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.

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The Taj conspiracy
Book Review, Historical, Thriller

The Taj conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

The taj conspiracy The Taj conspiracy is a thriller from a genre in Indian writing that is just waking up to its potential – crime fiction. Also the fact that this is based on one of the perennial controversy surrounding the Taj Mahal – of its very authenticity, makes it a compelling pick

So far so good. The positioning is brilliant. The question then is – is the story and the writing to the mark? Read on…

As you start reading this, you get a sense of deja-vu. Which is confirmed as the first chapter goes by you and realize that "The Taj Conspiracy" is heavily inspired by "Da Vinci Code". The strong woman with a powerful sense of history, a murder victim who leaves clues with his own blood, a elderly intellectual who is steeped in the history of Taj Mahal, an investigator who starts believing as the story moves on…

The good thing about the inspiration is that it does not stretch too far. You see the obvious similarities but it is never a pale imitation. Instead the Indian context is brought out well. And after a few chapters, you forget about Da Vinci code and begin enjoying the book in its own right

And its time that we get a doughty and attractive women sleuth of our own!! Mehrunnisa Khosa, she of the exotic name and the exotic origin fits the bill.

The book opens with a murder right inside the Taj and unravels with a plot to destroy the Taj Mahal itself. And it only gets more exciting. Bringing in politicians and fringe fanatic groups, the story never loses steam through to its ending. There can be no joy in telling a story in a review, especially one like this. It just has to be picked up to be read!!

What the "Taj Conspiracy" does well is bringing to life the controversies surrounding Taj Mahal. And brings to life, how the conspiracies resonate to this day bringing in politicians and media and fringe groups of all hues. Its refreshing to see an Indian mystery/thriller based on historical intrigues. India's history is laden with riches just waiting to be mined by storytellers. Its a wonder why it has not happened on a large scale till now

This is where Manreet Sodhi Someshwar does well. The research is upto the mark and contributes a great deal to the readability. And Manreet succeeds where many authors falter – meshing the research with the storyline. Amidst all the running and shooting and killings and revelations, the wonder of the mystery is never far off.

In fact, this book will open up the Taj Mahal for the readers once again. I know that the next time I go there, I would beManreet sodhi seeing it with new eyes and not what the guide or the guide book tells me. And if a book can open up something new in something that seemed so familiar, I daresay that its worth reading…

I have a small gripe though. The character development could have been improved a little more. Manreet creates fascinating characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more. At the end of the book, the characters remained slightly one-dimensional.

But then, Manreet has planned a whole trilogy with Mehrunnisa Khosa. So lots of space to iron out the chinks…
Overall, a book worth picking up. And in the fledgling genre of Indian mystery, this quality book is a great step forward. Looking forward to see which mystery Manreet throws at us next…

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Bollywood Movies, Popular

Kahaani directed by Sujay Ghosh

Kahaani Vidya BalanYou get an immense shock of a revelation. A twist that leaves you grappling with the realization that you have been taken on a merry go round for the 99% of the movie.

 

All the beliefs and convictions that you had built up during watching the movie is shattered completely. You start seeing the whole story from a radically different perspective and you get that A-ha moment when you pinpoint the places that you were taken for a ride. And you realize that there were no flaws and that indeed there were two stories running in parallel – one which you were being told and one that was actually happening

 

The best of the suspense thriller aims to do exactly this. Ask Hitchcock. And as any avid movie watcher knows, such movies are truly hard to find. Among Hindi movies, one that springs to mind is "Kaun", featuring Urmila Matondkar and to some extent "Khamosh" starring Naseerudin Shah.

 

What do you get when you start off with a terrorist attack, then get a pregnant woman searching for a missing husband in the crumbling magical city of Kolkata, a mole in the Intelligence beareau and a race against time to uncover a mystery that seems to become15NXG_KAHAANI_951357f unsolvable by the minute? You get "Kahaani" or a "Story". And unless you see the end, you would not know what a perfect yarn has been scripted

 

After seeing "Kahaani" one can say with belief that this one will go down as one of the best well made movie of this genre. Not only is the story impeccable, not only is the premise well thought through but what makes the "Kahaani" complete is the environment. The sounds, sights, the camera work, the music, the hotel room, the chase through the alley way, the puja preparation, the poignant flashbacks. Everything makes this a complete delightful package

 

And a big part of the environment is the city in which everything takes place – Kolkata.

 

Kolkata is a magical place for a lot of reasons. But the Kolkata brought alive in "Kahaani" is truly a delight. By turns eerie, by turns old world charm, always colorful both in characters and happenings, Kolkata in "Kahaani" is one helluva interesting place. And for once the Kolkata depicted is not the cliché Kolkata depicted in movies like "City of Joy" or the invisible one in "Yuva". The sights and sounds and the people are much more authentic than anything else you have seen.

 

The characters in "Kahaani" gives it the special edge that a movie. Bob, the harmless looking Still-from-Kahaani insurance agent who is actually a hitman is probably one of the creepiest character to be shown on screen; Rana, a newbie Kolkata sub-inspector, who starts off getting involved out of a sense of gallantry and then gets enmeshed in something much more sinister; Khan – the Intelligence guy who is a ruthless pragmatist.

 

And Vidya or as the Bengalis keep insisting – Bidya. Vidya Balan is truly an actor to watch out for. The sheer versatility she is capable of not only shows in the difference between her "Dirty Picture" and "Kahaani" but also within "Kahaani". By parts vulnerable, by parts pragmatic, by parts manipulative, by parts teasing, "Kahaani" is a powerful vindication of Vidya Balan's ability to carry a movie completely on her shoulders. Never did you feel the need for a hero, so completely she dominates the story. It helps of course that she had a powerful story and a talented cast to back her up. But nonetheless, take Vidya Balan out of the movie, there would be a glaring vacuum.

 

Vidya as the pregnant woman searching for a husband who for all purposes seems to have abandoned her is one of the most memorable character in recent Hindi movie history. She kahaani-cinema-038manages to exact your sympathy and your awe at the same time as she struggles against an  advanced pregnancy to follow up every lead on her missing husband. And as she slowly gets enmeshed in a much bigger plot, as her life comes under danger, you get involved completely in trying to solve the mystery for her, working out every possible angle in your head

 

Every possible angle except the one that is right!!!

 

The ending makes this perfect movie complete. The five minutes of shock you experience as you digest what has been revealed is worth every paisa you have spent in getting that movie theatre seat or in buying the DVD…

 

This is a movie that can be enjoyed only in its seeing. Nothing else comes close. Just go and see it!!

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Drama, English Movies

The American directed by Anton Corbijn

george-clooney-the-american (2) If you just happen to read the promotional summary of this movie which reads “An assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment.”, and look at the poster, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is a Jason Bourne or a Neeson “Taken” type of swashbuckling movie…
 
If you sit down to watch this with an intent to lose your blues in an orgy of fast moving punches and adrenaline pumping chases, you would be sorely disappointed. And that is only because this is a case of bad marketing…
 
Because this is probably one of the best movies that I have ever seen. And it becomes one not due to any breakthrough theme or espousing some philosophy that multiple views to get the aha moment.
 
It does this by having a screenplay that almost makes it a visual O Henry short story – a taut storyline that leaves more questions than answers, by a character sketch that is as profound as it is multi-american_set_image_george_clooney_butterfly_tattoo_01 dimensional and yes having a background score that almost gives a dark poetic feel…It had the same feel as Uzak (Distant) does in most part…
 
At the centre of this extraordinary movie is perhaps one of the most (till yet) under-rated actor of our generation – George Clooney. Watch this movie, Up in the Air, Syriana, Michael Clayton, Oceans series, One fine day and the sheer extraordinary range of Clooney comes through. And this movie is given its quality by his sheer presence.
 
Clooney is Jack, an ageing assassin, looking for a way out, another life. A man of few words, almost of Spartan laconism and never betraying emotion, at times he seems like a cold calculating machine who shows GEORGE-CLOONEY-THE-AMERICAN no remorse (especially when you get past the first 5 mins).
 
However as we move along, we realize that its just a job for him and its the same as when we do something over and over again, we end up doing it highly efficiently and without thinking. And as we see, he is not without his demons either. Or a conscience…
 
Where Clooney shines through as Jack is that he gives one of his best performances without so much as a handful of dialogues. Its all in his eyes and his slight changes of expression and postures. Its when you see a performance like this that you realize we as humans respond much more to body language and visual signs rather than to spoken words.
 
As you watch this movie, you begin to feel extraordinarily close to Jack and you begin to understand him and how he is feeling and all2010_the_american_020-thumb-640xauto-217156 without hearing anything much from him!! Its only then that you appreciate the depth of this performance.
 
A performance that for me reaches its opus at the end. The mingled expression of anger, frustration, pain, regret, helplessness, determination in one single moment is a performance that few actors can manage – past or present. The whole movie, for me, was given the perfect ending in the last five minutes.
 
Violante Placido (As Clara) also plays a superb supporting cast as the quintessential prostitute with the golden heart (a role as old as modern cinema and yet never seems to touch the heart!). The transformation of the relationship and the growing maturity of the relationship between Jack and Clara is another of the highlight of the movie (as is the relationship between Jack and Father Benedetto)
 
This is a movie that should be watched for the depth of the performances and for its perfect screenplay (the ending of the movie is something that i found better than the book’s on which its based – A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth). And yes watch it especially for Clooney who gives his most subtle, understated and yet powerful performance till now (after Syriana)…
 
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Oh and yes there action sequences – short, brutal and yes silent!!
 
This is a movie that stays…
 
One more thing…there are just about tonnes of people who either have no clue about what the movie was about or did not watch it through, or both – sample this review for instance 🙂
 
 
 

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Book Review, Science fiction, Thriller

Timeline by Michael Crichton

2 This was a book recommended to me by Wikipedia when I was reading up on string theory which naturally referred itself to parallel universes and hence to time travel. This and ‘Man in high castle’ by Philip K Dick, both of which I immediately lapped up on my Infibeam Pi.
 
This is a typical  Crichton novel – an interesting scientific possibility with a decent amount of research, a band of adventurers, an evil but high-tech corporation and a great story which as always is a page turner.
And most importantly, for me – a science fiction and history buff, a story that combines both. And like every story that combines them, this story too packs quite a punch.
 
So just immerse yourself into a world where it has become possible to travel into the past, which as Crichton reminds us, is not too much into the remote future anyway. A team of archaeologists in modern France excavating a site which saw action during the Hundred Years war (between France and England in the 14th century) are drawn into a1 larger game plan of the company sponsoring their study, when they find their professor’s glasses and a note spelling ‘Help’ while excavating a site that had not seen light in the last 600 years.
 

So begins an adventure that sees the group tumbling into 14th century France, into a world which all their scholarship could not prepared them for. And the period is one of the most volatile times in the region’s history – an invasion is taking place and with medieval casual brutality around every corner, the story soon takes a scorching pace. And then comes a very unexpected twist – they may not be the only 20th century people out there!!!
 
A great read for a rainy day when you want to be entertained and thrilled. Don't expect too much depth or great characterization, that's not what the book is for. The book is for entertainment, pure and simple, with a very interesting plot.
 
And yes, the movie they made out of this is terrible. Give it a miss, read the book instead…
 

 

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Science fiction, Thriller

The Running Man written by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

300x300 I still cringe when people talk of Stephen King as a novelist exclusively of the horror or paranormal genre. It would seem that all the information deluge (or maybe because of the deluge) on the net is insufficient to wipe out the image carved out by popular media. This book is one which will not at all fit the stereotype. Set in a dystopian future (in 2025), this book owes its debt to Orwell rather than to Bela Lugosi…
 
I was lucky to start off on King by reading the novella – four seasons. There, in those four very different stories, you realize that above all, King is a master storyteller. And that is something that is common in all the books he has written. In fact I have liked his non-horror books more…
 
Ben Richards, the protagonist, is the classic quiet brooding angry man forced to play the part of the unwilling rebel in a world gone bad. And a world gone to extreme reality television. The proles in 1984 were kept in a state of zombification by lottery and sex magazines. Here the citizens are kept in a state of permanent television frenzy, with reality television becoming a permanent fabric of existence. The Games federation (which organizes the TV shows) is an unelected  quasi-government.

 

And the reality games have become actually that – a perverted terrifying reality. The greatest crowd puller over the centuries has been a public execution. The Games federation has just used this mob6a00d8345169e469e2011168c60571970c-250wi mentality and has come up with the “Running Man”, a game where men are hunted and killed- the longer the men stay alive, the more money they earn. And they have no shortage of takers. People are willing to put themselves on the show to earn money to feed their starving families, as Ben does.

Ben goes through the qualification process and finally proceeds to be selected for their star show, the ‘Running Man’, his often caustic comments and observations illuminating his world for us. He then has to find a way to stay alive and keep earning money for his wife and a sick daughter and somehow beat the system at the same time. Through his eyes, we begin to understand the world, its real nature and how it came to be as it is.
 
Like all King novels, this is a scorching page turner. And like all his novels, the characters come out well, especially Ben’s and all the people he meets along the way.
Stephen_King Though I would have liked a slightly less melodramatic ending, the book comes out very well in being both a great story and in setting out a bleak vision for a world that may very well be coming true in many shades today. This latter aspect, its relevant topicality, is what makes this book so interesting.
 
Looking at the world today, when big corporates have learnt that they need to control media and especially television for control (and control means money), when reality television seems to be getting weirder and weirder, a ‘Running Man’ may  not be far off…after all, a man getting killed in public is something that we have learnt to enjoy for many centuries. Its only a question  of bringing the beast out!!!
 
P.S- they made a movie out of this, with the same name, which leaves out the best elements of the book; made it into a typical mindless action flick. Avoid!!

 

 

 

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English Movies, Thriller

The Illusionist directed by Neil Burger

2006_the_illusionist_wallpaper_0012 Take the acting genius of Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti and the beauty of Jessica Biel and a villain played by Rufus Sewell, put it in turn of the century Vienna, throw in some great cinematography and make it a story of mystery, intrigue and love and yes lots  and lots of magic and what do you have?

A sublime watching experience, that's what you get…

Eisenheim (Norton), son of a cabinetmaker leaves home to go around the world after his budding romance with imgthe illusionist1Duchess Teschen (Biel) is thwarted, but not after he meets a travelling magician with whom he is fascinated.

He comes back many years later and he performs magic which seems almost paranormal in nature. He performs magic that no-one has ever seen before and rapidly becomes the talk of the town, attracting the attention of the crown prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell) who is at this time engaged to Teschen (planned marriage for political reasons).

Eisenheim and Teschen meet on a show and embark on an affair but this time they plan to disappear properly. They weave a plan that has magic and mystery in huge dollops. The crown prince is the way though…

The acting is superb all around. Giamatti is superb in his role as the chief inspector in the pay of the crown prince and yet someone who has imgthe illusionist3a conscience and a thirst for knowledge of magic. He is also the narrator of the movie and the person who finally unravels the whole mystery. Norton is simply sublime in his role as the enigmatic and the intense magician. The variety of roles he can do is simply breathtaking…

The cinematography and the music score deserve a special mention.  Since the movie is a period piece, the ambience both visual and  auditory is vital. This movie has a wonderful synthesis of both.

Its a complete immersive experience – both from the visual point of view and from the story point of view. The the-illusionist11performances at the show are very gripping and very intense, especially the ones at the latter part, which border on necromancy.

This is a movie that can be seen again and again and which will be enjoyed everytime…

By the way, you will see some similarity with the movie “Prestige”, since both are period pieces and have elements of mystery…but both are different and both classics in their own right…

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