Starry Nights- Shobaa De.



I know, I know. I never mentioned such a book in my last book rant. I just missed it. I’m telling you, I just have been on this crazy chain- reading trip.

I have even read some Chetan Bhagat! Who would have thought, huh? Me and Chetan Bhagat?

Okay, I shall admit- I once wanted to know what all the rage was about; so I read One Night at the Call Center, Five Point Someone, The Three Mistakes of my Life and 2 States, all in the space of two days. Couple of days back, I saw Revolution 2020 lying forlorn and ignored in my Flipkart ebooks library. Apparently it was a free read. I am a sucker for anything FREE. So, I read it. Now kill me!

How the “mighty” fall!

I have always associated Shobaa De with high-society kitty parties and TV appearances. I read her columns, sometimes agreeing sometimes having my nose up and scoffing.

I knew she wrote. Books. Novels.

I never read them. They never called out to me. They were never harped about in the literary world. They never featured in the New York Times bestseller lists of my time. And why I would look to a foreign best- seller list (which is dubious and controversial at best), to validate a book or dictate my reading choices; I do not know.

In short, I’d never read a Shobaa De book until last week.

Now that the back story is out of the way, shall we get to the review folks?

1.How/Why/Where did you buy the book?

I did not buy it. It came free with my Flipkart ebook app, on my new Lumia 1520.

2. What is the book about?

Bollywood, mostly. Thought the primary plot is a love story. A south- Indian mum brings her young daughter, Viji to Mumbai (then “Bombay”) to make her a star. The young woman does become one. But she pays a heavy price for stardom and success.

Re- christened as Asha Rani, the young actress falls hopelessly in love with her superstar co- star. A married man, who is known for his womanizing ways. Her path to stardom is littered with men of all kinds; seedy agents, underworld biggies, uber- rich business- men, glamorous co- stars, rich, poor, young and old. The story chronicles her path to stardom and beyond.

Wikipedia informs me  that the book is rumored to be inspired by real life Bollywood romances (or “affairs”) such as Amithabh Bachan/ Rekha and Dharmendra/ Hema Malini. If you ask me, there might be similarities, the most glaring being a married man cheating on his wife with an actress. Beyond that… I am not sure if the book has anything to do with these stories/ actors.

3. First impressions?

Lights off! Kishenbai registered the harsh command of the studio lackey with disdain. How many times in the past two decades has he heard those words? A thousand? Ten thousand? As darkness descended in the shabby, suburban preview theatre, he eased his feet out of the white Rexine chappals, reached for his Pan Parag dabba, belched discreetly and touched the panch- mukhi rudraksha around his neck. A reflex action.

These are the opening lines of the book. The Indo- lingo, the references, the tone; it is clear this book is aimed at a distinctly Indian audience. Do you think a non- Indian would get the gist of this paragraph. She might have to Google every tenth word or so.

Whatever it may be, the early chapters in the book are definitely engaging. It augurs for a meaty, masala (Indo lingo- spicy entertainment!)– filled, Bollywood story.

At that time Gopal had been nothing but a fucking badhwa who fetched paan for the director and whores for the hero. Kishenbai remembered him well. ‘Abey saale!’ he’d call out to the shifty- eyed sidey, ‘Get me my beedi packet.’ Fetch, he’d say and off Gopal would scamper to bring him his Dunhills from the car. He was useful and resourceful. He could iron the heroine’s taffeta petticoat without burning holes into it. He knew where to get camels at a day’s notice for a song picturization….

When Kishenbai discovered Asha Rani she had been nothing. A ‘dhool ka phool’ the film rags gleefully dismissed her. An awkward, ungainly, overweight girl from Madras. And so dark. Chhee! Kishenbai didn’t like dark girls. He’d always gone for ‘doodh-ke-jaisi-gori’ women himself. His own swarthy complexion was worked over with Afghan Snow and Pond’s Dreamflower talc, a part of his daily, post- bath ritual…..

See what I mean?

4. Final evaluation?

Raw and uncut.

Shobaa De is not a shy, coy woman. At least when she writes. She speaks her mind, boldly; even in her columns. Her books are the same, I realize.

The story builds up well. Asha Rani draws us into her torrid, not-so- happy yet successful life,  her ill-fated love and twisted trysts with men. We don’t associate with her emotionally, but we root for her. We sympathize. We may not agree with her moral decisions, but we understand why she makes them. Her psyche has been moulded by her harsh life and the sacrifices that she has had to make. We wish she would give up on her illogical love for Akshay and stand up for herself. We would love to hate her Amma (mother in Tamil a South- Indian language) but can’t quite do so, even though her only method to moneymaking is selling her child’s body and talent. Akshay Arora’s character is sketchy and fluid. Not in a good way though. Initially he comes across as a suave, sophisticated, intelligent, self- made man. But as the tale progresses, he turns unscrupulous and cowardly. By the end of the story, the reader is not quite sure what to make of him.

Shobaa De does an excellent job of portraying all her characters in shades of grey. Nobody is above reproach, yet no one is intrinsically evil. Every character in the book, is fighting his or her own battles in life and with their uniquely personal demons within. They make do with what they have, and they use it however they know to at the time. Isn’t that how it is in real life?

The book gives a dramatically exaggerated but possibly truly realistic inside view into the workings of Bollywood. The blood, sweat and tears behind the glitz and glamour. The darkness behind the arc lights.

5. How long did it take to finish?

Two nights. About a couple of hours each.

6. Critique?

The second half goes haywire. When Asha Rani goes to New Zealand and then to London; the plot goes berserk The story builds up well, but fails to maintain the intensity.

The ending leaves a lot to be desired as well.

The use of colloquial terms and Hindi words makes things sound authentic and the story becomes more believable. It seems like the scenes actually happened somewhere, sometime. But, it also makes the book slightly hard to follow, for a non- native. The edge isn’t quite there if you don’t understand the terminology.

7. Who would you recommend the book to?

All Indians who like gossipy, Bollywood stories. And all non- Indians who are intrigued by Bollywood.

8.  Would you read it again?

Don’t think so.

9.  Do you regret purchasing it?

I guess I can’t answer this one, since I never did buy this.

10. Favourite part/ quote from the book?

I am not sure I have any. The are no shining monologues, or ultra dramatic dialogues to quote.

No. I can’t think of any. Nothing stands out. Yet, I would consider this a worthwhile read; if only to initiate oneself to Bollywood’s underbelly and to Shobaa De, the brazen, Indian woman author.


Till the next book….

Dr J.

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