Surviving the Stars

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Bombay Duck Is A Fish by  Kanika Dhillon, book reviewSince The Devil Wears Prada there have been lots of struggling to survive in a job, dealing with slimy colleagues and coming to grips with reality novels. Kanika Dhillon’s debut is slightly different because it takes life on the Bollywood film sets in Mumbai as its background.

Neki Brar is a small town girl from North India who is determined not to take up a MNC job but wants instead to make it big in Bollywood. She has Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha as her guide and inspiration in this endeavour. Having reached Mumbai, she, not unsurprisingly, finds that big city morals are very different from small town ones, since one of her roommates sports tattoos, one is openly necking with her boyfriend and the third is a model. She also discovers that in Mumbai nothing is what it seems to be – the Bombay Duck, for example, is a fish, not a bird. Nonetheless, persevering, she manages to make it onto the film sets as one of four Assistant Directors. The main director, a lady, Fiza Kareem, is almost the boss from hell, though unlike the Anna Wintour clone in Devil Wears Prada, professional about it.

Starry eyed Neki loses her heart to dashing young hero Ranvir Khanna and it seems to be reciprocated. But in Bollywood, everyone is a master of deception and ground realities and Herman Hesse get lost somewhere along the way for Neki. But whether it’s love or career, Neki struggles on with Shahrukh Khan the lodestar shining in front of her eyes, the actor who made it to the top without family connections.

There’s a lot of reality to it, the struggling for props, the shuffling to organise Junior Artists and to accommodate stellar egos. There are also some behind the scenes insights about the power of hair dressers, drivers and the wives of politicians. Zeros in this game do not often become heroes and heroes sometimes do turn into zeros. And yes, as The Devil Wears Prada, or even Madhur Bhandarkar’s film Fashion, taught us, the star struck often lose contact with everyday life, to their peril. Failures find their way back to their backwaters on the night train.

Where Bombay Duck is a Fish flounders is in its surrealistic attempts towards the end. Neki contemplating suicide and sitting on the edge of a rooftop is confiding her life to her diary. Occasionally she throws in flashes of philosophy, satire and statements about life being like a river, changing along the way, though the same at the beginning and the end, which is Herman Hesse remembered. Lines like “Like every struggling aspirant, Bollywood promised Shelly that dreams do come true – and tomorrow could be the day that your life changes. The beauty was, like Shelly, it failed most of them, but the belief remained’ promise more than the book in the end delivers.

One would have expected the book to go the tried and tested chick lit way, but it doesn’t and that is both its strength and its weakness. The writing is fairly even except when poetic philosophy tries to take over or when Speilberg finds his name misspelled.

Bombay Duck is a Fish by Kanika Dhillon
Published by Westland in India, May 2011

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Buy book online
Buy book online
Bombay Duck is a Fish
by Kanika Dhillon

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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