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I have been a fan of Shashi Taroor ever since I read Riot. Though this is only the second book of his that I read, I was bowled over by Riot which I loved deeply. I have done the review of it here, couple of years back. I had bought this book sometime back, but was waiting to read it. The blurb sounded promising and I wanted to save the best for the last. Though it was not exactly the last, I felt I had to read it few days back.
I started the book over the weekend and finished it last night. The protagonist of the novel is superstar Ashok Banjara, king of Bollywood Cinema. As he lies in a coma, hanging somewhere between life and death, co-stars from his real and reel life come to visit him. But for him, it is like watching a series of flashback. And he comes back to life for us, through their voices and the scripts of some of the movies that have made and destroyed him.
Like Riot, the story is told in different voices, be it that of Ashok himself or his co-star Pranay, who plays an important role throughout the book or his brother and father. And like how a movie is being shot, the story is divided into different 'takes'. The story line is engrossing and gives a clear cut picture of the life of the movie stars. Be it their ceremonious and fairy tale like wedding or the infidelity which creeps in like a villain and stays on.
Ashok's talented and demure co-star, Maya, soon becomes his wife who reluctantly 'retires' in order to lead a happy family life. But like all most marriages, cracks soon appear in the seemingly perfect life of the superstar. Enter Mehnaz Elahi, the sexy new actress, who is sure that Ashok will one day leave Maya and marry her. Sounds familiar? The book draws a lot of glaring parallel comparison with the life of none other than the BIG B of Bollywood- Amitabh Bachchan. It even talks about the brief hiatus Ashok Banjara has with politics.
Tharoor has taken a lot of real life incidents from the actor and peppered it in his novel. But how far what is fact and what is fiction, is for you to judge. His narration was fast paced and at times I felt like I was watching a few of Ashok Banjara's movies. Be it the tree twirling romance or the unrealistic cliches that we are often subject to in movies. One thing is certain, Tharoor has definitely done his homework before writing this one.
Though the book is a different genre from Riot, I couldn't help but compare the two. Tharoor still remains a wonderful writer, but the story line of Riot and the delicacy with which he handled certain situations there, makes it one of my favorite books.
Show business is as entertaining as watching a movie and there are even juicy snippets thrown in the voice of Cheetah, a celebrity magazine gossip columnist. Will Ashok wake up from his coma? As his life unravels before him, some secrets, if revealed are bound to be scandalous. And then, as millions of fans pray for him, there are some who still hold a vengeance against him. A few with grudges who would not be too happy if he came back to life.
I would give this one four stars on five, as I enjoyed it immensely. Go for this one if you like the movies and the fascinating (or not) lives of the superstars. This one is definitely a peep behind the curtains of Bollywood.