Book review: How About A Sin Tonight? By Novoneel Chakraborty

Set in the glamorous world of Bollywood, the book traces the lives of four main characters as their lives intersect one another.

The premise of the novel is interesting – a casting coup that brings together the biggest Bollywood star Saharan Ali Bakshi, his wife Reva Gupta, newcomer Neev, celebrity kid Nishani and her childhood friend Kaash. All of their lives are interwoven – Reva and Neel began their struggle to enter the industry together. As they interacted with one another, they fell in love and started living together. But Neel was a Casanova and Reva had a sexual relationship with another man she never saw (they met in dark rooms, apparently) to get back at him. Then, a chance encounter with Saharan opened new doors for Reva, and she left Neel for her shot at stardom.

Ever since Nishani kissed him when they were children, Kaash has secretly loved her and would do anything for her. Although they were in the same school, Kaash’s family moved suddenly and they lost touch with one another. Through a few chance encounters, Kaash ended up with a role in a low budget movie that went on to do really well, and happened to bump into Nishani at a Bollywood party.

Nishani is the daughter of forgotten superstar Shekhar Rai. During a shooting with then newcomer Saharan, a freak accident left him paralyzed – both physically and emotionally. He was never a father to Nishani, and for that she blames Saharan and vows to destroy him.

And Saharan is in still haunted by this first love Mehfil, a prostitute whom he met while he was still struggling to get a toehold in Bollywood. As their stories take center stage, the industry’s underbelly is left exposed and the gossip-hungry media has enough on it’s plate to last a lifetime.

First, the good: The basic story is interesting – love and hate and lust and revenge all set in Bollywood. There are some interesting reflections on love and relationships. The letters Kaash writes (but never posts) to Nishani are nice, though sometimes it’s hard to believe that those deep reflections could come from the pen of a young man.

The story starts well, but the writing starts getting on your nerves very soon. I’ll never understand why most Indian authors can’t write simple prose. Why does everything have to be forced and convoluted? Like this:

It was raining morning, noon, and night. Streets, along with their numerous dimples of potholes, were filled with water most of the times. From a bird’s eye view, Bombay would have looked like an omnivore’s digestive tract with everything – from snakes to human infants – swimming in water filled lanes, streets and roads.

Then there’s the forced dirty language, and just the horrible grammar. Like this:

Nishani could have stripped him of his pretence and spit on his pathetic nude self, but she played on because all she was interested in knowing was why they were sharing time when neither wanted to get married. And one didn’t want the sex part either.

This didn’t need the stripping and nude and spitting on anyone bits. It could have been just as effective if it had been kept simple. Maybe something like: Nishani saw through his excuses, but allowed him to try and justify himself.

Then, there are parts of the novel that could just have been cut off – some of the earlier lives of the charterers are unnecessarily long and don’t really contribute anything to the story.

Some of the key characters are a collection of cliches. Think of a starlet who is trying to get into the movies without a godfather. Chances are she would be willing to do anything – even be part of the casting couch – to get a break in the industry. That’s Reva for you. She’s confused about love, will do anything to get into Bollywood, treats sex casually and still has guilt issues attached to it. That’s about all you know about her, really.

All-in-all, the book could have used some serious editing, with portions of it needing a rewrite. Read this one at your own risk!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Random House India. I was not financially compensated for posting this review, nor are my reviews influenced by the publisher. The opinions expressed are my own and are based on my observations while reading this novel.

Mumbai Diaries: Exploring Colaba and Fort

When you think of Mumbai, you think of traffic jams and teeming slums, of roads chock-a-block with people, of sultry humidity and general chaos. You think of Bollywood and industrial tycoons, of the super rich living alongside the poor, of a city that never sleeps. But if you thought that this is all there is to Mumbai, you’d be wrong.


A graceful arched window of a Church in Colaba, Mumbai, India

There’s a softer, gentler side to the city as well – tree-lined roads, mansions and apartment buildings that speak of old money, and a blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic (a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles) architecture. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Fort and Colaba area in South Mumbai.

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

We started our exploration of this area from the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel after a hearty brunch at Le Pain Quotiden. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, the Gateway of India is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Many elements of the arch and the design of the windows are derived from Islamic architecture, while the pillars are reminiscent of Hindu temple design. We were lucky to find the area relatively less crowded, which gave us a lot of time to take pictures and generally explore the place.


The iconic Taj Hotel at Mumbai, adjacent to the Gateway of India

From there, we started walking along the lane behind the Taj, with our necks craned upwards looking for interesting window and architectural details. The road is tree-lined and quiet, the buildings are old and regal, and for a while, you can almost forget that you’re in Mumbai – it could be any old European city.


An old, elegant window perched above a busy, bustling street in Mumbai

We traversed a path through Colaba, Colaba Causeway and Fort that day, with no real fixed agenda. We were just a couple of walkers, roaming around the area and exclaiming over the architecture. Why we were in architecture overdrive is still a bit of a mystery to me, but that day all we had eyes for were windows and doorways and turrets and spires. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of those old, elegant buildings with the bustling metropolis that had grown around it – but the memories I took away were of an older, more genteel Mumbai than I remembered from my stay there 10 years ago.


An old colonial building that now houses a cool junk jewelery store – Aquamarine. Mumbai, India

Of course, being girls, our trip couldn’t be complete without some shopping now, could it? There’s no better place to pick up cheap nick-knacks than at Colaba Causeway (in that area, at least). You’ll find some excellent junk jewellery, footwear and leather goods at prices that will delight your pocket. If you are on the look out for something more exclusive, make your way to Aquamarine at Colaba, which stocks some really cool (though pricey) junk jewellery.

Looking back 2010: top 10 songs on my playlist

Music is the soul of life. I typically listen to a wide variety of music – rock, jazz, instrumental, and everything in between. I’ve tended to stay away from Hindi music, though, because until recently, most of the songs were quite terrible. But since a couple of years, Bollywood’s been surprising me — not only have there been some excellent Hindi movies, the music has been great too! So here is my list of the 10 songs I totally loved this year, in no particular order. I’ve thrown in YouTube videos for the Hindi songs, so my non-Indian friends can listen in if they’d like.

  1. Need you now – Lady Antebellum
  2. Gypsy – Shakira
  3. I feel good – Anjaana Anjaani OST
  4. Airplanes – B.O.B.
  5. Watch me burn – Rihana feat. Eminem
  6. Waka Waka – Shakira
  7. Iktara – Wake up Sid OST
  8. The catalyst – Linkin Park
  9. Boogieman – AC DC
  10. Dhan te nan – Kaminey OST

What songs were on your playlist this year?

Linking up with Jade:

Zangoora: A Bollywood musical extravaganza

Billed as the largest Bollywood musical extravaganza, Zangoora — The Gypsy Price is one of the first musicals to be staged in India along the lines of musicals staged abroad. Since it’s being staged at the Nautanki Mahal at Kingdom of Dreams, Gurgaon, I had to go watch it. My only worry was that the husband might balk at the prices — the extravaganza doesn’t come cheap, with prices ranging from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 6,500 — as he’s not into musicals and theater, but he agreed without batting an eye!

Zangoora - the gypsy prince

The Nautanki Mahal is done up in old-world style. It follows a predominantly red and gold color scheme, evoking the grandeur of a bygone era, with beautiful, huge chandeliers dominating the central dome in the waiting area, throne-like chairs scattered around, a bar at both ends of the waiting area, and walls painted to look give an inlay effect.

Photography wasn’t allowed inside the theater, while the play was going on, though I did get a shot of the stage before the play began. 😉

The story itself is simple. The play opens with the Prince Rudra’s first birthday celebrations, during the course of which the king declares that he will not charge taxes during the year, and asks his kingdom’s three chieftains to make the same declaration in their provinces. The three — Thodamal, Daulat Rai and Zohravar — are none too pleased with this decision, and hatch a plot to wipe out the king and his family.

Opening scene: elephant throne

Prince Rudra, however, is saved, and ends up with a gypsy caravan, where he is brought up as Zangoora (Hussain Kuwajerwalla), the leader of the gypsies, who sets the stage on fire with his gypsy dancing partner Laachi (Gauahar Khan). Meanwhile, Zohravar (Sadanand Patil) takes over the throne and launches his reign of terror on Shaktisheela. Of course, since this is a Bollywood musical, the story has to end well, with good winning vs. evil and Zangoora, a.k.a. Prince Rudra, winning back his rightful place on the throne as well as his lady love, Sonali (Kashmira Irani).

The dancing gypsies outside their caravan

A typical Bollywood plot, you say, whose chances at the box office may not be that great? But hey! This is live…and it’s magic!

Right from the opening scene, where you have the king and queen holding court on the back of an elephant, to the electrifying, high-energy dances, the play keeps you captivated and begging for more! The cable work is excellent, reminiscent of a Broadway musical, as actors fly through the air, spin cartwheels, fly into a dream sequence, or come onstage, suspended upside-down, to deliver prophesies to Zohravar. The sets and props are excellent, breathing life into the different sets — be it the forest, the gypsy caravan, or the throne room. One scene in particular, which is set underwater, is breathtaking. LED screens and special effects are used to show fishes and plants, while two mermaids swim through the water suspended on cables. Pure magic!

Celeberating Zangoora's coronation

If you’re around Delhi/NCR, this musical should be on your must-watch list. It’s slated to go on until December, so you have plenty of time to catch it!

Still need some convincing? Check out this sneak preview of the musical. Note: this is a shot from a promo night, so it doesn’t showcase all the scenic elements.

Liked what you saw?

Images from Reuters blogs.

Going home to mom!

There’s no place like mommy’s home. We’ve got a long weekend coming up this week, so I’m taking a couple of days off and flying home to be with my parents. The husband won’t be coming with me this time, which is good — it will be like old times, except that my lil sis won’t be around to irritate the hell out of me!

Mom’s already decided which movies we’re going to watch together –

We Are Family

and Dabaang

We’ll also go out for some absolutely awesome Italian food to La Pizzeria, and then of course shopping and lots of gossip with mommy! Can’t wait to get home!!