Cheating on Vikram

and Sartaj and Ganesh.

I was thrilled last year when I got hold of a copy of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games shortly after it was released, and resolved to go back to reading before sleep each night.

But work and waking hours grew longer and longer, sleep became more and more elusive, add to that dozens of films watched, and soon the book was parked on my nightstand.   No reflection on the story or the writer, there just aren’t enough hours in a day right now.

With wallet, Palm, make-up, notebook (the paper kind), iPod, work papers, apple, mobile phone, mints, hairy eared dwarf lemur (huh ?) all being borne by one shoulder or another in my work bag, ferrying the three Bombay Boys and their hardcover home with me to and from the office every day was out of the question.

And so, at fortnightly intervals I Xeroxed several chapters at a time, and, harkening back to the weekly serialization from the days  of Dickens, I’ve been submerged in photocopied chapters of the sprawling cops-and-robbers tale, reveling in all the filmi references and savoring passages like this one (from a night when Inspector Sartaj Singh and his colleague Katekar are on a stake-out, talking while they wait for some goondas to appear):

…Sartaj nodded.   All this was true, and it was a restful pleasure to lie under a thela and complain.   They had already complained about the municipality, corporators, transfers of honest civil servants and policemen, expensive mangoes, traffic, too much construction, collapsing buildings, clogged drains, unruly and uncivilized Parliament, extortion by Rakshaks, bad movies, nothing worthwhile to watch on television, American interference in subcontinental affairs, the disappearance of Rimzim from soft-drink stands, inter-state quarreling over river waters, the lack of good English-language schools for children whose parents didn’t have truckloads of money, the depiction of police on the movie screen, long unpaid hours on the job, the job, and the job.   When you had complained enough about everything else, there was always the job, with its unspeakable hours, its monotony, its political complications, its thanklessness, its exhaustion.

It’s been a great ride so far, and I’ve just crossed the halfway mark.   I dread finishing it, because I love disappearing into the stories and hearing about Sartaj’ and Ganesh’s lives, though the monogamy is starting to take its toll.   Is Sacred Games going to be the only book I’ll read in 2007??

Well, maybe not.   For the shortest of time, I’m having the literary equivalent of a dirty weekend, barreling my way through a quick read: Jessica Hines’ very recent release Looking for the Big B: Bollywood, Bachchan and Me.

I’ve read several critiques of the book, and  many, like this one, complain about the excess of Hines and the scarcity of Bachchan, and it’s true, it’s really a book about the intent of writing a biography.   In between all the I-me-my, there are some revelations about  the leggy patriarch of the film industry, and she gets tremendous access to him, at times.

There are some humorous passages, which have been a welcome diversion this past week, sitting at the bedside of an ill parent in hospital.   On the subject of the power that a famous actor’s assistant and other staff wield, vis-a-vis to whom they  grant access to the celebrity, she writes:

I think there must be Star Servant Training Courses where the object of the telephone exercise is to frustrate anyone on the other end of the line to the point of apoplexy.   Points would be given to the trainee servant who managed to make callers actually go purple, and first prize would go to the truly obstreperous who could make the caller collapse on the floor sobbing, having lost the will to live.

…trying to get to talk to the stars is like cutting through loft insulation with a pair of nail scissors.

But she does gain entrée to Amitabh’s home, and world.  

Of Bachchan Sr.’s office, she writes:

…you reach it by going up a flight of stairs past walls hung with hundreds of photos of Amitabh and his son Abhishek (but mainly of Amitabh).   Going into someone’s house or office and being confronted by hundreds of photos of them might be alarming, but then Amitabh is often everywhere you look outside his house too so the whole continuous-flow effect works.

As I read about her visits to Bombay, KL, the Malaysian highlands, and Dubai, in pursuit of The Big B, two thoughts occurred to me.   First, I couldn’t help but wonder  if  Mrs. B back in  Bombay has no qualms about her hubby having dinner alone together night after night after night in the  over-the-top Burj Al-Arab, with a clearly smitten woman half his age.  

And second, I found myself remembering  the hilarious fictitious account  written by Maruja Torres called “Oh! Es  él!   Viaje fantastico hacia Julio Iglesias” [Oh!   It’s him!   Fantastic voyage to Julio Iglesias].  

In that 1986 novel, the  heroine, who writes for a Hello! type magazine in Spain, is sent on the  assignment of a lifetime, to follow Julio Iglesias to the US for his  musical tour, and gain access  to the Spanish dreamboat, for a big  interview.   It’s a great spoof on the “pink press”, as that niche of magazines are referred to, and of the Galician crooner to boot.

So, Looking for the Big B may not be In the Afternoon of Time, but, depending on  how much you know about the industry and the actor already,  and to what extent the excess of Ms. Hines presence in her own book will (or will not) bother you, it can be a light, fun read, where you may learn a few things you didn’t know before, about Amitabh and others in the industry.

8 thoughts on “Cheating on Vikram

  1. Scribe B, thanks for your kind thoughts. And yes, that book is weighty. I tried perching it on my ribcage while reading it in bed, and had to stop after a short while, it just hurt too much!

    Krishna, thanks, it’s going to be a long slow up hill climb…Please feel free to write whatever query you may have; I’m doing my best to keep an eye on the blog and will be posting some new things very soon.

  2. Dear filmi,

    Am sorry about everything. Best wishes for getting things back on track soon.

    Had a query or two, will wait till you get back.

  3. filmi- first, i sincerely hope all things get better for you and my sympathies and prayers to you and yours. second, sacred games also parked on my bookshelf for a few months and have been dying to read but formidable size scares me away every time i manage to pick it up. literally.

    bombay addict – also looking forward to spidey 3, all kinked out in black!

  4. So sorry to hear about the parent and all the best for his/her quick recovery. Take care. Awaiting your return…

    The trailer is ok, but B2.0 is a killer..and Big B, I don’t know what he’s doing, but I’m a Shaad fan so I’m trusting him to be cool.

    Big thing for me this weekend is 3. 3. 3. 3…Spidey’s back!

  5. I’m glad you’re reading Jessica Hines’ Big B book – I really liked it. I loved reading a book written from the perspective of a western woman with a really serious interest in Bollywood. I felt as if she represented me/us, and she did a good job. I find it still rare that a westerner really knows Bollywood and really loves it and its people in an uncondescending way.

    I thought she managed to write about Amitabh in a breezy-ish western way as respecting his wishes about what she should and shouldn’t write about – she got rid of a whole draft of the book when he hated it and was mean to her about it, but she also allows herself to tell us that part of the story of their relationshp, including noting that while she was terrified when he said he was going to fight her with every drop of his blood, she also was aware of another part of her noting the speech as filmi.

  6. Hey BA, I think I’m going to pass on that one. First, I’ve got a parent who was in an accident and who I’ll be caring for over the coming weeks. Also, I was already not terribly keen on the saccharine kids and the dancing bears, and it was kinda’ sealed for me when I saw Anupama Chopra’s review yesterday.

    But damn, I want to see the trailer!

    As it is, I’ve missed a bunch of films this week in a festival, though I did catch Parzania on the opening night. Am hoping to get a write-up soon, but my life is just upside down beyond belief right now…

  7. “It’s been a great ride so far, and I’ve just crossed the halfway mark. I dread finishing it, because I love disappearing into it, though the monogamy is starting to take its toll.” – I know what you’re talking about. The book kinda just took over me. I used to read it as much as I could. I knew I’d miss it when it got over, but the good part is I keep going back to the Insets and reading them when I can. What a book.

    PS – just back from Tara Rum Pum (your review kidhar ?). Decent, not great. This time they showed the trailer of “Jhoom Barabar Jhoom”. Shaad Ail Saigal again..B2.0, Preity, Bobby (just what is he doing here?) and Lara. And the Big B. Looking good, looking good. Killer line from B2.0 is in the end of the trailer. Won’t spoil it here. Do see.

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