Category Archives: Non Fiction

In a Cult Of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office by Amborish Roychoudhury

In A Cult of Their Own

Title: In a Cult of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office
Author: Amborish Roychoudhury
Publisher: Rupa and Co.
ISBN: 9788129151353
Genre: Non-Fiction, Film Writing
Pages: 276
Source: Author
Rating: 3 Stars

This is a book about cult movies. What constitutes a cult movie, though? The one that people realized later was a superb movie. Or the one that people are still denouncing? One can’t tell really, given how movies are gauged in our country. Box-office collections still matter the most and Roychoudhury writes of movies when the moolah mattered the most (if anything it matters even more today but we have also “allowed” indie cinema to try and thrive – earlier known as “art house cinema”) , when there was no Netflix; when viewers weren’t aware of the art of cinema, so to say and yet these movies got the status of being “cult movies”.

Well, my reading experience of the book was breezy and yes, I also learned a lot about the movies chosen by the author. At the same time, I did not agree with so many films on the author’s list and that is bound to happen with any other reader as well.

The book is written in a very tongue-in-cheek style which worked for me. There were places I could not help but chuckle or guffaw, sometimes at the sheer ridiculousness of Indian cinema. And yet there is so much that Amborish has spoken about in this book – about the select movies and also about the ones that aren’t on the list. The sheer amount of research done is staggering. From small things to know to the ones that surprise you instantly.

My favourite pieces from the book: Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chashme Buddoor, Silsila, Katha, Chameli Ki Shaadi, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, No Smoking (a highly underrated movie in my opinion), and the most brilliant piece on The Ramsay Brothers. “In A Cult of Their Own” makes for a perfect monsoon read. It is a light, interesting, and sometimes funny read as well. The kind of book that will not disappoint for sure.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri Title: Meatless Days
Author: Sara Suleri
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241342466
Genre: Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Books that are reread are mostly far and few in between and when that happens often, you must rejoice. “Meatless Days” by Sara Suleri is one such book. I remember reading it for the first time, a couple of years ago and loving it. It was unlike something I had ever read. A memoir that was so irreverent and profound at the same time. Well, it was refreshing to hear someone write like that, as though Sara was in my living room having a conversation with me about herself and her family.

“Meatless Days” is a book that perhaps cannot be even bracketed into a genre and yet for all practical purposes, we must. The complexity and intricacy of both her language and the content of the book astounds the reader, makes you laugh and sometimes make you introspect.

The book is about Pakistan, postcolonial, post-independence and a world that treats its women way differently than its men. It is about Suleri’s Welsh mother, her Pakistani father, her tenacious grandmother and her five siblings. She writes about the wandering soul with such soul that you can only empathize.

Her journey out of Pakistan, the gaze of an outsider and yet strangely an insider is a universal emotion that perhaps every reader can relate with. At the same time, for some it might prove to be a difficult read as the nine chapters are completely disjointed and string together beautifully through Suleri’s distillation of experiences of love, loss and family, and takes form in powerful poetry-like prose.

“Meatless Days” changes with every chapter – the form does, the writing to some extent and so will your emotions as you turn the pages. Suleri’s prose is unique, may rarely come across as too complex (but that’s only because she has so much to say) and yet so liberating and rewarding at the end of it all. A lost-classic for sure, which I am glad has been revived as a part of Penguin Women Writers initiative.

The Misfit’s Manifesto by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Misfit's Manifesto Title: The Misfit’s Manifesto
Author: Lidia Yuknavitch
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471162329
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

We are all misfits in one way or the other, or so we would like to believe. What about the ones though who really are misfits? Where do they go? How do the broken, the damaged, the ones who perhaps do not belong, fit in ultimately? Or do they fit in at all?

Lidia Yuknavitch not only presents her version of who “misfits” really are, but also allows different misfits to talk about their lives and what being a misfit means to them and how by and large that affects their relationships and who they are. The fact that this book is multi-voiced makes it all the more interesting and dynamic.

Yuknavitch grapples with her losses, her mistakes and how it is being a misfit, weaving her past and present beautifully (and sometimes tragically as well), thereby lending brevity and a lot of clarity to her prose.

To those who have read her earlier, this book is way easier to read than “The Chronology of Water” of “The Small Backs of Children” and easier to bear as well. We all know about misfits, and yet it feels so new when Yuknavitch brings her perspective to it, with anecdotes and so much empathy.

What I found most interesting about this book is the way broken lives aren’t made out to be different. They are just lives. They are just misfits who fit perfectly well in other places and times and amongst others. So in the sense, Yuknavitch takes the idea of being a “misfit” and turns it over on its head, making the reader think of their own biases and prejudices.

“The Misfit’s Manifesto” is a must-read for all. To learn, to know about the different, to embrace them and in the process learning how to empathize and living life with a lot of heart.

 

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir by Maggie O’ Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am - Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O' Farrell Title: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520221
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The book is about the author’s seventeen near misses with death. I could say this and explain the book to you but that would not be fair to it. The book is a lot more than just this (though this is the core, mind you, as the title and sub-title will tell you). And yet what I take from it is the fragility of life, sometimes the joy in living and the fact that you still move on, despite the seventeen near misses with death. “I Am, I Am, I Am” is a testament really to living and living with life’s bittersweet moments.

There is no melodrama or sentimentality when it comes to this book. There is a lot of emotion though, but nowhere does it get emotional to the point that it tends to feel fake. O’Farrell’s writing is raw, straight from the core of the heart, to the point of it being exhausting at times (which I was prepared for given the nature of the book) and yet, the book lifts you from the ordinary in so many ways.

Death is something we do not speak of casually or even for that matter most seriously. It is something that we take for granted till perhaps you face it and if you have had close shaves with it seventeen times, then you know better than to think you are immortal or life is long and so on and so forth. “I Am, I Am, I Am” in that sense uproots your ideas of death and life, about how fragile we are and yet as humans we don’t admit it.

Maggie’s experiences could’ve been anyone’s really and even if they aren’t she makes them ours through the power of her writing. When she is on the verge of drowning, so are we. When she suffers, so do we. The book is divided by body parts that were involved in these brushes, sometimes even the entire body and then you see the magnanimity of situations she was in and as a result of that, you empathize no end.

The poetry of prose is also hard to bear, the events intense (some of them) and often drive you to tears. Compassion is strengthened and you bring yourself to find moments of happiness, hope and joy throughout. Maggie O’Farrell has put her heart out on paper and whether or not you have read her novels, you should read “I Am, I Am, I Am” for sure.