Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Child of Misfortune - A detective novel that fails to thrill.

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Meet  Amit Pratap Rathore, a barely  5 foot something child of privilege who is known for not sitting for his Board exams, abandoning his quest of Mount Everest, giving up his startup company - in short, famous for starting something and not seeing it through. 

Also meet the inscrutable super achiever who is part French and part Indian - Jonah Michel who joins school in the graduating year and poses the greatest threat to Amit Pratap Rathore's unchallenged supremacy in chess, swimming and debating, thereby sowing the seeds of lifelong rivalry.
Also meet Mansi Agarwal , friend to both  who grows up to become a journalist and meet Kang,  a 19 year old social engineer or hacker operating out of Seoul, Korea.

To this add some more random characters like Bubujika Makinda from East Africa and Dame Loretta Quin among others; some  detailed descriptions of exotic locales like Leh, Seoul, the City of London; stir in some good old schoolboy rivalry; a smattering of deep knowledge of terrorism, drug dealing, money laundering, hacking ; garnish with some romance and violence and you have a potboiler that is supposed to keep you spell bound to the last page.

Sadly though, this book fails at some level to keep you enthralled. Despite the good language, and thorough background research the characters don't ring true and the story seems terribly contrived. This first book by Soumitra Singh ends up looking more like a Hardy Boys clone rather than a sophisticated thriller in the manner of Ludlum  and Forsyth. The story starts with Amar landing up in Leh supposedly to track down Mansi and takes us back in the past to their life in Bombay after the gruesome decapitation of a Buddhist monk, the theft of the Prophet’s Hair an unsuccessful suicide bomb attack and the destruction of an Al Qaeda camp near the Siachin glacier. These seemingly unrelated incidents are part of an international conspiracy of drug dealing and money laundering all eventually tying in with a larger terrorist plan. Somehow Jonah gets wind of this and lures Amar, the bleeding heart idealist, to help him bring the culprits to book. 

While all of this doesn't seem improbable, what is hard to believe is the proficiency of these young detectives: at age 16, Jonah is an accomplished chess player and a proficient killer who cold bloodedly gets rid of his enemies. It is no surprise then that by the age of 21 he is fluent in Kashmiri and Czech, an expert in martial arts and weaponry, a computer whiz and a financial consultant! Amar too, seems to be another whizz kid with  a razor sharp mind that allows him to understand the entire Kashmir problem in a mere 7 hour session at an Internet café and figure out the exits in a building that he has just entered a few seconds earlier!

This is a brave first attempt but unfortunately "The Child of Misfortune"  is an exercise in futility. Perhaps this book will appeal more to young adults rather than old timers like me and I'd rather wait till Soumitra Singh  grows up and finds his place in the sun. 

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

2 STATES - Enjoyable but too long

While Chetan Bhagat is no literary genius he is a great storyteller and definitely has a great sense of humour. He is also lucky his family hasn't disowned him or objected to being bandied about in his book. I remember Gerald Durrell saying in his subsequent book after "My Family and Other Animals", his sister Margo was often asked " So now, which animal are you?" So I feel any author who actually writes about his family albeit with lots of affection and absolutely no malice runs the risk of getting brickbats from his own family if no one else for writing about them so publicly.

But it is the honest simplicity of his story that I suppose makes him one of India's most read contemporary authors today. It is also the ordinariness of his life that makes his stories worthy of becoming movies. After the success of 3 Idiots and Kai Poche, it was only to be expected that one day the story of his own marriage would become a Bollywood script.

The Plot

So we have Arjun Kapoor looking decidedly ordinary acting as Krish Malhotra, the stereotypical IIT IIM student who falls in love with Ananya Swaminathan played by Alia Bhatt. As is to be expected, the two have an inauspicious start when our hero comes to the rescue of the heroine who is unable to stomach the slosh served as sambhar in the IIM hostel. Making it quite clear to Krish that she has no intention of falling for an IIT dude, the two embark on a simple friendship which deepens into love. Coming from typical Punjabi and TamBram families, the two encounter stiff resistance from both their families, the seeds of hate being sown at their very first meeting at the convocation. Such situations normally call for a runaway marriage, but our hero and heroine being honourable and respectful of their parents, refuse to take the easy way out  but work towards getting their parents' approval. So Krish relocates to Chennai to get to know his future in laws better and to ingratiate himself with the family that strongly resists him. But Ananya gets Krish to tutor her brother for the IIT entrance exam thus ensuring that he comes to their house every day. He also manages to get Ananya's mother to perform "professionally" at his Bank's function.  Krish finally gets a chance to break through his father-in-law's reserve by offering him help with a PowerPoint Presentation. With the barriers finally broken down, Krish proposes to all four of them, accepting the fact that he not only had to marry Ananya but also her family!

With one half of the battle won, it remained for his family to accept the "Madrasin" as she is referred to and Krish decides to take her home for his cousin's wedding. Ananya's visit to his home doesn't go down too well especially with his mother who feels that her son has been ensnared, but eventually her spirited confrontation with the the groom makes her a hero in Krish's family's eyes.

But both the families still had to meet! So the couple decides to get both families down to Bombay for a combined holiday. This proves to be a disastrous idea because instead of getting things sorted out, it actually makes things worse forcing the young couple calls  off their relationship.

Eventually Krish's father with whom he has a rocky relationship comes to the rescue and plays cupid and the couple manage to get married in a beautiful ceremony by the seaside.

The movie

Despite the brilliant acting by both Arjun Kapoor and Alia Bhatt, excellent support by the parents, great dialogue and an un-exaggerated account of the differences between the North and the South, the movie gets too long and tends to drag particularly with the song and dance sequences that could easily have been left out.

I also couldn't figure out where the Psychiatrist comes into the picture especially since Krish, who wants to commit suicide, eventually leaves the clinic with his twins, obviously pleased with the way things turned out.

The verdict

I was surprised to see this movie running to a packed house for a 9.30 Sunday morning show at Inox, particularly the large number of men in the audience, because even though this film tells a man's love story, it has a strong chick flick quotient. However, this is a movie worth seeing - well cast, well acted and tastefully done. 

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Ladies who tea

Birthday Leftovers
Birthday Leftovers (Photo credit: yvestown)
Life completes a full circle. When we were little girls the only entertainment we were allowed to go to were birthday parties which were generally always tea parties. Of course we were never served tea but since we were out from 4-6, it was generally referred to as a tea party. Soon we graduated to school socials, birthday parties, jam sessions, dance/disco parties (as they were referred to), then dinner parties and finally lunch parties.

But now when most of us have developed appetites smaller than our waist lines, we have gone back to meeting for tea - after we've done with our afternoon siestas and when all we really do is catch up on  some conversation over a cup of tea.

So life has truly completed a full circle when we've once again begun socialising over a cup of tea!

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