narendra takes me there and makes me stay for all 231 pages of her book. You Never Know When You’ll Get Lucky! is a chick-book if that is a term. It is written by a quill borrowed from the stands of Cecelia Ahren and the Mills and Boon clan. The book is funny in parts and paragraphs but to you have to make an effort not to do a million things you would rather do than to read it through. Copywriters no doubt may be obsessed with brands but naming so many of them is unfair to the reader who has no idea about all the restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai and the clothing and fragrances that girls wear. Also, girls may like to talk in short-forms but when writing a book, one should take care that there might be guys reading it and googling is just not possible for everything. (But thanks to Priya, I now know who an MCP is or what being AWOL means.)

The characters of the book are pretty much predictable, except Bunty, and the one thing that I liked the most about the book that Priya gives closure to every sub-plot once she started it. Unfortunately, there too much of Kajal in the book to care about an other character and Kajal has been described well. The writing could have been far more formal, so that it didn’t look like I was reading a personal blog of a girl or eavesdropping on two girls gossiping about their love lives. The narration is smooth and picks pace after the initial few chapters.

Though it did not exactly work out for me, but frankly speaking, this a book that girls will surely find as a good time pass read. It’s the kind of book you pick up before a journey to kill time and qualifies for a stretch read (in case you are not carrying your iPod along.)

My Rating: 2.25/5

PS: One request to the author, please use smileys only while chatting or texting. Use words instead, to convey emotions.

Movie Review: Shanghai

Shanghai

For an ad-film maker, serious film making does not come easy. Or let me rephrase that, according to popular belief, the abundance of a sense of humor in ad-film makers makes them graduate naturally to comedy and Dibakar Banerjee has been a big contributor to this belief with his previous films. While Dibakar Bannerjee has treated sensitive issues and real life stories with a touch of humor till now, he makes an out an out politico-drama with Shanghai. (Excuse me for not using the word thriller with the description of the genre of the film.) Based on the novel Z, Shanghai is a film that is based in an unnamed city in an unnamed state of India where, as it is in the rest of India, politics is the dirtiest and darkest of ditches. Dibakar treads on the sensitive line of morality and sense of duty in his characters who battle the scum of politicians and bureaucracy and sugar-coated threats to their lives and careers.

The Plot:
A fictional town in India is on the path of progress when a part of the town, Bharatnagar, is set to be converted into a business park, called the IBP (International Business Park), backed by the CM of the state and other powerful politicos. On the eve of the launch of this project, a celebrated social activist, Dr. Ahmedi (Prosenjit Chatterjee) is run over by a speeding truck after delivering a speech opposing the IBP project. While Ahmedi lands in the hospital, the Vice Chairman of IBP, IAS officer T.A. Krishnan (Abhay Deol) is appointed to lead the CM’s enquiry commission into the matter of the alleged accident of Dr. Ahmedi. Krishnan crosses path with a Ahmedi’s ex-student Shalini Sahai (Kalki Koechlin) and a videographer (and part time pornographer) Jogi Parmar (Emraan Hashmi) during the course of his investigation. Jogi’s boss finds some evidence against the CM in the accident of Ahmedi. As Krishnan dig deeper into the case, he finds himself caught in a web of corrupt policemen and politicians all dancing to the tunes of the CM herself. The rest of the story revolves around how the three protagonists follow the path of truth against all odds.

The Verdict:
Dibakar Bannerjee departs from his usual humoristic style and embraces reality with a pinch of salt. What is best about the film is that all the actors deliver fine performances and look perfectly fit for their characters. The most surprising element is Emraan Hashmi, it’s his only second film that I have watched and I was glad to see the stained-tooth desi videographer, with a visible paunch, rather than a serial kisser. Abhay Deol fumbles with his South Indian accent, at times, but looks good in his part as an IAS officer bound to his career and as usual delivers a fine performance. Kalki, hits the right chord too. Her diction of Hindi is getting better with every film and she has a strong screen presence to add to her character each time. Prasenjit Chatterjee delivers an earnest performance with his role as Dr. Ahmedi but the one person who steals the show here, is Farooq Sheikh as Kaul, the Principal Secretary to the CM. Also, not to forget, the spot on performance by Pitobash Tripathy as Bhagu, a goon, working for the party.

What I felt missing in the film was a concrete conclusion after a very strong climax. Also, a few sub-plots have been left unconcluded, I feel. Also, though the film runs for just over 2 hours, yet the film is slow at times. The music is good and well paced and adds a lot of intensity to the beautiful cinematography in the limited scope of a small city. Watch it to face reality, watch it for the fine performances but above all, watch it for the sheer honesty with which the film is made. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best political drama’s so far.

My Rating: 3.25/5

My first Blogversary

It was exactly around the same time last year that while sitting in my office at my Summer Training site, due to lack of any other job, I started this blog and happily so, if I must say, it was the best ‘bored’ decision I ever made in my life. Today, I stand a little known blogger in the blogging circuits. A trip to behind the scenes at the Roadies 9 auditions, an Interview with Nagesh Kukunoor, a war of words over the Madrasan-Delhi boy rift, several free book (for reviews), an Andriod tablet, free energy drink samples, movie reviews and invitations to a few Blogger meets down, I must say, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Fellow Blogger Prabhdeep Singh was my inspiration to start a blog and then it was the encouragement of family and friends, thereafter, that set my ship sailing the high seas. There is a long list of people I wish to thank, but taking names here would bore a lot of those who don’t know them. On the first anniversary of my blog, I would like to suggest 7 blogs to my readers, other than mine of course, which I consider as ‘must reads,’ (in no particular order of preference):

  1. Vantage Point
  2. Broken Morning
  3. The Mind is a Playground
  4. The Blunt Blog
  5. JabberWockey
  6. Viva la Vida
  7. Zilch to Zenith

Frankly Speaking, this, by far, is the shortest blogpost but a heart felt Thank You to all who have read and visited my blog.

Hoping to entertain you as always,

Yours,
@franklyaman