Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mirrors of memories in Chor Bazaar

Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi is obsessed with Michael Ondaatje. So much so that he told this reviewer that he read The English Patient 42 times and has pasted a quote of his in the room that might have inspired his

sophomore work The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay — “A novel is a mirror walking down the road”. The novel is witness to the times we are living in, what with the obvious references to the Jessica Lall case, the Page-3 crowd, Shiv Sena, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Salman Khan, depraved politicians and their debauched lives, the 1992 Bombay riots and even the 2005 floods. Sadly, Shanghvi’s work does not have the quality of his earlier The Last Song of Dusk. On the brighter side, it still manages to bear witness to truth.

Karan Seth is a cub photographer for India Chronicle and as part of an assignment he gets to take pictures of Samar, a genius piano pla­yer who stopped playing for reasons best known to himself. The pictures compel Samar to meet Karan. The pianist’s close friend Zaira, a Bollywood actress who is “single-handedly responsible for raising India’s National Mastur­bation Index”, comes in contact with the photographer with whom she instantly clicks (the pun is inadvertent but hard to erase). Karan, however, is ambivalent towards Leo, Samar’s boyfriend, an American writer who is ‘exploring’ India.

In his search for Bombay Fornicator (no, it’s not what you are thinking), Karan lands up in Chor Bazaar and bumps into Rhea, a middle-aged woman who can be anyone’s trophy wife. In this case, of Adi a hedge-fund manager who shuttles between Singapore and Bombay. Karan’s achingly beautiful work brings them together, considering Rhea herself was a precocious talent in pottery who left it voluntarily, and finds traces of herself in Karan. She becomes his eye to explore Bombay and those are the best moments of the book. This episode bears uncanny resemblance to Mohsin Hamid’s sublime Moth Smoke.

Meanwhile, as retribution for spurning the advances of Malik Prasad, son of Chander Prasad, “a top-ticket politician with the Hindu People’s Party”, Zaira (read Jessica Lall) gets shot. What follows is total arm-twisting of the law, thanks to Chander Prasad’s clout, while Samar and Karan continue to fight despite all the witnesses chickening out. How all these lives take irrevocable turns after the incident forms the emotional crux of the book.

Shanghvi is a master storyteller, and that’s evident through the empty spaces left when the characters have nothing to say and the way he modulates the sex part of the book. Where it was organic in Shanghvi’s debut novel, here Rhea wants to be “torn apart”. The way Karan justifies Bombay as his work place and how Karan-Samar’s relationship blooms post Zaira’s death are just a few shining testimonies for Shanghvi’s way with words.

However, there are a few stultifying passages too. “Karan stood with his mouth open wide enough to trap a few flies”. Yeah, right. Thankfully, such pedestrian writing is hardly witnessed. The cynicism that pervades the book reminded this reviewer what Shanghvi told him — “Optimism is boring”. It certainly should be considering this book is so unputdowanable.

A recommendation:
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown: Compared to 'All About my Mother' or 'Volver' this 1988-release does not embellish Pedro Almodovar's resume in any which way. However, this is the kind of comedy which was rarely seen in Almodovar's later films. Pepa, a dubbing artiste, is yet to come to grips as to why her lover, also a dubbing artiste, left her. Her lover's wife and son (Antonio Banderas in his early days) are also clueless about his whereabouts. Meanwhile, Pepa's girlfriend is palpitating if she would be implicated in a terror-attack case. Courtesy, her one-night stand with the terrorist whose love-making continues to give her 'goose-pimples'. As the prospective buyer of Pepa's penthouse Banderas and his wife land up. Chaos reigns all over the film and the discerning audience would be treated to loads of chuckles despite it not being suffused with madcap gags.


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