Friday, May 15, 2015


Title: HiFi in Bollywood
Author: Rishi Vohra
Publisher: Jaico Books
Pages: 264

Rayhan Arora dreams of becoming a director in the Hindi film industry, the HiFi of the title. His own life is nothing less than a Hindi potboiler. The only way in which this hero differs from the hero of a film he would have liked to direct is that he keeps getting slapped around by some of the other characters.

Other than this, the other elements of a Hindi film script are all there. There is rebellion against a controlling father, a dream that won’t fizzle out, and a love life that bristles with unpredictability. Along the way, a host of small time characters, at once colourful and entertaining, add their own measure of conflict in his life. To top it all, a stinging case of bad luck ensures that despite his best intentions, he keeps getting into trouble.

While his father wants him to pursue the Great American dream, he would rather make himself a name as a film maker in Bollywood. When his father fixes a marriage alliance for him with Vanita, the daughter of an old friend, he panics and leaves Berkeley for Mumbai, hoping to find a job as an assistant director and work his way up.

In Part II, he moves from Berkeley to Mumbai, where an old college friend finds him PG digs very close to his dad’s home. Despite his best attempts to avoid his father, he is repeatedly sighted by his father’s Friday evening drinking buddies. 

If that much excitement isn’t enough, his life collides headlong with the other characters in the city, including some actors with big egos, a small time goon who dreams of landing a role in a film, a gay film director, a local politician who wants to marry Rayhan’s maid’s daughter, who also yearns for her place in the spotlight, and a mysterious girl called Viola who also joins the film set of Pyaar ki supaari, as an assistant director.

Rishi does a fine job with the characterisation. I must confess that at first I was inclined to agree with Arora Sr and think of Rayhan as a loser who couldn’t get his act together. His penchant for hanging around with the hit-with-the-ladies Dave didn’t do much to change my impression. But then he took the supremely courageous step of leaving his comfort zone America behind to take to the grind in aamchi Mumbai, and the guy began to grow on me.

Since this is a first person account of Rayhan (with the occasional third person viewpoint of other smaller yet significant characters thrown in), we get to see his life inside out, but the author does equal justice to the other bit roles that populate this quirky and fun read. Romesh, his drinking buddies, Laxmibai, the maid, her daughter Mangala, and of course ask-for-Peter, they all come alive in just a few words.

I liked the character of Rayhan. Seen from the viewpoint of his father, he is a loser who hasn’t managed to find a job in spite of completing his degree in Corporate Finance from the University of Berkeley. The only hope he has of redeeming himself in his father’s eyes is if he were to marry Vanita.

Even as Rayhan displays the typical Indian trait of being money conscious, it is clear that he is intent on pursuing his dream and loves his country, and is only biding time in America because of the physical distance it puts between him and his controlling father.

Rayhan has a great sense of humour. His inner monologue especially sizzles with amusement. His interactions with Peter are a case in point.

He is equally amusing when he speaks of his father mastering new forms of communication technologies, or the way he hung up, one order barked out and then a click in the ear of Rayhan.

The humorous streak is particularly on display during his conversations with his father. When Romesh Arora tells Rayhan not to try anything funny with the Indian American Vanita who had once socked him as a child, Rayhan asks,
What if she tries something funny with me?

Above all, Rayhan has a totally desi concept of value for money. He goes to get one ear pierced, but is told that he will be charged for two, so he has two rings put into his left ear.

Author Rishi Vohra highlights his protagonist's sense of ambition well when Rayhan says, I wanted to spend my life behind a film camera, while the world in front of it moved to my directions, personified feelings in accordance to my script and danced to my tunes. That was where I belonged and the only place I ever wanted to be.

But the way to the dream isn't going to be easy, as everyone who comes to this city with stars in their eyes discovers soon enough. For Rayhan, the road to good fortune leads him through red-light areas and police stations to disappointments and heartbreaks. But he doesn't lose sight of his dream. And that's the one message that Rishi Vohra's book leaves you with.

Read this book, if you love Bollywood -- and even if you don't.

(I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review)

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