Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: BOMBAY DUCK IS A FISH (NaBloPoMo Day 14)

Title: Bombay Duck is a Fish
Author: Kanika Dhillon
Publisher: Westland
Pages: 317

When we first meet Neki Brar, the lead heroine in the drama that is Bombay Duck is a Fish but actually treated more as a stand-in and a sidekick, she is sitting on the parapet of her building terrace, with a bottle of wine and Nano, her diary, preparing to jump off.

Rebelling against her parents' middle class instincts, small-town girl Neki has fought for the right to travel to Mumbai and pursue her dream to be a film maker, rather than working for an MNC in Delhi. In Mumbai, she shares a flat that is the size of her room in her Amritsar home with three other girls, who have come from other parts of India to chase their own dreams in a city that has become a byword for magical aspirations.

In her quest to be a great Bollywood director, she takes up a job as a runner, the lowest in the hierarchy of assistant directors (AD), on the sets of choreographer turned director Fiza Kareem's latest film.

The other ADs are none too happy with her and her days on the set become a long agonising drama as she lives through numerous embarrassing situations in her attempts to gain Fiza's approval and the respect of her peers. While her life takes on the shape of a chaotic Bollywood melodrama as she suffers humiliation, betrayal and confusion in varying measures, her letters to her mother are clinically shorn of all these negatives and reflect her own optimistic view of reality.

So many things go wrong and Neki soon begins to wonder if she has done right in following an elusive dream in an industry in which nothing is real and loves, hates, feelings and emotions can be switched on and off, seemingly for the perfect shot. Lured by the magic she has seen on screen, she quickly becomes disillusioned and disenchanted as she comes face to face with the ugly side of this make-believe world. She learns that the magic of the movies is a sham. What Neki is left with is a sordidness that affects every aspect of her life, her love, her friends and her very existence.

Kanika Dhillon's writing brings us an inside view of the emptiness of life on the set and the futility of chasing after glamour and success. While the writing is racy most of the time, there are more than a few occasions when the prose rises above itself. She pays obeisance to Shahrukh Khan, at whose Red Chillies Entertainment she is a screenplay writer, by weaving him into the plot of Fiza's film script for a cameo role.

Kanika's own experience as an AD on the sets of Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om may have provided her the background material for this book. Farah, who is undoubtedly the inspiration behind Fiza, has endorsed the book.

Every learning of Neki's is measured against that espoused by her grandfather and in her father's favourite book, Siddartha by Herman Hesse.

The name of the novel is not only a reference to an embarrassment that Neki suffers in an upscale hotel, but also to the deceptive nature of relationships in Bollywood where nothing is as it seems.

I don't know if the name Neki is fairly common in Punjab. This was the first time that I saw the word used as a proper noun. It reminded me of the phrase, Neki kar aur dariya mein daal (Do good and throw it down the river), which incidentally most of us learned from Bollywood.

I would have preferred another ending. This one was a disappointment. This is not the way a girl who was feisty enough to want a career in Bollywood would have wanted. Especially when everyone who follows Bollywood with even the remotest interest knows that scandals are good and that the most salacious bit of gossip does not occupy public memory for long. All in all, I thought the book was good for some leisure time reading.


  1. Have heard a lot about this book. Sounds interesting. I dont think Neki (if it is pronounced as "Neki Kar dariya..." types) is a common name in Punjab, though Nikki/Niki might be!

  2. Hi Shilpa, Thanks for the information. In that case, author Kanika must have specially coined the name for the book to establish the fact that she was Neki (good nature) in a world that was not at all nek.

  3. Yeah, that sounds like a logical reasoning for the name Neki, Cynthia! :)



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