Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How About A Sin Tonight? by Novoneel Chakraborty

No, this one has nothing to do with CBSE or NCERT textbooks that inadvertently 'enlighten' impressionable school kids re: the co-relation between eating non-veg food and sex crimes. [Though I am quite mystified as to why and how the genius-shri or the genius-shris behind such an earth-shattering theory haven't received an award yet.]

No wonder our R&D and original research (for the last 4-5 decades at least) is so 'glorious'. No wonder we have opted to build a nation on assumed names, fake accents, and cheap labour. No wonder we have never made an attempt to scale up on the quality and type of work that has been and is being outsourced and accepted in the name of 'synergy', 'growth, 'development' and what-not. And no wonder we have never attempted to grasp the heart, the soul and the future of a nation that is being built as the promised land of cheap labour. We all know: a weak spine cannot support a strong mind and vice versa, right?

But let me not digress.

'How About A Sin Tonight?' is a novel by Novoneel Chakraborty; his third offering, following 'A Thing Beyond Forever' and 'That Kiss in the Rain'. [Now, though the latter sounds like a mushy rom-com starring Hugh Grant, I assure you... it is actually a paperback published by Srishti Publishers.]

After enjoying a bunch of Jeeves and Bertie novels, the fiction-loving epicurean in me was craving for a change of taste, and so, I picked up this one, believing it to be a thriller...

*Sigh* Lesson learned yet again: Never judge a book by its blurb or hype.

Book Blurb: "From the most beautiful space in their souls to the most confused portion of their hearts and the dirtiest corners of their minds ... Love. Took. Them. Everywhere."

This book talks about: "the biggest casting coup of the Hindi film industry where five top stars are signed up for a new movie. Shahraan - the living legend still lamenting the loss of his first love; Reva and Neev - newcomers allied in a common journey; Nishani - the celebrity kid who must avenge her father's untimely death; and Kaash -the actor harbouring a secret love from his past. As their intimately intertwined personal stories take centre stage, the industry's underbelly is left exposed for all to see. By the time the curtain draws to a close, the gossip-hungry media has enough fodder on its plate to last a lifetime.

Novoneel Chakraborty, bestselling author of A Thing beyond Forever and That Kiss in the Rain, unveils the grime behind the glitz, the insecurities and compromises, in a world where aspirants come prepared to strike a Faustian bargain. A beguiling tale of love, ambition, jealousy, and betrayal, How About a Sin Tonight? will leave you asking for more."

Unfortunately, I wasn't left asking for more; instead I'm now skeptical about picking up books penned by new authors - going forward.

The phrase How About A Sin Tonight? comes forth as a dialogue in the book - mouthed by Nishani. This is apparently Novoneel's first character driven novel and is set against the backdrop of the Hindi film industry.

The plot/storyline: Shahraan Ali Bakshi: a small-town boy with big dreams, the son of idealistic parents, hence the 'Ali' in his name. Secularism has been firmly weaved in. He leaves college, lands in Mumbai (or is it Bombay?), shares a room with five other boys (who work at 'Bheem's Biriyani Centre'); does odd jobs, even drives a taxi - which is his 'four-wheel acting school'; acts in bit roles, graduates to the hero's sidekick and then rises to the top - a living legend still going strong at 46.

One doesn't really have to try too hard to spot shades of a certain superstar that once-upon-a-time was the owner of dimpled cheeks and rubbery lips, but has now lost all of it to the lure of 'eternal youth' aka botox.

Mehfil: Shahraan's (supposed) true love and muse; they meet while he was still driving a taxi, but given the nature of her profession, Shahraan can only meet her again at the 'Neela Makaan' - as her 'customer'. Cancer claims her soon after Shahraan makes it big (or rather is at the threshold of realizing his dreams.) We are told: she was the secret Santa - that made all of Shahraan's starry-eyed dreams come true - thanks to her contacts; though Shahraan was made to feel it was all a result of his hard work and dedication.

Mehfil's desire for her corpse to not be buried but be burnt (on the pyre) - remains unfulfilled - despite Shahraan's promise, since he was too distraught to even attend her funeral.

There is this strange character called 'Unnisau Saitalis' (meaning: 1947). He wears a white vest, khaki half-pants and high-power spectacles; does imaginary calculations in the air, drinks (and offers tea from a hip flask and a common cup), yet manages to make ends meet - thanks to the generosity of a foreigner, who sends tangible tokens of his generosity - regularly. [This character - 'Unnisau Saitalis' - reminded me of Paresh Rawal's 'Babu Rao' aka 'Babu Bhaiya' from 'Hera Pheri'.]

Reva Gupta and Neev Dixit: strugglers both; one junks theatre for the lure of bigger and brighter arc-lights, while the other intentionally flunks interviews - since he doesn't want to 'waste his life' as an engineer. Dixit Sr. too falls in line and accepts his son's decision after a while.

Both land up in Mumbai/Bombay. Their paths cross; they struggle: rejection, broken dreams, television, shows, serials, salsa classes, pav bhaji, Bhojpuri movie; they upgrade from neighbours to flat-mates: infidelity, jealousy, hurt, fights, physical abuse, deception...

Suddenly: Reva Gupta becomes Mrs. Shahraan Ali Bakshi... and a celebrated youth icon.

Nishani Rai: the daughter of the erstwhile matinee idol (Shekhar Rai) who later becomes a paralyzed and broken man confined to a wheel-chair. One day he dies. Papa's girl that misses papa dearly (despite Shekhar never having spent time with her) swears revenge - on the man who (she thinks) has put her papa dearest on a wheel-chair (and has thus robbed him of his shine.)

To her: that man is Shahraan, though Shekhar was at the receiving end of an action scene gone horribly wrong. [Shades of who and what...? You get it, right?]

Nishani meets a chap that makes horror movies, sort of specializes in this genre; and he kind of offers her a weird role that for him is a 'woman-oriented' role. [Guess? Guess?]

A once hot-shot but now-retired producer directs Nishani to his sons (who have now taken charge of his empire) - for a role. The elder son: a soft-spoken, supposedly god-fearing family man dines with her for two whole weeks (all the while discussing everything... except the role.) But on being probed by the exasperated Nishani, gives her not-so-subtle hints - about the 'quid pro quo'. [Family ties don't matter in the glamour industry, obviously. But the father and son reminds you of whom?]

Both Nishani and Reva are willing to do anything - to get a break in Bollywood; both treat intimacy casually, though Reva still has guilt issues attached to it (despite thinking otherwise), while Nihani has none - whatsoever.

Kaash Sehgal: childhood friend of Nishani (and supposedly secretly in love with her ever since.) Overweight as a schoolboy, but (miraculously) slim-and-trim + handsome as an adult. [Sounds familiar?!]

He has no qualms about having a one-dimensional relationship with Reva - where they do not even get to see each others faces (since they meet in dark rooms!); nor does he have any hang-ups about doing the 'real thing' during a film shoot with her either (one that leaves a haphazard blotch on a freshly painted wall, and prompts Reva to ask her assistant to go fetch her an I-pill quickly.)

... The empty packet of which duly reaches Shahraan - since Reva keeps it in her handbag.

What follows: bruised ego, silence, fights and violence (with Shahraan slapping Reva instead of someone else - during a shoot.) And despite measures taken to stop the media from getting a whiff of it, the pics go viral. That in turn necessitates: a saccharine-laced photo-shoot to undo the damage, it almost succeeds, but with Neev's arrival there's more bitterness, more fights, more deception, etc, etc.

Back to Kaash: school dropout - due to a sudden downturn in the family fortunes; forced to work at seventeen, entanglements with the boss's wife, then with struggling actress Reva, co-worker, Priyanka; brief stay behind bars, issues with Sehgal Sr., patch-up with family. He is now an upcoming actor (thanks to a small-budget movie that does really well) and has also hooked up with film critic Aravali Pathak. Yet he does not kiss, and though he has been writing letters to Nishani ever since his boarding school days, he has never posted a single letter.

Why he does not kiss? Umm, he experienced his first kiss as a 16-year-old overweight kid - with Nishani - and is unable to get over it (despite indulging in multiple flings.)

Though Nishani and Kaash have lost touch with each other for years, they get to meet at a filmi party... and are cast together for a film. It's an emotional scene they have to shoot, and this makes Kaash nervous, since he does not want Nishani to ever get to know of his real feelings for her (and thereby maintain its pristineness!)  

Aravali reads all those unposted letters (except one), and is taken in by Kaash's (apparently) deep philosophical reflections... and longs for a man who can love her like that - with all his heart and soul despite being an incorrigible playboy...!  

And though Nishani suspects that Kaash loves her (which Kaash deftly denies), she finally concludes that she doesn't really hate Shahraan... but is in love with him instead (thanks to some gyaan from Kaash.) Eventually, Nishani finds solace in the lap of her father. Frankly: I am not even sure what to make of all this.

Verdict: Umm, 2011 ended and 2012 commenced - for moi - with eminently forgettable books. 2012 just might replicate that. Note to self: I better do something to not let it happen.

The production value of the book is reasonably good, though there is quite a bit of editing errors that could have and should have been pruned out.

Frankly, the story begins well; it even manages to hold the reader's interest for a while, but loses direction after the first few pages. Thereafter, it disintegrates and meanders through convoluted writing, sad grammar, clichés, dirty language and cuss words. I think the book had potential, perhaps the author intended to bring out some allegorical aspects (given that there is a mention of 'Unnisau Saitalis' or 1947) - but sadly couldn't live up to it.

My rating: I am going with a 2/5 for Novoneel's latest. Despite this being the X-Mas season, I am unable to imbibe any more of the festive spirit and be more generous. Sorry. With better editing and a tighter plot, apart from cutting out the ample dead wood, this one could have made for a good read, if not a great one.

Details of the book: How About A Sin Tonight?/ Author: Novoneel Chakraborty/ Publisher: Ebury Press, an imprint of Random House India/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 11/05/2012/ Genre: Fiction/ ISBN-10: 978-8-184-00031-3/ ISBN-13: 9788184000313/ Pages: 283/ Price: Rs.125.

Picture: The book jacket cover of How About A Sin Tonight? Courtesy: link.