Monthly Archives: November 2012

Book Review: Patriots and Partisans by Ramachandra Guha

Title: Patriots and Partisans
Author: Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780670083862
Genre: Non-Fiction, Current Affairs, History
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is in a way most refreshing to read something non-fiction after feasting on fiction, after a long time. The spell broke with Ramachandra Guha’s book, “Patriots and Partisans”. I remember reading, “India After Gandhi” by him with great fervor, however that was a long time ago and it was quite a long read. “Patriots and Partisans” on the other hand is a relatively short read and is mainly divided into two parts, consisting of several essays. I am assuming that some essays are old and have already appeared in other publications (as the case is most often) and some are new and written for this volume.

“Patriots and Partisans” manages to cover almost all grounds of India – political, socio-economical, and of cultural relevance. From what I could gather after reading the first half of the book is that Guha devoutly defends the liberal center from the dogmas of left and right with a lot of examples and relevance of situations, which takes the reader to different thought processes and at the same time challenges the intellectual. He analyses Gandhi’s religious pluralism and moves on to talk about the fall in Nehru’s reputation after his death. This book in true Guha style is introspective and can stand alone as a reference base.

The second half of the book deals with writers and scholars. This without saying was my most favourite part of the book. The essays deal with the decline of bilingual intellectuals in the country, to how literature is not what it seems. In the second half, the reader is familiarized with portraits of a magazine editor, a bookshop owner (my most favourite piece in the entire book), a publishing house and a famous historical archive.

I enjoyed reading these essays a lot. I might even reread them at some point. What I enjoyed about the writing was its honesty and transparency to a very large extent. Guha writes almost urgently and his views are strong and clear. “Patriots and Partisans” may not be enjoyed by all , given its serious content but it is definitely a great read for the reader base that will enjoy a good mix of politics and art.

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Book Review: Sudershan (Chimpanzee) by Rajesh Devraj and Meren Imchen

Title: Sudershan (Chimpanzee)
Author: Rajesh Devraj and Meren Imchen
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789350090763
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 124
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

The Indian Graphic Novel has come a long way – from only Sarnath Banerjee ruling the roost at one point, the genre is slowly being added on to by other cartoonists/creators. It is surprising to note how the category is growing day by day and writer by writer. The graphic novel that I just finished reading yesterday was, “Sudershan (Chimpanzee), written by Rajesh Devraj and illustrated by Meren Imchen.

“Sudershan (Chimpanzee)” is as the title suggests, about a chimpanzee. So what makes it any different? What makes it different is that the story is set around B-grade Bollywood film industry, in times when animals were at the center of the story. I definitely remember such movies being released in the 80s, where there was the famous Moti (the dog) or an elephant that would kill the villain or the snake that would feature in every serpent film. That is exactly how the way it was.

The book cleverly tells the tale of a chimpanzee who was once a superstar in the industry and his journey from becoming a superstar to his downfall and what redeems him at the end of it all. I did not find the book extraordinary; however I did laugh in most places and also empathized with Sudershan’s situations – right from becoming popular to becoming nobody. At a point, I also thought that maybe the “chimpanzee” is just a metaphor for human beings caught in their lives; however I don’t think it was intended.

The writing was sparse as it should be in case of graphic novels. The illustrations spoke for most of the book, which I loved the most. They are in black and white and almost roughly done which adds to the element and character of the book. “Sudershan (Chimpanzee)” is almost ironic and at the same time it is a funny read in places. It is not as great as the other graphic novels which I have read in the past, however it is worth a read for its uniqueness of plot and illustrations.

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Book Review: This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

Title: This Beautiful Life
Author: Helen Schulman
Publisher: Atlantic Books, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0857896230
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Sometimes it becomes very difficult to relate to a novel and at others it is very easy. Not because you have experienced what the author is trying to say, but maybe because you feel it. There is a connect which is rare between a reader and a writer and when that is established, and then it is for life. The same happened to me while reading, “This Beautiful Life” by Helen Schulman.

“This Beautiful Life” is about a family that is at the center of a situation because of the son being involved in a sex scandal. The son in question is nothing but a teenager. Richard and Liz have the perfect life. They have recently moved to Manhattan with their two kids, the fifteen-year old Jake and their adopted daughter Coco, who is six years of age. They are living the American dream. Everything is going right for them. They are climbing the social ladder. They have it all – the money, the status and the friends in the right places. Till a thirteen-year old girl sends a pornographic film of hers to Jake and he forwards it to his friends, till it reaches more teenagers, which then explodes to a scandal. This is the plot of the book.

The book is in tune with the age that we are living in today. Internet sex scandals are dime a dozen and the impact they have is humongous. What I loved about the book was how Schulman has shown each member of the family dealing with the crisis at hand and what it takes to hold on together as a family in times such as these. At the same time, I liked how there is this balance of ideas running across the book – the moral dilemma of what was done and its guilt to the intent behind the action.

Helen Schulman’s writing keeps the reader on the edge – not the sort that is present in thrillers, but the kind that makes you wonder about life and what can happen in an instant. This is clearly the age of technology and what Schulman does is make us realize that what technology can also do at times – it can take a life apart and make a family take different stands – maybe sometimes against each other.

“This Beautiful Life” shatters myths about the easy and comfortable life and makes us see how it can all fall apart. The writing is crisp and to the point. It is descriptive and much needed for a book of this caliber. I would recommend this one a lot in the coming days to a lot of people.

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Book Review: The Shadow Girls by Henning Mankell

Title: The Shadow Girls
Author: Henning Mankell
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1843430599
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is very difficult to disassociate oneself from how one feels about a certain writer and his or her works and look at a new title, without any judgment. I was going through this predicament when I started reading Henning Mankell’s latest book, “The Shadow Girls”. This book by Mankell is unlike his crime novels featuring Wallander, which I have read in the past. This came as a surprise to me as it was a non-crime fiction novel. Having said that, I must also say that I did not expect anything out of it and was pleasantly surprised

“The Shadow Girls” as the title suggests is about girls and three girls at that who are at the center of the book. The book gives Sweden a new perspective, other than the crime angle that has been covered till now in literature. “The Shadow Girls” is about three girls from around the world and their encounter with a poet, each facing different challenges in their lives.

Tea-Bag, a young African girl, has come to Sweden fleeing a refugee camp in Spain, wanting a better life. Tania has escaped from the horrors of human trafficking. Leyla has come with her family from Iran. At the heart of them is a celebrated poet, Jesper Humlin, who is harrowed by his mother and girlfriend, whose publisher is not by his side and luck essentially is not in his favour. A chance meeting with Tea-Bag changes his life and perspective on the immigration experience in Sweden. He gets to know the girls and from there on, the book takes on a different turn.

The writing is essentially Mankell, albeit without the crime or thriller angle attached to it. There is wit in this book to Humlin’s parts which is refreshing. The book is different and therefore the quintessential Mankell fan may not be able to relate to it. However, if the reader carries on in the first couple of pages, then the read is definitely worth it. I liked the read. It was not a drag, and neither was it too fast. The pace was just right. The characters were well-etched and the immigration experience resonated with me, maybe because of my grandparents’ experience of moving home to a new nation. I liked the book to a great extent and it was a pleasant read. A very different read from the regular Mankells.

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Book Review: Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts by Arun Khopkar

Title: Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts
Author: Arun Khopkar
Translator: Shanta Gokhale
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143415053
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Film
Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is no better way to get to know a film-maker than through his works. To watch them repeatedly – one after the other, till they charm you, make you smile, make you cry and make you think. That to me is the best way to know a filmmaker. To realize and understand what made him or her make movies like the ones you are watching, what is the psyche behind them, and what is the connect it has with you and the impression it leaves behind.

One such filmmaker whose works I have admired for years now has to be Guru Dutt. His cinema according to me was way ahead of its time. The depiction of a poet trying to come to terms with the world’s ways or the idea of a disillusioned filmmaker trying to cope with failure, Guru Dutt to me was a storyteller beyond words. He to me was successfully in creating poetry on screen – with eye movements, with body language and with silence. So when I got the opportunity to read, “Guru Dutt – A Tragedy in Three Acts” by Arun Khopkar, I jumped at it.

Arun Khopkar is an award-winning film director and scholar and it is through his eyes that the reader gets a sense of Guru Dutt and three of his films – Pyaasa, Kaagaz Ke Phool and Sahib Biwi Aur Ghulam. Arun Khopkar does not talk about Dutt’s private life even once in the book and that is commendable. He looks at the person and the director through his movies which is most essential.

The technical aspects of Guru Dutt’s movies are explored more – with reference to lighting, the play of shadows, the script, the music, the plot of his movies and ultimately to me, “the man who never tried to fit in”. Khopkar’s language is simple and retrospective, which has been beautifully translated from Marathi by Shanta Gokhale. The idea of a troubled genius is clearly communicated throughout the book, and what I found most intriguing was how Khopkar has managed to understand Dutt layer by layer purely through his cinema and silences.

For me, each film mentioned in the book is precious. Khopkar’s views on each of these three films are unique and intelligent. His writing does not ignore the minor or secondary characters. He takes into account every aspect of those films and presents Guru Dutt to the reader – raw and brilliant.

The book is not a long read and as the writer describes in the preface, that it was just meant to be a personal documentation on the legendary filmmaker and nothing more. It somehow took the shape of a book and I am glad it did. “Guru Dutt: A Tragedy in Three Acts” is a book that will make you think about art and the genius that Dutt was to devote his life to art and sometimes the madness that came with the devotion. A short and effective read, this is one book on cinema which you shouldn’t miss.

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