Book Review: by Vishal Bhatia

Posted on 22 Apr 2016 under Essays

Disclaimer: I was contacted by the author through email to write a review of this book. I agreed. The book was delivered to me free of cost. No other conditions or constraints were placed on me. by Vishal Bhatia is the second book I’ve read recently written by a new/aspiring Indian author (the previous one being the atrociously bad The Recession Groom by Vani). This one is significantly better, but considering the low benchmark set by Vani, that’s not saying a lot. Ultimately, taken on its own, this is a book that starts off with a lot of promise, but becomes a bit of a mess by the end, mostly because of the terrible editing. It feels as if the editor received payment mid-way through the assignment and then just couldn’t be arsed to do a good job thereafter.

Credit must go to the author, though. There are a lot of aspiring authors in India, but very few actually successfully publish a book. The rest maintain boring blogs, write vignettes and review others’ books (hmm … that sounds familiar). Anyway, on with it.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Jangsher Singh, aged 15, tries to seduce a girl in a village in Punjab and gets caught by her brothers. In typical Punjab style, they hack and slash him and leave him for dead. But since all of this happens in only the first chapter, he survives and goes on to become India’s best tennis player ever, reaching the finale of the Australian Championship. There’s a parallel plot about two cousins, Aman and Yug, who drive a really expensive car that doesn’t belong to them. They cause an accident, get blackmailed by the accident survivor, and then a lot of other things happen (not getting into the details in order to avoid spoilers), as a result of which they have to figure out a way of making money fast. And the way they make that money is by creating an unofficial website for Jangsher (I think the name of the book comes from that website … which we’re only introduced to after getting through almost two-thirds of the book), and then selling it at a premium.

The plot is functional, in that it serves to get you from Point A to Point B, but it’s generally not very engrossing. All along, you know where you’re going, particularly with Jangsher’s story, which almost never goes off the beaten track. There are a few more twists in the side-story about the two cousins, and that adds some drama and spice to the plot. Characters generally react in a realistic manner to the events that unfold, and thus nothing feels jarringly out of place. Some parts are too long and boring (one tennis match is described in detail over almost 30 pages), there are a couple of passages that add absolutely no value whatsoever (like a couple of pages dedicated to Jangsher flirting with a random girl at a random party, before his drunk girlfriend appears to escort him away). One can make an argument that the novel could have used a bit of trimming to make it crisper.

Characterization is not bad.  I’m thankful for the consistency, even if the characters are somewhat uni-dimensional. Jangsher’s character is the only one that changes, going from being a strong, calm, unfazed fighter in the first few rounds of the championship to a damaged, pain-filled, hurting, emotionally-exhausted shell of a man who still manages to put up a good fight in the end. Yug and Aman enjoy a good dynamic with each other, complementing each other’s personalities. Other than the cousins, the other characters are forgettable. In fact, it almost feels as if Mr Bhatia almost forgot them too. Jang’s mother makes her first appearance on page 225 (out of 337 pages), a brief appearance necessitated by a plot element. She’s introduced thus: “Tina, his mother, blessed him as he knelt and touched her feet.

And then there are all the nicknames. Omaigod, WHY does everyone (and everything!) have to have a nickname? The tennis players that Jangsher plays against have nicknames that EVERYONE uses more than their real name, even in the dialogues. These are nicknames like “The Assassin” and “The Bull”. Heck, even the bloody sportscar that Aman and Yug almost lose is called “Flame”. Obviously, this is an attempt to raise some level of excitement or awe towards these characters. But personally, I found it fairly grating and cheesy.

And now, to the technicalities of writing: Vishal NARRATES way too much instead of letting us find out the story through the eyes of the protagonists. This doesn’t happen very frequently, but when it does, it feels lazy and unimaginative. However, this is made up by ambitious attempts at incorporating interesting metaphors and vivid descriptions. Sometimes, Vishal gets over-ambitious. The descriptions get into details of how engines work, how the brain works, etc. It feels a little clumsy and boring, which is a cardinal sin. The intention is positive, but it doesn’t always pay off.

Where the book fails massively is in the editing department, something that cannot be blamed on the author. The most basic mistakes appear here. Homophones (“your” vs. “you’re”), typos (“unthinkinkable”) and errors I don’t even know how to describe (“curtsied” instead of “court-side” … yes, I’m serious) appear multiple times, way too many times for any self-respecting editor to allow. It’s difficult to take seriously a book with such a low level of quality in the end-product. Bah.

In summary, is a decent first book by a new author, and provides signs of encouragement. There are flaws, but the flaws are born of ambitious attempts at writing quality literature. If you can get past the unforgivable editing, the core of the book is not bad.

Rating: 3/5

The meek…

Posted on 18 Apr 2016 under Asides

…shall inherit the world one day, apparently.

And with it, my deepest sympathies.

The Late Night

Posted on 22 Mar 2016 under Random

It’s late enough at night to be considered early the next morning. The world is largely asleep, the city glowing softly in the moonlight. I stand at the window, tiredness pouring out of me, staring into the distance.

It’s a lie, though, isn’t it, what I said earlier? Because clichéd as it may sound, the city truly never sleeps. Buildings in the background have lights turned on, and headlights quiver on the roads below as the cars snake their way through the urban maze. In the distance, there’s a man standing at a window, looking out into the world, just like me.

I wonder briefly if there’s anything we share, other than this moment of consciousness.

Probably nothing. I turn away, slink into bed and pull the blanket over me.

All The Right Reasons

Posted on 18 Mar 2016 under Life

I may be no more than a third of my life through, but there are certain things I am fairly confident about.

I may not be likely to do anything that will change the world or invent something that makes everyone’s lives happier and more peaceful. I may not be able to do something that will change the way people treat each other, and promote tolerance and acceptance. I don’t have the answers to life’s big questions and maybe I never will. I might live my entire life wondering and being frustrated at trying to understand whether things are meant to be this way, and why.

I am imperfect, I make mistakes. I’m occasionally selfish and insecure. I want to love and be loved, but I also want to be left alone. I like to think I am nothing like you, but I also know that in many, many ways, you and I are exactly the same person. I am a mass of contradictions and inconsistencies, but that’s what makes me human.

I may not leave a legacy, I may not leave a mark. I am a statistically insignificant speck of existence on the infinite plain of space and time, and nothing I do may make a change to the overall picture.

Much like most of you, actually.

But if I could leave a legacy, then let it be this: When I’m gone, when those who knew me think of me, may they remember me for all the right reasons.



Posted on 14 Mar 2016 under Journal/Life Updates

I use various shades of grey and black to paint my picture, only now and then using some other colours because I’m not sure I’m using them right.

So you see, I’m eternally grateful for all you others, who take it upon themselves to add a splash of colour every now and then, sometimes without realizing you might have done so.

When the portrait is done, I believe I’m very likely to see a canvas full of shades of a rainy morning sky, peppered with streaks of colour that stand out because they’ve rebelled against the general theme.

And yet, I know that what will matter the most is not the background, not what I’ve filled in myself, but rather, all these errant streaks that all you others have contributed. So, thank you.


On Bajirao Mastani

Posted on 17 Jan 2016 under Essays

The more I read professional movie reviews (is there such a thing?), the more I realize how under-qualified I am to critique movies. Nevertheless, because any fool with an internet connection can create a blog nowadays, here are a few thoughts on Bajirao Mastani:

  1. This film won the Filmfare Award for best picture? REALLY? This was better than Masaan (which wasn’t even nominated, by the way)?
  2. Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra were both pretty good, especially the former, who should get extra credits for getting accent and punctuation right. Deepika Padukone was unconvincing, failing to bring the intensity and strength required to the character of Mastani. All of the other cast were “meh, ok”.
  3. A word of praise must be given for the extravagant sets and the fairly impressive battle scenes.
  4. It’s just too long, especially the second half. It just drags on and on and ends with a Devdas style, over the top death scene.
  5. For 75% of the film duration, it felt like the director was balancing fairly well between sense and sentiment. And then the last half-hour just became a mess. After having spent close to three hours (including interval), you walk out of the cinema hall wondering “WHY?”, and not in a good way.
  6. Again, I must ask … THIS film won the Filmfare Award? The fact that a movie like Masaan wasn’t even nominated makes a mockery of our awards, which seem to pander to the films that have the biggest box-office collections. But that’s a post for another time, one I’m not bothered to write about anyway.

Bajirao Mastani: 6/10

Movie Review: Wazir

Posted on 09 Jan 2016 under Essays

There is no doubt that Amitabh Bachchan is a fine actor. In particular, I’ll remember this one scene in which his character in Wazir teaches a kid how to deliver a particular line. It was a 5-second masterclass. But there’s only so much a fine actor can do in the hands of a mediocre director in a film with a mediocre plot line.


Wazir is not a bad film, it’s worth a watch. But it does leave a lot to be desired. It has a bit of everything (although I’m not sure that’s a good thing). There’s the soppy romance between Farhan Akhtar and Aditi Rao Hydari, the heart-wrenching tragedy of a young girl dying, some mystery in the plot in the form of the mysterious eponymous character, etc. But the story is not complicated, and it will not force you to think about it after the titles roll, because everything is dumbed down for you in the final few minutes.

While it’s a fairly short movie (given Bollywood standards), it’s still a little too long. The aforementioned tell-all scene felt like an unnecessary tack-on. All six of us who saw it said the same thing — “Anyone with a half a brain could have put the pieces together, so why was that last scene there?” The expose should have been the crescendo, but unfortunately, it feels like a big let-down when it finally happens. If you’ve been told this is an intelligent question, please question the intelligence of the person who told you so.

As for the acting, as I wrote earlier, Amitabh Bachchan is solid, as expected. I have a lot of respect for Farhan Akhtar, he’s multi-talented and his understated style of acting feels genuine. On the other hand, Aditi Rao Hydari must never act again. To be fair, I’m forming this opinion on the basis of her performance in a film that required only three things of her — look pretty, laugh on demand, and cry on demand. Neil Nitin Mukesh gets acting credits, but really only appears in a couple of scenes in an overstated, exaggerated manner. And then you have the guest appearance by John Abraham, who does what John Abaraham does — look big and tough and talk in a thick, deep voice. Anjum Sharma does ok as the Sikh friend and good cop, but he struggles to convince he’s actually a proper Punjabi Sikh (of course, that’s a deeply ironic comment coming from me, I recognize). Why can’t you just find a real Sikh to portray an on-screen Sikh? As for Manav Kaul, who plays the primary antagonist, there’s a reason I haven’t mentioned him so far. Because I can’t think of a single frame he owned, not can I think of anything he did terribly badly either. “Meh” would be the appropriate way to describe his performance.

A note for the special effects. Amitabh Bachchan’s character is legless and wheelchair-bound. It’s quite convincing. I remember being impressed by this in Forrest Gump with Lt Dan’s character. 22 years later, Bollywood has done just as fine a job. Yay.

To summarize: Wazir is a mediocre film, with average acting and not enough brains to keep you engaged throughout. It’s not bad, but don’t pay too much for the ticket, eh?

Score: 6/10



Posted on 08 Dec 2015 under Random

I can feel the cold seeping in through the gap under the front door, twisting in through the gaps between the french windows in the living room. The tips of my fingers start to wrinkle, I wish my feet were in socks.

Outside, the night is black as carbon and quiet as an easy conscience. I let my mind’s eye wander and imagine weird colours while my thoughts run wild.

There’s no noise inside the house either, the dark screen of the television dimly reflecting the few lights I’ve bothered to switch on.

Today’s been a trying day, tomorrow will be longer still. I want to forget about work and think about a million other things I’d rather be doing — reading a book and sipping something warm, lying down on my bed and listening to music, curl up inside a blanket and day-dream, some or all of the above.

All of the above … none of which requires anyone else.

Only me.

The cold makes me wish there was someone here I could hug to keep myself warm.

Like you.


The Golden Rule of Watching Movies on TV

Posted on 30 Oct 2015 under Random

I was passing time last night before going to bed, and Shawshank Redemption was on MN+. It has some really good movies, that channel. Over the last few days, they’ve been showing The Green Mile a fair few times as well.

Of course, I’ve watched Shawshank Redemption multiple times (who hasn’t?), so I remember most of it quite well. And that’s when I realized the golden rule of watching movies on TV. There’s only one. Here it is:


Just don’t. Don’t watch movies on TV. It’s not the ads or the quality of the video or audio (although on too many channels, the latter is horrendously bad). What really, really makes it impossible to enjoy movies on TV is the amount of censorship and snipping of scenes.

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve become a country of intolerant assholes and the channels just want to play safe, or if the latter have a hyperactive sense of responsibility for what kids can access on TV, but it’s painful when you KNOW there’s a really good, strong scene coming up without which the intensity of the movie is questionable, and you’ll all hyped up for it, but then suddenly, the frame shifts to what happens after. It’s KLPD.

Watching movies on TV is horrible.


Book Review: The Recession Groom, by Vani

Posted on 26 Oct 2015 under Essays

Summary of Review:

Without a doubt, amongst the worst books I’ve ever read. The story makes no sense and the ending is pure Bollywood. Geez, I don’t even know where to begin! The characters are undeveloped and uninteresting. The writing is full of warped phrases and sentence constructions (if not outright grammatical mistakes and incorrect uses of phrases). It would have been bad enough had the writing been mediocre or if the editing had been lazy. In this case, unfortunately, the book fails on both counts. Give this one a miss if you don’t want to spend a few hours of your life that you will never get back on a book that is very likely to disappoint you.

(Detailed review follows)

Image of Cover of the book "The Recession Groom" by Vani

Cover of the book “The Recession Groom” by Vani

Detailed Review:

I have a lot of patience for Indian authors. I grow tired of reading quality literature that’s set in foreign lands through which I can only partially relate to the culture and setting of the story. I’d love to read stories that have real Indian characters in real Indian settings. So it’s a bit of a bummer that The Recession Groom fails to do that. The setting is almost entirely in Canada and USA, and most of the characters are NRIs or foreigners.

The plot revolves around Parshuraman Joshi, a highly eligible, unusually tall (by Indian standards) and handsome bachelor working an IT job for a major multi-national in Canada. On the pretext of some lousy excuse, he has to visit India and gets pressured by his sister into getting married as soon as possible. The overbearing and annoying elder sister apparently cannot herself get married unless Parshuraman gets married first (yeesh, is this still a thing?) and forces him to accept a match. On the other hand, Parshuraman’s equally annoying and just as overbearing aunt who lives in the USA (who also raised him while he completed his higher education there) forces him to accept another match. Parshuraman prefers this one because she’s so pretty (again, yeesh!). There’s a third love interest in the form of his colleague, Jennifer. This part of the plot is further complicated by the presence of his colleague, Bill (I challenge you to think of a more generic foreign name … seriously!). At some point, Mr Joshi is laid off, his upcoming wedding gets cancelled and the rest of the story revolves around how he gets back onto his feet and discovers whom he really loves.

If this sounds like a badly improved plot of a generic Bollywood movie, that’s because it pretty much is. The lack of depth in the story and the writing is astounding. While there is some level of depth to Parshuraman’s character, all the other characters in the novel (bar none) are caricatures of clichés that clearly highlight that the author has refused to push the envelope here. Jennifer, for example, is loud, instinctive and does things that you wouldn’t expect any sane person to do — a “fireball”, as the back page summary puts it. Aunt Parvati is a hyper-typical Indian-turned-American who forces Parshuraman to wear extra large clothes (presumably because rap music is in fashion?). Parshuraman also has a grandma; no prizes for guessing that she comes across as a wise old woman who’s in touch with modern realities and is open-minded. But it all feels so artificial. Parshuraman and his sister refer to each other, literally, as “Brother” and “Sister”. Geez Louise, what the hell happened between you two in your childhood? All the characters talk like each other. You can barely tell the difference between the Americans and the Indians, forget about being able to get individualistic dialogues from each character. Bill seems to exist to provide comic relief initially (at which he fails terribly) and then later, he’s suddenly involved in a major plot-line which is handled extremely superficially. It’s as if the characters exist only to push the plot along. The hallmark of a well-written story is that you know the people you’re reading about have lives outside of the story that’s being told. There are aspects to their personality which exist but may not be evident on the surface. That kind of doesn’t happen here because the characters are so … weird and over-the-top. You kind of feel like nobody can be like this except in a book or a movie.

** SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH ** Towards the end of the book, Parshuraman realizes he wants to be with Jennifer, but she’s pregnant with Bill’s kid (yes, seriously). Now, this is a HUGE deal, right? The woman you think is your chosen one for life is about to give birth to someone else’s baby. That should change things forever, shouldn’t it? But all Parshuraman wants, instead, is for Bill to say he will quietly walk out of their lives forever and even abandon the child that is his, which Bill does because Bollywood ending … I have no words. ** END OF SPOILERS **

Sometimes, you read something and it strikes you that maybe the author’s trying too hard. For example, people in this novel rarely just walk. Instead, they sashay (repeatedly in different scenarios) and strut (in different contexts). Phrases like “by all means” are peppered numerous times (and in one or two cases, I wasn’t sure if it was even correctly used). I found a couple of places where a misplaced comma appeared, and “Ma’am” (short for madam) was incorrectly spelled as “Mam” (British slang for ‘mother’). The style of writing is not great, either.  Good writing shouldn’t narrate what’s happening. We should see it through the eyes of the protagonists and feel it through their experiences. In this case, however, there are plenty of times when the author tells us, the reader, what is going on as an omniscient being. I also found it annoying that descriptions of EVERYTHING include brand-names. Occasionally, brands can be used to emphasize when someone has expensive taste, but in this case, it just feels overdone.

The writing also suffers from multiple place-time inconsistencies. One minute, Jennifer is opening the door for Parshuraman, who keeps a respectable distance from her. The next minute, he’s taking his hands off her face or something. All of a sudden, this book is a mystery – how did the hand get there?! Bah, humbug. The book suffers from bad editing which cannot wholly be attributed to the author. A large portion of the blame must rest with the editor (or team of editors) who should be fired faster than you spell the word “P-R-O-O-F-R-E-A-D”.

Look, I’ll be honest. This is not the worst book I’ve read. The story isn’t great, but it’s not completely brainless. The characters are caricatures and largely over the top, but that’s forgivable. What really gets my goat is that the editing is so bad. If I could at least read the book without the urge to underline something every couple of paragraphs with a pencil, I might have pushed it as a one-time quick and dirty read. But with all its flaws, I just can’t recommend it with a clear conscience.

Final Rating: 2/5

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