Thursday, January 31, 2013

Insider Look at Indian Publishing: Beaten by Bhagath! ( S V Divvaakar)

Beaten by Bhagath! claims to be the first-ever tale about the unseen side of the wonderland of Indian Fiction. That was the hook for me to say YES – to an offer from BookVault to review this book. I mean, hey! this was a behind-the-scenes look at the Publishing industry from someone who’s been there, done that and is willing to lay bare the ugly truths and bust some myths. So bring it on, huh? I was ready to lap it up – that small worm inside of me delighting at such an opportunity to learn more of this industry I was trying to break into. 

 This isn’t a debut and definitely reads like a polished effort from a talented author.  S V Divaakar is a multi-talented personality currently having forayed into Writing and Public Speaking and music forms a large wedge in the circle of his life.

The tag-line, “A tale of two writers” succinctly sums up the whole book – even though it’s written from a first-person narrative, the whole book centering around the efforts of BB, a successful corporate executive who decides to pursue writing when egged on by his boss and driven by a king-size ego to beat his former college-mate, Dr. Bhagath who is now one of India’s most successful writers of all times  - there are two different personalities here, one the fledgeling author fuelled on by his own ego and testosterone driven by chanel 5 perfume – and looming large over him, the shadow of this over-achieving college-mate, the  uber-cool successful storywriter who has brought a revolution in writing by putting his hands on the pulse of his audience and writing for them. It’s a gargantuan task for BB and he squares up admirably for it – launching full-fledged into the process and taking the hard-as-nails publishing industry head-on.  Does he live up to the promise and his own expectations, does he finally beat Dr. Bhagath – forms the crux of the story. The story weaves together in lush detail the hitherto unknown and painful process of how one goes from a raw manuscript to seeing your book in glossy print and gives us insights on the torrid efforts involved in making sure that baby doesn’t sink and disappear.

The verdict? I loved the book in bits and pieces. It was a fantastic narrative and follows the debut author’s ups and downs in one of the most authentic take on this harrowed journey, a rat-race to beat the best and enter the hallowed list of Bestseller books. Being inside BB’s head as he suffers through all the lows in this entire journey and gloats and exults over his small wins really helped us get a grip and thorough understanding of publishing as a process.  BB serves as an excellent foil to give us a ring-side view of this brutal cage-fight as he gets pummeled and bruised in an effort to keep his debut book afloat in the market. The prose is smooth and confident, peppered with hilarious anecdotes and smart thought-provoking insights – takeaways from this are fantastic and worth gold nuggets for newbie debut authors in the same boat as BB. What to do and more importantly what NOT to do.

Another winner for me was that the author keeps it straight as an arrow – a simple premise presented beautifully in linear fashion without going over the top.  This is going to be a great connect to the readers in addition to be able to identify with the middle-aged three-dimensional real life-and-blood protagonist, BB. The author keeps the tone light and irreverent for most of parts of the book – what with a controversial title that takes potshots at Chetan Bhagat and tongue-firmly-in-cheek references to celebrities in India – Shaamil Khan, K-10 Bhagath, Nileshi who seems to have taken the Indian science-fiction by storm( ahem. Yes, the third book is out in that trilogy for this guy, huh?) e-talier Companies like ClickMart, Book retailers like CrossBow  and many more funny intentionally lightly-veiled references  to real-life people and establishments – A lot of times this book gets you laughing out loud.

What irked me (other than the tepid climax that was disjointed and jarring to the tone and premise of the entire book) was the fact that frequently the line between telling a story and sermonizing about lessons learnt during the publishing process, blurred a bit. Now I would hate it if the author talks directly to me and gives me smart-ass comments. Instead if it were BB stuck in his tireless self-reprimanding tirades sifting for lessons learnt from his mis-adventures, then it would have gone well.  But it kept switching at some points and that really did douse down my enthusiasm. 
The reason that propelled BB into writing – was something I would NEVER have agreed with. To show that he is better than his college-friend Ketan? To impress his lady boss whose sweat-laden armpits mixed with chanel 5 perfume turned him on? Please give me a break. I don’t think anybody would chase down dreams propelled by reasons like this. That was a little bit of an over-sell for me. Never bought that part.

But overall Beaten by Bhagath! is an easy read – Super fun in fact, to watch BB chase his writing dreams, share the anguish during those nose-dives into the stygian depths of soul-searching exercises and exult with him over every small wins. The whole journey though has been very fantastically laid out – the hilarious book release, the facebook experiments, the rip-off – all are incidents we can relate to very well.  BB has this aura of vulnerability which I can relate to. Driven to desperate measures to see his baby do well in the market, estranging himself from friends and family over a cause he believed in…Haven’t we all done that one time or the other? And that is what elevates the book from the ordinary.

S V Divvaakar claimed to and has given us – the ring-side view of an industry we know little or nothing about. For that I am thankful. It’s a good book and I wish to see more from this multi-faceted author. Perhaps now the music industry? Or maybe the movies? Am sure that would be as definitive as this work.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shadow Ops : Control Point by Myke Cole

Edit: I stand corrected - Control Point is published by Ace Roc (Penguin) books and NOT Night Shade. Thanks, Myke for putting me back on track :)

Another excellent debut by Ace Roc that has been garnering praise for all the right reasons and getting nominated for the biggies for the past one year now. This comes on the heels of two super awesome debuts I have read (technically should have been in 2012 though!!). There was Kameron Hurley who ran away with all the praise and the awards the year her debut, Book One of Bel Dame Apocrypha hit the stands. Then I chanced upon the excellent russo-setting epic fantasy by Bradley Beaulieu, Winds of Kalakhovo. Now this. Shadow Point by Myke Cole.
Excellent stuff really – doesn’t read like a debut. Polished prose, jet-setting pacing, fantastic premise that doesn’t disappoint when executed novel-length, authentic and accurately detailed world-building. Check against all of this, this book pretty much scored on all fronts for me.

People all around the world are going “Latent” – manifesting magical powers – maybe you got reminded of X-men – but where Myke’s Latents or super-heroes differ from x-men is a delightfully detailed magic system that Myke has crafted and laid out in the book. But make no mistake, the whole book is as fun as reading an x-men comic. With the Latents coming out in the open, the world is indeed a different place. US Army constitutes a Supernatural Operations Cops (SOC) unit to round up the people who manifest these abilities. Commonly accepted forms of these magic include Aeromancy – ability to manipulate the skies, Hydromancy for water and Pyromancy – fire. In addition to these, there are the prohibited schools of magic. Manifestations of such mean immediate death at the government hands. Lieutenant Oscar Britton is attached to the SOC and has seen the worst of such outbreaks. Things go completely awry when one day he manifests and to top it off, he manifests one of the prohibited schools of magic. After this, the plot is packed up with jet fuel and slung off into the inter-galactic highway – screaming and kicking all the way till a mind-numbing action-filled explosive climax.  

Oscar Britton is not an easy character. Forced to run from the system he was hired to protect (Ha. Here you might think, what is new?) Oscar has mental tsunamis tossing up in his mind over the question of his loyalty towards the system. In fact he swings so wildly both ways it is sometimes enough to drive you up the wall screaming, pick a f*%k’g side,will you now. But the annoying feelings aside, the personal conflicts are beautifully etched out scoring big on certain moral questions that very few military books try and answer, as to whether the soldier is actually doing good by shooting down a fellow human being in the name of his country? But don’t get me wrong – these are all done in a subtle and smooth manner and nothing takes away the fun element that never lets up through the book. Guns, grenades, explosions, some amazing gritty hand-to-hand combat scenes. Go gorge on all of this and more. Comic book fans should definitely not miss this one.

Shadow Point is an easy read and definitely doesn’t read like a debut. Peter V Bret roundly summarizes this entire book as X-men meets Black Hawk Down – that is pretty damn the best ever one-line summary of any book that I’ve heard which is closest to the actual truth. Having served enough time on the Armed Forces, Myke’s earnestness and authoritative take on US Army settings shines through in his writing and is indeed one of the reasons why the book was so much more enjoyable .He takes care to detail out the army life and applies his fertile imagination to paint an utterly believable premise.  Even though Shadow Ops is peppered with imaginary and actual army jargons and acronyms, that never interferes with enjoying the book, the plot never lets you off the hook, where pacing in concerned. Trust me, you wouldn’t finish once you get past the initial jerky hiccups.  

I didn’t know where the book fitted in. Myke is doing wonders when it comes to re-imagining the boundaries of urban fantasy, yes true but combine that with some serious chops in writing a military novel ? Some people have called it Military Urban Fantasy. Whatever it is, it’s fresh, it’s fantastic and it’s a fillip to good reading. With a satisfactory ending to the conflicts presented in book one while leaving the arena wide open with enough substance and foreshadowed questions, am sure this series is going to continue to kick ass.
Three and a half stars.

Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola : Movie Review

Even though the name sounds like some rustic village slangs slung together to form a wish-washy sing-song title that means absolutely nothing, Vishal Bharadwaj still manages to impress us with this quirky comic satire. He has done a complete backflip with this one. This movie remains his most commercial one till date where he’s eschewed his usual dark foreboding sense of cinematic direction and infused this one with a mad sense of comedy that trills with happiness, happies endings and the likes.

A Vishal Bharadwaj movie sans dark humor sans pathos sans tragic endings? Yeah scratch your head but you better believe. And what helped him out this time? A pink buffalo and the acting powerhouse called Pankaj Kapoor.  It’s a Pankaj Kapoor movie all the way till the end credits roll in and even then, he doesn’t leave you – trying out mad hip shakings with the Zulu-dancers from South Africa.

It’s an irreverent comedy set in the rustic backvillages of Haryana and the story centers around this one village called Mandola – that derives its name from the biggest zamindar or landowner in the village –  Harry Mandola ( Pankaj Kapoor, one of his finest nuanced performances till date). The man owns everything in the village – right from the police station to the bank to even a small airstrip with a functional monoplane. The opening scene should set your warning bells tolling like mad, setting the tone for the entire movie. It’s where a limousine crashes into a small ramshackle wooden “tekha” ( had to use the Hindi word for the authentic image it brings to mind, don’t think the british invented a world that does justice to tekha!) in the middle of an isolate dry stretch of wheat field. That’s because our main protagonists, Mandola along with his man Friday Matru (Imran Khan) decide to raid this local wine shop when the owner refuses to give them liquor, the day being a dry day. It is later revealed that Mandola is a chronic alcoholic who switches between the benevolent garrulous lovable drunkard Hariya who mouths "Panch“!Pancho!” at the drop of a hat and always thinks the good of his village people and the sober oxfordian English-speaking Overlord of the village who harbors dreams of selling off the fields owned by the villagers to the state government and dreams of seeing factories belching out thick dark smoke and swanky malls crowding the skies in that village, including a wholly-owned real estate gated community project, Mandola Homes thriving there.  This forms the main conflict of the entire movie with the villagers being helped out by a mysterious “Mao” (VB’s take on the anarchist revolutionary who fights against the capitalist blood suckers) to fight against the tyrannically oppressive Mandola.  

Add to it underlying sub plots of an suppressed love story between Matru and his master’s daughter, Bijlee (Anushka Sharma) and of course, the villains of the story – the mother-son duo of Chaudhari Devi (Shabana Azmi )and her moronic son (Arya Babbar) who are corrupt political hot shots with designs on the entire property of Mandola.

All of this comes to a crazy simpering climax at the end of two and half hours – and yet throughout the movie, you feel like it has a dual personality. Like the main protagonist of the movie, Harry Mandola. Jerky, clunky and stretched to needless confusion at times or outrageously funny, irreverent, whacky to the core at other times. There are moments that grab you by your shirt collars and sock you hard – the creepy mesmerizing monologue by Shabana Azmi, the alcohol-fuelled “night-walk” where Harry and Matru take their monoplane for a spin, the final climax…all of these stay back with you when you leave. Vishal Bharadwaj brings his own stamp of quirkiness into the script – introducing African Zulu dancers in a rustic Haryana village ? in any other movie, you would have baulked, but with VB – you are ready to expect anything, aren’t you?

Anushka Sharma again plays herself. Loud, irritating and overly chirpy, the daughter of the stinking rich Mandola, Bijlee Mandola. Sticking true to her name, she does give an electrifying performance – the lonely daughter pining for her alcoholic estranged father’s love, a girl who has always been in love with her servant but has to marry a moron for the sake of her father’s political ambitions. Imran Khan even though manages to shake off that stamp of chocolate boy – ( I admit, he did look impressive with a full beard and a heavy gold earring!) and does get whipped up into shape by VB to deliver a believable performance as the city-educated lawyer Matru who comes back to his native village. Shabana Azmi manages to evoke a feeling of dread playing the corrupt-to-the-core killer ambitious politico who would go to any extent to fulfill her desires. Arya Babbar plays the imbecile son and manages to be that annoying idiot very convincingly. But of course, the loudest applause goes to Pankaj Kapoor for his fantastic portrayal of the split-personality Harry. Nasty mean and wickedly ambitious as the sober rich feudal lord and the lovable generous piss-drunk Mandola with a heart of gold – being childlike and absolutely lovable.  Fantastic.

This movie is not the greatest from the VB stable but I am not complaining. Eccentric, goofy, confused and frustrating at times, especially the middle, the movie but starts and ends off in the right note and should please most people.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Looking to get published in 2013? Dont't ignore this!!

Found this to be so relevant and very neatly done. So, were you hoping to get published this year? Well - Get your ass onto Goodreads, once the babies ( I meant your books) are out 'coz you dont want to miss out on this wave that is rapidly turning into a Social Tsunami. 

Why Every Author Must Be On Goodreads In 2013

While there, don't forget to add me up onto the friend list :) Happy Reading and Exploring!


The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham

There is no denying that Daniel Abraham is a prolific writer. He has already churned out a full-fledged quartet series (One that bucks the trend and takes an absolutely delightful new setting for an epic fantasy series far removed from European Medieval settings – the Long Prince quartet. I have read the first two books but sadly never got around to finishing it as I couldn’t find the rest two books and I stopped it at that), is already co-authoring (James A Corey) a super ambitious project called the Expanse – a good old sci-fi sweeping series with already three books out and a lot many in the offing ( according to the author interview) – read the first one in that series, Leviathan Wakes, all-stops pulled out fantastic monster of a read that blew away my expectations – now he’s turned his attention back to traditional epic fantasy in familiar surroundings – The Dagger and the Coin, the first part being called the Dragon Path. 

This is familiar grounds for those treated to dizzying heights of greatness as defined by GRRM’s acclaimed Song of Ice and Fire series. An obvious comparison, but Daniel Abraham does bring in his own deft touches to the whole world - a world created by dragons long ago and presently occupied by 13 sentient different races. Predominantly human but each of the race with its own distinct unique characteristics. Very measured with all smaller details of this new world etched out sharply by Abraham’s haunting prose and very evocative imagination – this book underwhelms with its lack of action and very little in terms of plot development.
But where the author shines, as is the case with his previous fantasy attempt, is to give us some unforgettable characters that live outside the pages, each a masterpiece by itself. Sufficient amount invested in some enormous character development, this book takes on the familiar plot of multiple POVs and each chapter dedicated to one. But satisfyingly enough, Abraham keeps his POVs countable.
Notable are the four – Captain Marcus, decorated soldier and once King-Killer now living a semi-retired life, yearning to stay out of trouble and doubles as a caravan guard on mercenary duty. Even though Marcus doesn’t change much and is restricted to baby-sitting Cithrin, the other major character in the story, am hoping as the story unfolds he would have a much greater role. Cithrin, an orphan girl who has grown up counting figures and learning the trade of banking, is now fleeing a burning city with all the treasures of the bank. Her character is the one that’s probably grown the most – a young vulnerable girl who has lost the only family she had to the ambitious overtures of lords playing the game of thrones, matures into a cunning banker who is willing to go any extent to keep her bank.  Fascinating character study. The next most interesting was of course, Geder Pallianko – an unwilling pawn in the game at the capital to keep an uneasy truce in the Kingdom. Geder would rather read obscure arcane essays on civilization than hold a sword in the battle, and yet strange twists of fate lands him right in the middle of the power games. Another of my favorites.  The fourth is Lord Dawson Kalliam, a man whose sense of right wrong and ethics is second only to his blind devotion to his King and his childhood friend. Dawson, even though can swing both ways, till book one sticks to his own strict sense of ethics and is constantly caught up in the vicious shadow games to keep the Kingdom from falling into the wrong hands.  All the characters have sufficient leaning towards grey and you keep guessing. This, probably saved the book for me.
It’s an introduction book and it’s clear that Abraham is setting his pieces ready for some greater action. The prologue makes it clear that there is a greater evil looming large – a Spider Goddess that would stop at nothing to devour the world. The world building is exquisite but disappointingly sparse. As Abraham plays it close to his heart giving us glimpses into this strange wonderful world built by dragons but refuses to divulge details that would draw us in completely. Even the thirteen different races – We really don’t get a full picture but it has definitely hooked me in. so maybe the ploy worked.
What was missing? Being fed on an overdose of grit and gore in fantasy settings in the near past, I definitely missed the action. But I ain’t complaining. I am a patient reader and will wait for Daniel Abraham to knock me down with the rest of the series.
I don’t know how many books are planned in this series but Daniel Abraham wastes no time in moving things deftly forward. King’s Blood is out and Tyrant’s Law is round the corner. So maybe it might just beat the Song of Ice and Fire for being one of my all time favorites if he does it right.  
Four stars. Potential to become a genre greatest.