Master of Spices

A successful Bollywood masala depends on things happening at speeds quick enough to obliterate any doubts that might arise in you – Before you can go, “But thats ridi…,” that is over. This has started, and despite a series of vague questions lurking in the recesses of your left brain, that and this are fun to watch. When a little bit of melodrama overwhelms you, a comic break is right around the corner; when you feel like turning off the (small) part of your mind thats still awake, you get just that with a pretty girl gyrating to a great song.

There is no better vehicle for a creator brimming with ideas than an Indian Movie: clever digressions are welcome and appreciated; and no one will crib if the “creator’s brain is the most important presence on the frame.” Collections of disjoint ideas strung together on 35mm film can make a movie, and depending on how good the ideas are, the movie might even do well. For anyone that thinks in vignettes, this is the right place.

Shashi Tharoor is from this school of thought. The Great Indian Novel and Show Business, two of his better known books, are the most Bollywoodic books I’ve read – hectic and hyperactive; pages filled with wordplay and allegory; average stories held up by smart screenplays. And to complete the metaphor, the books break out into poetry on a whim. (Skimpy attire, courtesy your overactive imagination). I got to re-read both of these books last week, and they were exactly what I remembered them to be – light, easy, entertaining reads.

The Great Indian Novel is a contemporary retelling of the Mahabharata . Tharoor cleverly (again, clever is the word for it) weaves characters and events from modern Indian history with the Mahabharata, making for a riotous, enjoyable political satire. Mixing politics and the puranas makes an intriguing premise, and the writing takes care of the rest. I laughed out loud at a lot of places, (and cringed at a few), but here’s an excerpt that I liked a lot.

Pandu (in a dual role as Subhash Chandra Bose), sharing his deathbed on a plane with his pretty, lisping wife Madri:

‘Oh Madri!’ He took her in his arms
And kissed her long and wetly,
Till, attritioned by her charms,
His will collapsed completely.

‘No Pandu don’t!’ his loved one cried.
As his hands explored her buttons,
‘Remember the doctor when you nearly died
Let’th kith, but not be gluttonth’

‘Oh, yes!’ he breathed back in pneumatic bliss.
‘Onward! Thats my immortal credo!’
But then his lips, after a pulsating kiss,
Turned blue, and exhaled a croaking ‘O…O…’

Poetic.

Show Business, is a “this is what Bollywood is really like” book narrated by Amitabh, I mean Ashok Banjara, a ageing superstar who failed in politics (no mention of KBC, this was before that), and despite the trademark infectious Tharoor energy and wit, this one isn’t in the same league as TGIN. (A few more words starting with K in the title, and you never know….). Quite often, you can’t help feeling you’ve read this before, plus halfway through the book, I was angry that I was stuck reading this and not Never Let Me Go. So maybe it is in the same league. But you know what, that doesn’t really matter: Just the four plot summaries in Show Business make it worth a read.

3 thoughts on “Master of Spices”

  1. I’m almost done reading Bookless in Baghdad by Tharoor. He alternates between bashing people he doesn’t like (Shobha De, Nirad Chaudhury etc) and crowing about the cleverness of his earlier works! He also uses this book to point to the many subtle/clever (yes, that is the word!) references in The Great Indian Novel that his readers/critics didn’t pick up on! I’m dying to do a long post re: BiB, but it’ll have to wait till the weekend.

  2. Sounds like a fun book… I kinda liked the way he dissed Kipling in The Great Indian Novel, and AB in show business. You could see something like that coming – he has a reservoir of talent, but it is unidimensional, so guess his frustration has gotten the better of him.

    Will wait for your review…

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