Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Pakeezah by Meghnad Desai

Title: Pakeezah - An Ode To A Bygone World
Author: Meghnad Desai
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 250
Genre: Non Fiction / Film
Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

An entertaining look at one of the landmarks of Hindi cinema.

Meghnad Desai tracks the film’s tortuous journey and reveals fascinating, little-known aspects of it. He foregrounds the craftsmanship, perseverance and perfectionism of its maker, Kamal Amrohi, who would wait weeks for the perfect sunset. The director even took on MGM, because the CinemaScope lenses they supplied were out of focus by 1/1000 mm.

Desai sees the film as a ‘Muslim social’ set in a ‘Lucknow of the Muslim imagination’; as a woman-centric film with a dancing heroine at a time when they were a rarity; and above all, as a film that harked back to an era of ‘nawabi culture with its exquisite tehzeeb’, a world that is lost forever.

Pakeezah: An Ode to a Bygone World is a fitting tribute to a film that Meghnad Desai calls ‘a monument to the golden age of Hindustani films’.

My thoughts:

I love reading about films, especially Indian films. I feel there is a dearth of literature in this genre despite the fact that so many films are made every year in India and the fact that we recently completed 100 years of Indian cinema. I think it is commendable that HarperCollins India saw the need. This book is part of the recently released HarperCollins India’s Film Series, which also includes books on Amar Akbar Anthony and Mughal-e-Azam.

The author of this book, Meghnad Desai, says that “if there has been a film which has captured Muslim culture of a certain period albeit with contemporary resonance, it has to be Kamal Amrohi’s Pakeezah.”

His approach is methodical in analyzing ‘Pakeezah’ - what makes this movie iconic. He discusses every aspect of the film to offer a complete perspective - the story, the origins, the making, the rewriting, the many themes in the movie, the man behind the movie - Kamal Amrohi, the stars of the movie and the unforgettable music. Take for example, the story. By culling information from various sources about the film, he speculates on what the original story might have been and how it must have been modified over a period of time, considering the movie took 15 years to complete, Meena Kumari’s health deteriorated towards the end and interpersonal dynamics changed a great deal between Kamal Amrohi and his wife, Meena Kumari. Did you know that the movie initially did not get a good response on its release? But probably Meena Kumari’s untimely death within a month of its release piqued people’s curiosity and they started queuing up to watch the great tragedy queen in one of her most memorable roles of her career. If Pakeezah could not have been made without Kamal Amrohi, it is hard to imagine Pakeezah without Meena Kumari as well.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves reading about films. After all, the making of a movie is as fascinating as the movie itself; more so, a classic. Imagine we are talking about the times when scripts weren’t finalized before filming; they were developed on the sets, on locations, under the influence of a lot of things. At 150 pages, this book isn’t too long, though may be a few times repetitive. Nevertheless, I personally loved it. It offers a lot of insights, observations and information about the film, and at the same time quite easy to read.

Review Book courtesy: HarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Featured on Random House India Blog: the Future of e-Reading

Image source:
So, the Random House India blog features a post on 'the future of e-reading' which includes my two pence. Read the complete post here.

Here are my thoughts on the future of e-reading:
For my generation, physical books will continue to play a huge part. I have several books on my Kindle but I am yet to read a single e-book. I prefer reading physical books. I like to think that e-book readers are extremely handy while travelling, when you just need to pick it up and go with all your books inside it. But it never happens that way. Personally, I leave behind the Tablet and take along a few books.

But yes, for the next generation [my son's], who is going to read e-books from a very young age; e-books, audio books, etc will be a way of life. I am also alarmed at the diminishing attention to a particular activity. In our pursuit to accomplish too many things together [multi-tasking], we are perpetually distracted. Reading needs attention. I am sure, this trend will also impact the act of reading. I wonder if the next generation will find other avenues of reading [ebooks, augmented reality, any new techno-invention] far more in tune with their lifestyle. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Review: Kaurava by Krishna Udayasankar

Title: Kaurava
Author: Krishna Udayasankar
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 384
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Fiction / Indian mythology / Alternative history
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the Blurb]

Nothing left to fight for is nothing left to lose...

Emperor Dharma Yudhisthir of the Kauravas and Empress Panchali Draupadi rule over the unified realm of Aryavarta, an empire built for them by Govinda Shauri with the blessings of the Firstborn and by the might of those whom everyone believes long gone – the Firewrights.
Now the Firewrights rise from the ashes of the past, divided as before in purpose and allegiance, and no one, it seems, can stand in the way of the chaos about to be unleashed on the land – not the Firstborn, not the kings of Aryavarta, and not Govinda Shauri.

As sinister plans are put in play and treacherous alliances emerge, Aryavarta transforms into its own worst enemy. Dharma Yudhisthir gambles away his empire, the tormented empress is forced into a terrifying exile and the many nations of the realm begin to take up arms in a bid to fight, conquer and destroy each other.

His every dream shattered, Govinda is left a broken man. The only way he can protect Aryavarta and the woman in whose trusted hands he had left it is by playing a dangerous game. But can he bring himself to reveal the terrible secrets that the Vyasa has protected all his life – secrets that may well destroy the Firstborn, and the Firewrights with them? 

My thoughts:

I felt I was at a little disadvantage in reading this book before reading the Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda [Book 1] because sometimes Firewright - Firstborn thing would be baffling. Nevertheless, the good thing is that we all know the basic Mahabharata so over all I enjoyed this book.

The story in this book begins at the time when Dharma Yudhisthir is the emperor of Indraprastha while Govinda Shauri [Krishna] has been shunned from the empire. In the turn of events, Dharma, his brothers and Panchali are invited by Syoddhan [Duryodhan] to Hastinapur, where he [Dharma] gets into a game of dice. This legendary game of dice is the one in which he loses everything including himself, his brothers and Panchali. The book ends with the promise of impending war in the third part of the series, aptly titled ‘Kurukshetra’.

Mahabharata, as we have known it, has been a story of larger-than-life men and women, and difficult-to-believe sequences. Now the unique aspect of this book is that it explains everything logically, and does not demonize anybody unnecessarily. In author’s own words, through this series, she attempts to offer “a plausible narrative with reasonable internal logical consistency. Something that could well have been history, something that stands firm not just on faith but also on logic and science.” She has imagined several new angles to the original story without compromising on what is widely known. Her research work has been meticulous and extensive, and therefore what you get is a book [and probably the series] which is compelling and very contemporary in its appeal. The author has spent sufficient time in building up characters like Shikhandi, Ashvatthama or Sanjay.

There are so many characters that the relationship chart in ‘the Dynasties of Aryavarta’ is not just a luxury but a necessity. ‘The Cast of Characters’, also provided in the beginning, tells us about the main characters in this book. The author has intentionally used alternate names so that the characters don’t have to carry the unnecessary baggage of their fame / notoriety. So, Krishna is Govinda Shauri while Duryodhan is Syoddhan Kauravya. It took me a while to understand that Vasusena is Karna. A reader well-versed with Mahabharata will find several characters in a different light. For example, Syoddhan is a largely positive or at most a grey character here while Dharma is too smug.

I loved the cover page. It reminded me of Hachette India’s another fabulous series Empire of the Mughal. The narrative is largely fast-paced barring a few times when certain things have been described in too much detail. I also found use of swear words funny like “Who in the name of an elephant’s backside are you talking about?”

I will certainly recommend it to readers who love exploring different facets of the epic tale ‘Mahabharata’. But you must have an open mind towards the author’s imagination. Meanwhile, I eagerly look forward to the next book in the series ‘Kurukshetra’. 

If you are yet to read the series, I suggest you begin with the first one: 
The Aryavarta Chronicles: Govinda (Book - 1)

Review Book courtesy: Hachette India 
Image source: Hachette India

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Looking For Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking For Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 272
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Fiction / Young Adult / Contemporary
Rating: 7/10
Format: Paperback

About the book [from the GoodReads page]

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

My thoughts:

Once I read the brilliant ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, I was eager to pick up another book by the author. Someone suggested ‘Looking for Alaska’ and I jumped at the chance. Though this book is not in the league of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, it is certainly a good read. I started, finished and reviewed this book in a single day, despite my limited reading hours. That itself tells a lot about it.

Miles Halter’s life has been ordinary and uneventful until he moves from Florida to Alabama to join Culver Creek Boarding School. There he makes friends with the brainy and brawny Chip Martin [called ‘Colonel’ by everyone, who is his roommate], the witty Takumi, and the unpredictable Alaska Young [‘the hottest girl in all of human history’, as Miles puts it]. From that time onwards, Miles' life is a maze of attending classes, studying, playing pranks, smoking cigarettes, drinking booze; while also falling in love with Alaska.

Each one of them has a talent. Miles likes to learn the last lines of famous people. Colonel is good at memorizing things, especially about countries, their capitals, population, etc. Takumi is a rapper, while Alaska just likes being an enigma. She is moody, without feeling the need to explain herself. Alaska claims to be in love with his boyfriend Jake, but she is often flirty with Miles.

The book is in 2 parts – Before and After [of an event]. The story begins at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days Before’ and ends at ‘One Hundred and Thirty Six Days After’, and everything is in-between - excitement, curiosity, love, friendship, trust, guilt, love, loss.

Well, in short, the book was emotional, funny and sometimes also philosophical. It will appeal to you if you like Young Adults genre – the vulnerabilities, the innocence, the mischief and the beauty of young love.

Here are a few of my favourite lines quoted from the book:

I’d never been religious. But he told us that religion is important whether or not we believed in one, in the same way that historical events are important whether or not you personally lived through them.”

 “You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.” 

 “I wanted so badly to lie down next to her on the couch, to wrap my arms around her and sleep. Not fuck, like in those movies. Not even have sex. Just sleep together in the most innocent sense of the phrase. But I lacked the courage and she had a boyfriend and I was gawky and she was gorgeous and I was hopelessly boring and she was endlessly fascinating. So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk, thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was hurricane.” 

Image source: Flipkart

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book Review: The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan

Title: The Mountain of Light
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Pages: 352
Price: Rs 299
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 6/10
Format: Paperback

About the Book [from the blurb]

As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light” - the Kohinoor diamond - and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest and betrayal.

Legend has it that Lord Krishna gave the Kohinoor to a devotee as a reward for his meditations. But the first recorded mention of the diamond is in the memoirs of Emperor Babur, who received it from a Hindu raja he had defeated. It then slipped out of India and was possessed briefly by the Shah of Persia – who gave it its name – and the king of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, who surrendered the Kohinoor to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab Empire as a reward for helping him regain his kingdom. Here begins The Mountain of Light.

The novel takes us through the sprawling gardens of nineteenth century Lahore to the palaces of the six-year-old prince Dalip Singh who, on his father’s death, loses his empire and the Kohinoor to the British. The diamond is secreted out of India once more and, at the age of sixteen, the boy king follows it to London, where he is feted and petted until he realizes that nothing can replace the loss of his lands and his diamond – which now belong to the Queen of England.

My thoughts:

The book begins with a map of the Punjab Empire and British India c. 1823, a very handy list of primary and secondary characters and an Author’s Note which introduces readers to the background of the book. The narrative starts from 1817 and continues selectively [as per relevance to the Kohinoor story] till 1893. The Kohinoor touches several lives over the years, beginning with Shah Shuja and his wife Wafa Begam trying their best to hold onto the coveted diamond despite promising it to Maharaja Ranjit Singh for his help; and eventually ending with the Queen of England.

There is no doubt in my mind that Indu Sundaresan is a fabulous writer of historical fiction. All her earlier books have been beautifully-written narratives of historical fiction, but personally, this book did not work that much for me [there, I said it]. Wherever she gets a chance, the author makes the characters come alive and creates a vivid imagery of the setting. The characters in themselves were interesting but since they did not have a lasting role with Kohinoor, they had to be left behind, moving on to next set of relevant characters. Jumping years is also for the benefit of Kohinoor but it does nothing for the narrative.

So, while you warm up to Wafa Begam and Shah Shuja, and wonder about their life, etc., the Kohinoor has gone to Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Soon the story shifts to a couple of years later when you discover that Maharaja is dead and his 4 grown up sons have been killed in their quest for succession, leaving the very young Dalip Singh as the successor. There is Henry Lawrence [a guardian of child king Dalip Singh] who is enchanted with Roshni [who was betrothed to Dalip Singh]. Then a section is about how the Kohinoor reaches England towards the end. In fact, the last 100 pages are fairly interesting. In between, there are interludes of romance but nothing becomes of them as the central theme of the story is pursued.

I feel the main problem is that the story is not character driven. It has Kohinoor at the centre. It lacks a central character as an anchor on which the book could have been rooted. It just moves from character to character. I was not able to sink into the story, I always felt on the surface.

Over all, it was an interesting take on history and I enjoyed it in parts, when the narrative dwells into the characters. If you love history, you will love it in any case because the author crafts a beautiful tale around the historical facts.

After I finished the book, I found that actually there are many people who have absolutely loved the book. Catch a few more positive reviews on GoodReads. After all, reading is a very personal experience.

Review Book courtesy: AuthorHarperCollins India 
Image source: Flipkart