31 by Upendra Namburi
Book Review, Recently Posted, Thriller

31 by Upendra Namburi

31 upendra Namburi Corporate thriller


Imagine a situation where a Chanakya or a Machivalli would have thrived in a modern corporate…

Now imagine any organization you may have worked in – increase its size to global. Now imagine a financial crisis, a barely hidden extra marital affair, a wife in a professional and personal crisis, a fraud allegation, a traitor in the most trusted circle,  a very real chance of unemployment and financial ruin, a pregnancy, job interviews which seem to lead nowhere

Now imagine all of this happening within just 31 days!

And now imagine that the guy facing all of this in 31 days is nowhere close to a Chanakya or a Machiavelli. He is about as plain as you and me – grappling with the day as it comes…

Upendra Namburi, in his debit novel, has written a cracker of a book! And its not an easy genre to crack – Corporate thriller. And that too in an Indian setting

A good corporate thriller not only has to read like a racy John Grisham but from an Indian prespective, the book also needs to hit some chords with an audience that has faced atleast some, if not all of the problems that Ravi Shastry faced (if only in a much more extended period than in a month). Not only this, the book cannot take itself too seriously. Much of corporate humour is like gallows humour. The trick is get this brand of humour in a book…

And very satisfyingly Upendra succeeds in all of this in 31.

I had picked this book with some trepidation, not really knowing whether Indian writing had turned the corner on this brand of thriller. A corporate thriller hits close to home and if any of it seems even remotely fake or worse, seems like a lift from some US office situation, the book is an instant practice shot for the nearest dustbin!

And guess what – 31 is something I finished in a few hours.

And I realized something else. Here is an Indian book that you can finish in a 3 hour flight and it does not have to be juvenile writing. In fact, Upendra pulls off a tight script with enough twists and turns to leave you breathless enough to turn the next page.

While reading this, I was trying to remember when I had felt this irrestible urge to keep looking for the next button. Two came to mind – Prison Break and 24, the book’s almost namesake! Both of these left enough tantalized at the end of one episode to make you go begging to see the next one.

31 does the same with each page!

And the way that Upendra has structured the narrative  is another reason why the book turns out to be a page turner. Like the series 24, he has put time as heading of  each paragraph.

So it feels like a constant countdown happening. And you know the time left for Ravi Shastry is only till 31st March, only a few days left now!

Ravi Shastry is the regular performing guy in a regular large MNC bank. He indulges in polite politics, is hoping for a promotion soon, has had an affair on the side which almost caused a rift with his wife, a wife who is starting to feel neglected. All par for the course and seemingly normal existence (the affair, even, yes!). And then one fine monday it all goes topsy turvy and Ravi is now forced to race against time to save his career, his solvency, his marriage and his sanity

Along the way Ravi faces everything that anybody who has ever worked in a corporate enviroment in India would have faced – a snarky and over-demanding boss, a smug HR guy, colleagues and subordinates jostling for few scraps of positions, a constant looking over the shoulder for backstabbers, a top management devoid of brains interested only in the next paycheck. Its a bewildering maze of relationships and power equations lubricated with blackberrys that we are very familiar with. From our comfort zones, the best thrillers have arisen. Upendra Namburi ensures that he follows this trend nicely…

You, the reader, keep rooting for Ravi, inspite of all his follies and missteps. Because I guess, somewhere you feel a part of him, or him of you…

And then the litmus test, at least for me – the ending. The ending for me is the distilled flavour of the book that I retain. And 31 has one of the best possible endings – not a fairy tale ending nor a distressing one – but one that is real enough, an open ended one. And a nice end to all the breathtaking days and minutes of  countdown

Pick this one up. Its one unassuming book that for a short time will completely occupy whatever you are doing.

Bollywood Movies, Crime, Popular, Recently Posted

Gangs of Wasseypur (Part 1) directed by Anurag Kashyap

00-Gangs-Of-Wasseypur-2012-VMR-Covers-Album-Art Gangs of Wasseypur, for me, is a landmark in Hindi movies. There has been quite a few path breaking movies which have come recently – Taare Zameen Par, Udaan to Dhobi Ghat, Kahaani and Paan Singh Tomar recently, which have slowly started creating a market for movies with strong unique stories. Gangs of Wasseypur will be among the top in this list and will also have a few uniques to its name

I don't recall a Hindi movie that was intended to be produced in two parts from the start, different from a sequel. Which is a gamble. Since if the first half does not catch on, the second one will have no takers. But this confident gamble seems to have worked out for Kashyap and his cast

And another thing about Gangs of Wasseypur is that the whole universe of the movie is in a very believable hellhole of rural India. In the genre of movies dealing with gangs and the underworld, started primarily by Ram Gopal Verma, most have dealt with urban gangs, mostly Mumbai based. The fact that India has a very rich tradition of banditry and mafia culture across its length and breadth has been largely ignored till now except in superficial ways. This criminal culture is heavily intertwined with local politicians and police, to be almost indistinguishable from them. This has usually been shown in a very fantastical light – e.g. Singham, Rajnikant movies etc. These have never really got into the teeth of the matter.

Gangs of Wasseypur completely rips away this curtain of shallowness and presents to us a story which is completely raw and bloody and completely believable. Local mafia in a rural town of India is shown exactly how it is – driven by history, sustained by opportunistic politics, driven to a frenzy by a people who know no other way to survive. The characters are in a world where there is no moral compass of right or wrong. The right or wrong is completely dependent on who is on top and who has the muscle. Might wins at the end, no matter what else you put up at the table. You either fight and hope to win or you are suppressed by a heavier boot everyday. If Paan Singh Tomar was about banditry – outlaws who are forced to take up arms for dignity or revenge, Gangs of Wasseypur is all about the choice of a lifestyle. There is a revenge aspect all right but its mostly about gaining power, money and fame.

There is no sugar coating in the world of Gangs of Wasseypur. You swear, fuck around, kill people with a knife, gun or agangs-houseful bomb depending on the day, intimidate the police, earn a cut from illegal mining and hack bodies. Sometimes all in a single day! And nobody will think of asking for a justification nor will any be offered. Things are right or wrong just because, well, it is and because the guy on top said so.

The rawness of this world is something that is seen to be believed. Many people will be turned away by what they see as  'excessive' violence. I differ. There is no unnecessary violence at all in the movie. Each kill drives the story forward and I didn't find any violence for violence sake. In any case the whole point of Gangs of Wasseypur is that there is a continuous war outside your door. Do you sit back or dream or do you kill to love yourself? For those who like sanitized violence, watch the highly stylized violence of Singham. Gangs of Wasseypur is real. Deal with it

What increases the realism is the fact that real stories make up the Gangs of Wasseypur storyline – stylized and adapted for the screen. So you know right from the time that they show the history of Wasseypur (from 1941), you are dealing with real stuff. And talking of realism, the acting is something that needs to be seen to be believed. There are no ‘extras’ in this movie. Each character has a role to play, a story to tell of their own. Each in its own way takes the story forward. Manoj Bajpayee, the central character in this first part, shines as the complex gangster who kills to save a 335437-interview-with-zeishan-quadri-writer-of-gangs-of-wasseypurwoman’s modesty and sleeps around blatantly cheating on his wife, at the same time. The galaxy of talented stars around him – Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Jaideep Ahlawat, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Reemma Sen, Richa Chadda, Huma Qureshi are all deliciously rural Bihar – sing song dialect with the choicest swearwords, homemade revolvers and all. They get completely  into the story. Not for the characters of Gangs of Wasseypur the superficiality of mere rural clothes over urban behavior. These guys walk, talk and fuck like guys in Gangs of Wasseypur should!!

A special note about the music. Sneha Khanwalkar is truly a force of nature when it comes to extracting music from noise and creating amazing sounds. In Gangs of Wasseypur, she has created some ground-breaking music. Music created from emigrant history and localized, the music is something of a revelation. Listening to them separately, the music of this movie is a collector’s item in itself

Gangs of Wasseypur brings something quite different to cinema. All I can say is that I cant wait for Part II. This review will be complete only then

Bollywood Movies, Popular, Thriller

Paan Singh Tomar directed by Tigmanshu Dhulia


Paan Singh Tomar makes for good movie recipe…a national sports champion turning bandit to avenge injustice

Like a desi Robin Hood

Paan Singh Tomar, the movie, is also a sad testimony to the fact that unless he had turned bandit, a movie would not have been made on him. Not if he had broken a thousand sports record

The movie itself proves what the movie tries to say.


The real Paan singh But it makes for a great script. And with the irrepressible Irrfan Khan in the lead role, you can expect the screen to come alive. And it does. Irrfan Khan brings to Paan Singh Tomar an amused dead pan humour that suits both Paan Singh the athlete and the Paan Singh the bandit

Like Paan Singh Tomar says in the beginning, while giving an interview – “dacait to parliament me hai, hum to baagi hai” (dacoits are in parliament, I am an outlaw)


Its the same Paan Singh Tomar who readily joined the army sports team because he was told that he could eat as much as want without limits

The movie starts off with a flashback, while giving an interview to a local newspaper, of how he first becomes a national steeplechase champion, creating records that will stand for decades and then how a disillusioned Paan Singh turned bandit to avenge his land grabbing of his ancestral property

There is good rhythm in the first part as we see the rustic youth in the army turning into an athlete. His talents as anPaan singh soldier inexhaustible runner is soon recognized and he goes on to represent India at the Asian Games. He is a good family man and is content with loving his wife and his children. Mahie Gill as his wife plays the perfect supporting role – a wife who will support Paan Singh no matter what and who understands why he has to act the way he did.

The first half ends with the transformation of Paan Singh Tomar as he is pushed into what has been both the curse and the blessing of Chambal valley. Turning bandit is both an act of liberation and defiance and an act of desperation. And Paan Singh tries his damn hardest to defy his fate – going through all ‘proper channels’ to try and get his issue resolved.

He even tries to use his sports medal to try and persuade. In a heart-wrenching moment when his medals are thrown away by an openly corrupt police inspector, Paan Singh finally sees the truth. He sees the only way open…

Mocked and derided at every turn by a compromised establishment, facing apathy by even the district collector, Paan Singh does what many men and women before him had done and what many after him will do – he turns to the only route that will give him justice. Through the barrel of a gun

The second half is his journey as a bandit – from taking his revenge to finally falling to police bullets, refusing to surrender till the end.

The second half is also the story of the sheer futility that he faces as he realizes that he has to be always on the run. Even if he completes his revenge, he realizes, there is no going back. Paan Singh Tomar will only run for his life now. He can never again run for sport. As he gains notoriety and his gang becomes big, he knows that he only has to go forward. That this was the life chosen for him. Not by him but chosen for him.

I do have an issue with the second part. It seemed a little incomplete. The Paan Singh we could relate to in the first half paan_singh_tomar_20120319 seemed to disappear somewhat in the second half. The storytelling in the second part dealt more with action than with the man. We see he becomes a bandit but what we don't see what it does to him. Except for a few scattered dialogues, we don't see the dilemma much. The man who loved his family to bits – does he not miss the wife that he loved so much? If he did and I am sure he did, that fact never makes an appearance. We know that he realizes the futility of it all but Irrfan Khan as the Paan Singh Tomar on screen does not share it with us.

However the second half is action packed and the chase that ensues between Paan Singh and his main nemesis is one the most riveting moment. Especially when Paan Singh uses the same strategy to run over obstacles as he did when he ran for India – the tragedy of his situation could not have been made starker

The end is shot with care and the very last that we see of Paan Singh leaves you with a good closure…

Another thing to note is that the dialogues are almost completely in rustic dialect. This is a great move. Since you understand what is being said well enough, the dialect gives a very earthy and real feel to the movie. You can almost feel how Paan Singh must have talked

Overall, Paan Singh Tomar is a welcome direction that Hindi movies are taking. India is filled with folklore and mythical figures.Chambal folklore especially has never been exploited as it should have been. Man Singh, Putli Bai cry out for a245909-paan-singh-tomar portrayal on the screen. We really don't need to go to exotic locales or dance in Greece or in front of pyramids to get audiences anymore

Paan Singh Tomar's success is testimony to the fact that the we, the audience today, want a good story told. And we want a a sincere movie not a fluff in the wind…

This one really should not be missed. Irrfan Khan as Paan Singh Tomar will leave quite a mark on you… and so will the ending credits, when you realize just how many sportsmen have been neglected to death. Makes the movie even more telling…

This is a good article that I found on the web post the movie release – well written piece on a journalists journey today to Paan Singh's homeland

Times crest article – here

and a Frontline article related to Chambal dacoits – here

What do you think?

Bollywood Movies, Documentary

Inshallah Kashmir directed by Ashvin Kumar

Inshallah-Kashmir-poster-movie-online Banned in India by the ever faithful Big Brother of a censor board, the director took the unprecedented step of releasing this online (apparently there is no law against releasing something online…yet).
Ashvin actually opened it up for download for one day – on 26th January, the Republic Day. That’s quite a symbolic gesture!!
And once you see this you know why…
Which is why you need to see it
It has been the practice of all governments to try and dictate what we must see and hear and there us always an effort by all governments to make the public buy into their version of current and historical events.
And there has been an increasing virulence of intolerance by self-appointed patriots whose sense of injustice bleed too easily. Look at what happened to Symbiosis university’s Kashmir seminar “Voices of Kashmir”, which was cancelled due to the ‘fatwa’ by the right wing fringe.
And Kashmir is one topic which will always invoke strong reactions. And this is one topic which will always see an effort to give the ‘official’ version of the story
In Kashmir, Ashvin Kumar has taken different interviews from a wide variety of people to give a very different perspective of Kashmir, different from what the self-censored mainstream media would not give.
Through the interview, Ashvin talks gives a feel of the history of Kashmir and why so many things that we see today has roots in events kashmir missing people that happened long time ago, even as long ago as Akbar. But more recently due to the allegedly rigged elections in 1990. During the whole length, all the topics, deemed too controversial for our sensitive ears are brought into the open – rigged elections, army and police brutality, excesses on civilians, mainstream indifference, the Kashmiri Pandit exodus
The people interviewed include ex-militants, current militants, former Kashmir administrator Wajahat Habibullah, Nobel nominated activist Parveena Ahangar (who has struggled for two decades to raise attention to thousands of missing people, or as she calls it ‘enforced disappearances’), Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, a Hindu Pandit couple who were kidnapped by militants
Perhaps the most controversial interview was that of women of village of Kunan Poshpura, who were raped by the Indian army personnel on 23rd February 1991.
It is almost taboo in India to talk about excesses by the Indian Security forces, as if they are somehow fundamentally different from armies in rest of the world. In a situation of warfare where you have absolute inshallah-kashmir ex militantcontrol over life and death decisions, its a power that corrupts easily. So to expect the Indian army to somehow be made of supermen of  morals is to believe a whole hypocrisy.
There were no holy cows who were spared. Its not only the army and the Indian government who are brought to the dissecting tables, the people on the other side – the militants are brought here too.
Ashvin tries to show that there are  no good guys or bad guys. There are only situations and there is only human nature. People, be they the idealistic youth who took to militancy or the common soldier, act according to the prism they are shown. The militants see the Indians as invaders who use guns to silence Kashmir. The soldiers see the militants as an extension of Pakistan, the enemy who is an enemy because they always have been.
Importantly, what ‘Inshallah Kashmir’ catches brilliantly are the ordinary people who are caught in the middle. The women searching for 20 years for their missing children, husbands and brothers, who are all most certainly dead. The women who were raped just because they were vulnerable enough. The aspiring young cartoonist who was made to feel a terrorist in his country’s capital just because he was Kashmiri, the budding cricketer who lost a leg just because he was caught in a demonstration, the militant who was disillusioned with both sides of the conflict, the kidnapped couple who helped their captors escape because they understood that the army could not…
Inshallah Kashmir shows that that we are far from making any solutions in Kashmir. Instead of winning over people, we are subjecting a new generation of Kashmiris to only one image of India – that of a rifle and Army boots. How can we make it better from that?
asvin kumar inshallah Kashmir The documentary has a very raw feel to it – almost as if the director wanted to maintain the immediacy of the videos taken. It is almost as if its something that you could have taken. Its one the main reasons you get drawn to ‘Inshallah Kashmir’. It puts you behind the camera and brings you into the lives of the people that the censor board didn't want you to see…




It is important that you see this. Its good to have your beliefs challenged.
Catch the whole documentary here…


Book Review, Historical

Empire Of The Moghul – Brothers At War written by Alex Rutherford

n331665 This book is the second in the Great Moghul series. The Mughal empire falls into the hand of Humayun after Babur’s untimely death just after he had conquered Hindustan from the Lodhis.

Though a fearless warrior, Humayun is a dreamer of sorts, preferring to watch the stars instead of court activities. He finds himself thrust with a legacy that he feels he needed more time to get adjusted to. Babur’s death had left the fledgling empire vulnerable with enemies closing from all sides. But as the new emperor soon finds out, its the enemy within that is much more lethal.

Babur had left the whole of the new empire in the hands of his eldest and favourite son. This left a lot of hearts broken, but the one who is most affected is Kamran, his half brother who is only a few months younger. Askar and Hindal were to follow Kamran’s lead, though Hindal, the youngest, was always a reluctant conspirator.

So begins this book, which, as is readily apparent, is much well written than its predecessor, Raiders from the North – about Babur. The action is more gripping and seems less like a tract of historical text. The characters have much more flesh. Of course some of the old characters from the previous book make an appearance – especially Khanzada, the pillar for Humayun in the most difficult of times.

And as you progress, you realize that the old cliché – truth is stranger than fiction is well, so true. The story of intrigues, love affairs, battles, betrayals, the incredible turning around of fates and an end that any fiction writer would have been proud to have come up with. The book is so packed with so many twists and turns that you literally have to keep reminding yourself that this is in fact historical fact (of course with liberties taken from a writers point of view).

Humayun’s dreamlike character, his addiction to opium (encouraged14603_Humayun by the scheming mother of Kamran), his haywire schemes of running his court according to the stars, the titanic clashes with Sher Shah Suri, Humayun’s miraculous escapes, his fleeing across half of northern subcontinent seeking refuge (at one time reduced to a handful of men in rags pursued by armies), his reversal of fortune, the constant betrayals by his brothers, the constant battles when one battle has been won, his love of the women in his life – especially Hamida (the mother of Akbar).

All these read almost like a potboiler. I mean, for it being a novel based on history, I found myself on the edge of my seat many times as the book was polished off in a couple of readings.

For me, as with the first book, the appeal is in knowing more about the Mughals in a way that Wikipedia can never teach me – learning while being entertained. It is strange how little we really know of our history. As we witness the early Mughals struggling to reserve a vision that Babur had nurtured, we almost see modern India in the making as one of the greatest empires in modern world begins to take foothold. You get to know more about other characters – like Sher Shah, who are dismissed in a couple of sentences in most school books.

Importantly, it brings into focus a Mughal who is so often overlooked in history with almost everyone else hogging the limelight, even though it was him who actually set a firm foundation in India for the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Mughals. Humayun was emperor in actuality for a very short time and died almost in a bizarre tragedy when he tripped and fell down stairs after he had secured his kingdom after long gruelling years. We see a man who in more peaceful times would have become more of a poet rather than a king. His acts of benevolence especially in forgiving his brothers again and again is a feature that is almost impossible to imagine in his times when kings eliminated rivals at the first chance. Humayun comes as irritable personality  possessing all faults but more than compensating for them with his more generous qualities.

All in all, a gripping and enjoyable read. And hopefully the writing would keep on improving with the next one – on Akbar. Cant wait for that one…

Book Review, Historical

Raiders from the North written by Alex Rutherford

book3.jpg.display There is a shortage of good historical novels about Indian history. All that we usually get are history books, which though well written, can never get you into the skin of the character, cant let you see their own world with your eyes.

For all those reasons, this is a welcome book, being first of a quintet about the greatest of the Mughal emperors. The Mughal empire was one of the greatest of the world and should be rightly the pride of India. However, whether due to political reasons or due to ignorance (I suspect both and one feeding the other), few of us have any intimate knowledge about the empire during which time India was truly a superpower and one of the richest in the world.

This first book is about Babur, who overcame extraordinary odds to lay the foundation for Mughals. Starting from the time when he is thrust into kingship at the age of 13 for the small kingdom of Ferghana, near Samarkand, we follow his journey as he see-saws between victory and defeat, gaining everything and losing it the next moment. We see his  growing maturity as a leader of men and his instincts as a survivor.

We see the founder of the Mughal empire fighting for his existence as ababur_1526 guerrilla leader, fighting for scraps of good luck thrown at him, having to sacrifice his sister to an enemy so that he can live to fight another day. We see how he never lets go of a dream – to be worthy of being a descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan and how he finally accomplishes it. You follow him as he crosses the Hindukush and into Kabul from where he dreams of Hindustan. You are witness to the First battle of Panipat and witness to Babur being crowned the emperor in Delhi.

The book is written in a linear, chronological narrative and is written simply, with one event following another. Though that made it easier to read (too easily, perhaps – the book finishing within a couple of hours), I found it to be somewhat short of drama. The twists and turns came as simply as the normal events. At the end of it, you feel that you just about missed knowing Babur, having gotten tantalisingly close. You don’t really get to be a part of his life, just a third person hovering around the battle, without being able to smell the blood and sweat. This is much unlike the “Book of Saladin” written by Tariq Ali, where you almost feel the pain of Saladin (one of my favourite characters from history)

Another shortcoming is that the book seemed shallow when you consider that Babur was an exceedingly complex man – destroyer of temples and yet secular, calling a jihad and yet contemptuous of mullahs. There are mentions of this complexity in the narraclip_image00222tive (like destroying of temples to draw in Rana Sanga) but they come in short bursts and don’t really mesh with the character as such. So, character development is a bit of a problem. Babur seemed two-dimensional most of the times, floating like a leaf in the wind of fate.

So, even though the book is a commendable achievement if only for bringing focus on the neglected Mughals, for me, it falls short of being a great read, both from a historical point of view and from a immersive read point of view.

That said,  I am still going to buy the next book of the series – if for nothing else, to know a little bit more about the empire that shaped much of our cultural (and architectural) psyche.


Book Review, Graphic Novel

Kari written and illustrated by Amruta Patil

kari This is the first Indian graphic novel that I have read (albeit written and illustrated by Amruta Patil who is an NRI). I simply loved it. The storyline and the rough hewn sketches come together to create a visual mood that a simply worded book would find difficult to evoke. Being a novice in the world of graphic novels, one aspect of the genre that I have realized is that, in the hands of a gifted illustrator with imagination, the story told can be immensely compelling. The pictures are like poetry that can speak more than a thousand words – in fact can speak where language fails.

The novel is dark, ironic and poignant in turn. There is an undercurrent of gallows humour in it which prevents the book from becoming foreboding. The setting is Mumbai and contains all the elements that people have loved and hated about it (often the hate and love is about the same thing). The story is about Kari, who works in an advertising agency and lives in a two room flat with two other girls (though it is usually populated permanently with her roommate’s boyfriends). From the dank sewers, sweaty trains and a city that needs to be constantly on the move, Kari’s story is told.

She is a rebel without being one, dispassionate observer and passionate lover in turns, never fitting and knowing that perhaps she never will, drawn to individuals that are abandoned by others. All along is her dark, ironic humour and observations of the life around her and her unflinching honesty to herself about herself. All of this makes up a jpg_extrait_kari-9c536 story which is very urban-contemporary and which contains within itself a multitude of threads; each of us will find atleast one thread that we recognize intimately as our own.

This is a love story, a story of everyone who fits in without really fitting in, a story of death and of ghosts, a story of life in its starkest practicality. I found it a story that gives echo to hidden parts in us, parts that we, like Kari can only explore alone and write our own inarticulate poetry about