Category: Arts


Mush ado about nothing






Men aren’t supposed to like reading romance. That’s the theory anyway… In reality, they do read Mills & Boon novels, but secretly, writes JAYA BISWAS



It was in a café at the Mumbai airport that I happened to witness this ‘rare’ sight. A tall, plump, middle-aged man engrossed in a Mills & Boon paperback novel titled, Take On Me. The book cover bore a picture of a scantily-clad woman on a beach about to be seduced by a man in swimming trunks. The man reading seemed to relish each and every page, completely oblivious of the fact that he was receiving quite a few odd stares from fellow passengers who were whiling away their time before the announcement for departure. He didn’t care. Perhaps, he was aware of the hypocrisy of other men, who read the same books, but publicly condemn them as ‘rubbish for women’.
Take them or leave them, but you certainly can’t ignore these romantic novels, which have been a part of most peoples’ lives. Hundreds of them stacked in libraries, heaped at roadside book stalls, laid out for second-hand sale on pavements, borrowed time and time again — especially in hostels, where the trick is for one girl to borrow the book and ten girls to finish it in the same night — Mills and Boon books are everywhere. Come on, we’ve all ogled the alluring covers depicting coy, docile heroines with tall, handsome men aching with desperation, anguish or lust, at some point or the other.
But is it only women who read these so-called mushy Mills & Boon (popularly M&B) love sagas? Or are men just as hooked? It is difficult to establish their popularity among men as most will never admit to reading M&Bs. Afsha Khan, a 26-year-old freelance writer from Mumbai, says, “Men are just too proud to admit that they don’t have the patience for descriptive text. They’re more into pictures. They would rather watch a Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or a Pretty Woman than use their imagination. Maybe if M&B came up with a graphic novel with really good illustrations, chances are that they would fall for them.”
However Malay Desai, a college student has a reverse take on men reading mush. He says, “I’m yet to meet a man who owns up to reading M&Bs. Men claim it’s only women who read them because women have no qualms flaunting them. Comparing M&B to well-made films isn’t fair. Rather parallels can be drawn with Indian television’s great afternoon soap factory. Many men watch TVs soaps, but will never admit that they like them. Same with M&Bs. Maybe more men would come out in the open on this sensitive mental orientation if women gave them the assurance that reading mush isn’t ‘uncool’.”
Most men are still not confident of being in touch with their softer, feminine side. And certainly if they are of a more sensitive nature they would never admit it in front of their friends (particularly other men) afraid of being considered “girlie”.
Manish Singh, country manager, Harlequin Mills & Boon India Pvt Ltd, claims that the number of men who buy M&Bs compared to women is very low, “Though concrete data is not available, our research says that the percentage of male buyers is very small, and they normally buy it for others.”
Mr Gautam Jatia, CEO of Starmark echoes this, “Our male customers rarely ‘read’ M&Bs. Around 10 per cent of the total count buying M&Bs are men. However, we have noticed that men usually buy M&Bs as gift items.” 
 The Pregnancy Shock, The Sheikh’s Convenient Mistress, Taken by the Bad Boy, The Billionaire’s Bride of Vengeance, The Millionaire’s Ultimate Catch are some of the most sought-after M&B titles that women lap up till this day, even if it means masking them in brown covers or hiding them inside their study material.
 It is not just men who lie about their liking for M&Bs. There are even some women who claim they don’t read this basic form of chicklit as it is considered low-brow. Suranjana Nandi, a journalist working with a fashion magazine in Mumbai exclaims, “Women of all age groups read M&Bs. They may not admit it but they do. And this holds true for both single women as well as those with partners. The stories are single women’s dream, while those with partners want to know all that ‘could have been’. Therein lies the charm of reading these novels.”
 Interestingly, the reasons behind the popularity of M&B novels are astoundingly mottled. Bonny Ghose (Kolkata), a librarian by profession, cites an example, “Not only do I find young college-goers asking for M&Bs, my mother too is an avid reader and has always been so. However, she avoids the sexually-explicit ones. Mom would rather go for an easy-read formula story after a hard day’s work.”
Mr Jatia couldn’t agree more. He says, “M&Bs are a hit with readers for so many years because they make for quick read, easy connect and the
language is simple, making it convenient for occasional readers as well.”
 Recalls Afsha, “I read my first M&B when I was 13, in the dead of the night when everyone had fallen asleep.  As for why it is such a hit, I think these novels ‘immensely’ improve the vocabulary (pun intended!). My ability to describe things pictorially became increasingly better after my fifth title. Plus, it’s interesting to note how smartly they skirt around certain words. In this case, I’d say ‘reading is believing’.”
 It is no wonder that Harlequin Mills and Boon have grown to become one of the leading publishers of adult romantic fiction around the world for more than a century. There has been a remarkable change in reading habits too, especially in the last five years. Mr Singh reveals, “The readership has risen over the years. The books are available for various moods and cater to all age groups (from 16 to 60 years). The market for English language books has witnessed 10 per cent of yearly growth. Alternative format like e-books has also contributed to increase and change in the readership pattern. The data from other international markets where e-books are a rage, shows that readers are comfortable in downloading the titles and reading them either on PCs or hand-held devices.”
 Anuttama Banerjee, psychologist and consultant at Eastern Zonal Psychological Association (Kolkata), sums up the situation. She explains, “We are all victims of ‘labelling’ by the society. We grow up with certain notions, for example men are associated with qualities like assertiveness, machismo and fearlessness. They are considered to have a practical bent of mind, while women are generally expected to be submissive, docile, romantic and dreamy eyed. And there lies the dilemma. Moreover, it has been observed that men receive a lot of flak and get teased by their peer groups if they happen to exhibit soft emotions.”
Anuttama further adds, “Men have to try hard to match up to the standards set by the society. They prefer to keep it discreet, oblivious from public eye. On the other hand, women have the freedom to express their penchant for romance and no one objects. However, the fact that men read mush cannot be ruled out completely. If they can read women’s magazines, chances are that they read M&Bs too, maybe when their partners are done with them.”
 Girls, all you need to do is keep your eyes open!

Return of the native



Pritish Nandy comes to the city which was once home, to rediscover the poet in him


Sayandeb Chowdhury

It was an evening that the city would relish for some time to come. Be it the lush spread at the Tollygunge Club, or the tony crowd that arrived in their finery, or the chirpiness of the birds that gave a more than fitting setting for reading of poetry, it is clear that such evenings do not come often. Those who matter in Calcutta seemed to be there. It was just a book launch session. But then it was just not another book that was being launched. On the dais, to talk about the book, the poetry, about writing and cinema were a galaxy of stars who had just descended. There was Anupam Kher, a friend of the author whose book was being released. There was Javed Akhtar, as poet and lover of letters. There was Prasoon Joshi, yet another man of words. There was Farrukh Dhondy, novelist and screenwriter and there was APJ Abdul Kalam, a man for all seasons and a poet at heart. But the chief attraction was the man whose book Again was being released along with the launch of  Nandy’s republished book Tonight the Savage Rite, co-authored by Kamala Das .  And he, in a white short-sleeved shirt coupled with a black waist jacket and Ray Ban shades looked as far from a poet as one can be. But that is what Pritish Nandy is all about: dandy and delectably cerebral at the same time, and it was he who had made sure that Calcutta gathered at the Tolly lawns on an early February evening.
The proceedings were no less interesting. Tapan Chaki, Nandy’s old friend, talked about the itinerant traveller, lover and performer in Nandy, the man who has more firsts to his name than most others before others took turns to talk about the man, his poetry and poetry in general. The poems were vintage Nandy. And they attained power when the beautiful and effervescent Vidya Balan , who called herself a wannabe Bengali, read out poems from Again along with Nandy, the latter’s voice reverberating across the foyer and lashing on to the great greens nearby. Surely poetry, even though Calcutta is a steady supplier of many of its famous practitioners, hardly finds itself at the centre of such bonhomie and sophisticated affection, that too in such salubrious settings. But one thing is for sure. Nandy who has been there and done that and has never looked back, seemed to have returned to poetry when he is riping inside and may be outside. This was his return to the comfort and warmth of letters. And the city which gave him words.

Smitten by kkkkk….Khan!


Believe it or not, Shah Rukh Khan compelled author Sonali Ghosh Sen to drive for five hours in snow-bound Geneva 



Supreeta Singh

Sonali Ghosh Sen is desperate. She badly needs a vacation and requires an inspiration for her next book. After a whirlwind tour to promote her first work of fiction, K-K-Krazy About Khan, we don’t wonder why. As the name clearly suggests, the novel is about a young girl called Kriti Kapoor and her obsession with the Bollywood actor, Shah Rukh Khan (SRK). Written in a breezy language abound with trivias about SRK’s movies, the fan-fiction is both light-hearted and engaging. We caught up with the freelance copywriter and film critic-turned-author, just ahead of her book’s launch in Kolkata.

You have led a very colourful life.
Yes. My father was in the Army and I went to about seven schools all over the country wherever he was posted. Thankfully, college life was less nomadic. I graduated from the Shri Shikshayatan College in Kolkata. Thereafter, I moved to Mumbai for post graduation in Mass Communication at Sophia Polytechnic. I have worked in several advertisement agencies as a copywriter including Lintas (now Lowe), Clarion (now Bates), Mudra, Nexus Equity and Rediffusion. I was the creative director at, when I moved with my husband to live in Geneva and for a short time in Zanzibar. At present I live in Kolkata. This is where I finally finished writing this book.

How did you decide on the subject of the book?
The two passions in my life are books and movies. I read any book I can lay my hands on and I see all movies whether I know the language or not. I helped organise the Film Festival of the Dhow Countries in Zanzibar in 2004! Bollywood has a special place in my heart. The subject of this book was decided when a friend suggested that since I loved movies so much why not write a story about it. Thereafter, it was my own fondness for Shah Rukh, his background, his struggle and his great fan following that helped me pattern the book.

How long did you take to write the book?

I started writing this book in Geneva, more than three years ago. Of course, within this period I faced the dreaded writer’s block and couldn’t write a single word for about a year! While I quite like chick-lit as a genre that tells a simple story of love and romance, I don’t define this book as such. I think this is more of a fan-fic, or fan-lit.

Writing is a lonely process. What did you discover about yourself while you worked on this book?
True, writing demands a lot in terms of discipline and dedication, as no one else can step in to do your work. The hard part was sitting on the chair in front of the computer every morning, to type at least 1000 words everyday. Some days it was more like 10 words! However, once the characters took shape, they took a life of their own. From then on it became fun and I didn’t mind waking up even at 6 in the morning to write, or not having people around when I wrote. I had the company of my characters with me.

Is the book autobiographical?
Other than some incidental commonalities, such as a career in the advertising industry and love for Bollywood movies, I am not at all like Kriti. It is a story more about people I have seen and heard of but not necessarily known. At the same time, bits and pieces of all characters and incidents have a toehold in some experience or acquaintance of mine. I do have a friend totally into spiritual new age gurus like Amrita in the book. Similarly there are several Palika Bazaar incidents that I have seen happen, which I have incorporated in the book, albeit modified. I have freely used my creative license, thereby sketching characters and situations that fit into this ‘over-the-top’ story.

Since when did you become a fan of SRK?
I have liked SRK from his Fauji days and have followed his career keenly. I think I belong to what I would like to call a Shah Rukh generation. Films like Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge or other movies made by director Karan Johar are part of a collective movie consciousness and it’s hard not be a fan of Shah Rukh.

Have you really watched all his movies?
Yes, in the first or as close to the first show as possible. It was a bitterly cold snow filled winter when Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was shown in a theatre in Zurich. One show starting at 9 pm was all that was there. We drove all the way from Geneva, a five hour drive under freezing conditions, to reach just in time to watch it.
When I started writing this book, I had to start collecting all of SRK’s movies and watch them all over again – this time with a lot more concentration than what I had done the first time when they were released. However, my book is not a ‘deep’ film analysis of his movies but fun storytelling. I have intertwined his movie scenes, characters and songs within the story, creating an interesting reference layer for the readers.

Did you ever meet SRK? Does he know about the book?
Yes, once. He had come to Paris to inaugurate his wax statue at Musée Grévin. I had an invitation. It was a five-minute opportunity, just enough for a photo op before security took over! I have sent SRK a copy of the book and am waiting for a reply.



Diganta Guha

Veteran playback singer Kavita Krishnamurthy was in town recently to perform at a concert organised by the Saradha Group of Companies. Excerpts:

There is no dearth of item songs now in Bollywood, but you are the pioneer of such numbers…
I wouldn’t call myself a pioneer. Yes I did sing songs like Hawaa hawaai, Jumma Chumma and Tu cheez badi hai mast mast. I believe those songs had better lyrics. Today’s songs just come and go, at least I can’t recall the lyrics and the antaras. 

How do you see the playback scenario these days?
Well, it’s always important for a singer to walk with time. I am not the type that says, “Oh! The old songs of my generation were far better.” You have to accept what we have today. But I do concede that there has been deterioration in terms of lyrics. We have grown up listening to Majrooh Sultanpuri and many other fabulous writers. Now we have just Gulzar Saab and Javed Akhtar. There is too much orchestra used nowadays. 

You have sung a number of Bengali songs. You should be happy to know that songs of Bengali films are again becoming popular.
That’s very encouraging. The songs are much better and more meaningful. I recently sang for a Rabindrasangeet album called Bhalobashi. It’s doing well and I have plans to sing a lot more in Bengali. 

What keeps you busy nowadays?
I am doing a lot of projects that are ‘non-filmi’. The film offers I get are all inconsequential songs. There are lots of new music directors and lyricists who have come up, but their offers are not interesting enough. But music is an integral part of my life and I am keeping that alive by singing in concerts and  for projects like spiritual albums. 

I know it’s tough, but if you are to list three of your favourite numbers, which ones would those be?
My selection doesn’t depend on the song’s popularity. It has something to do with my sentiment. There are certain songs that changed my career graph and I am very sensitive towards them. I like       Hawaa hawaai, the songs of 1942 A Love Story and of course the numbers in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. I would rate the songs of HDDCS as really special because they were so different and there was so much of variety in them.  
Who are your favourite singers from the current crop?
They are all good individually. I like Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and KK.

What is it like to perform in Kolkata?
It’s always a wonderful experience because there is a strong culture of music here. Kolkata genuinely loves good music. It is always heartwarming to perform here.

Live and let love

In a world torn by violence, does the credo of baul philosophy show a flicker of hope?



Supreeta Singh


Against the backdrop of environmental hazards, physical threats and emotional depletion, the quest for spiritual freedom stands tall. If a man’s ultimate aim is self-realisation, then the need to find meaning in life becomes monumental. Unfortunately, today the concepts of peace, liberty and equality have been stripped of their essence and reduced to a mere lip service at best or buzzwords at worst.
 However, a small sect in West Bengal has a different tale to tell. They are above any organised religion, caste and creed or gender discrimination and completely shun orthodox rituals.
Spread across Murshidabad, Nadia and Birbhum districts in Bengal, Sylhet, Bikrampur and Kushtia in Bangladesh, Baul singers and poets practice an egalitarian philosophy preached by ‘exponents’ of world peace and love. 
Thanks to Gautam Ghose’s film Moner Manush, there has been a reawakening of interest in one of the prominent baul exponents, the iconic figure Lalon Fakir. A Hindu-turned-Muslim fakir, who flouted all established norms of society in his exploration of self, Ghose’s film pertinently makes Lalon’s philosophy embedded in his lyrics seem relevant. 
Gautam Ghose says, “Lalon is contemporary. Bauls are not just performers; for them it’s a way of life. Today, not everyone is a performer but they practice devotion nonetheless.”
 For young folk singer Anusheh Anadil of Bangladesh, bauls uphold a philosophy that is eternal. An ardent fan of Lalon songs, she claims that songs give her a glimpse of reality. “The need for self-realisation does not disappear with time. I am in love with the bauls and fakirs specially because here there is no duality of ideas. It is about learning to be empty and embodying that love which is making creation possible. For me, it’s always been about the message these songs convey. I try to pass it on to my audience in whichever way they may listen.”
 The growing popularity of baul songs and tunes in popular culture also stand as a testimony to its revival among the youth. The lyrics, strains and compositions touch a chord infusing a listener with a sense of unbridled joy. Percussionist Tanmoy Bose whose projects Taal Tantra and Baul and Beyond, where Anusheh is one of the contributors, says that baul philosophy is the best example of unity, brotherhood and friendship. According to him, youngsters must go through the lines of poems crafted by bauls to understand their import. He adds, “Baul does not just mean smoking weeds and singing songs. It’s a way of life that needs total devotion. For me, the most heartwarming and urgent message of bauls is the principle of guru-shishya (disciple) parampara or tradition that it upholds. Every day we read about student and teacher conflicts. The basic foundation of the baul philosophy lies in total surrender to your guru, who will lead you through the tumultuous hurdles of life. It says that you have to know your guru to complete yourself. This is opposite to the language of aggression youths display. In any situation of dispute and disagreement, baul philosophy can teach you to cooperate.”
 In the same vein, Bangladeshi singer Latif Shah says, “When the desire rises in you to merge with the ‘Supreme Soul’, no matter what your age is, you will be drawn to it like bee to a flower. My disciples are as young as 12 years. That’s an impressionable age and therefore they understand all about bauls with ease.” 
Bose is amazed by the fact that our own indigenous baul philosophy finds resonance in African-American blues and jazz entrenched in socio-political revolutions. “I have been to so many countries and everywhere I have found that the native form of music has sprung out of some kind of protest. Both music and baul philosophy are universal. They are deeply rooted in selflessness. Hence, there is much to learn from them.”
 One of the strongest elements of Baul is the way it embraces everyone irrespective of religion, community, class, economic background and gender. At a time when world leaders at large fail to do more than initiating peace-talks between warring nations, bauls talk about forging ties. “Baul is a secular philosophy. Although fundamentalists attack them in many pockets of Bengal and Bangladesh, yet they promote love and compassion. Men and women, who have been ostracised by society, find solace and acceptance in the company of bauls. Many of them come from poor families and have nowhere to go. Earlier, the urban and rural divide was not as marked as it is today. Now, bauls flock to cities to participate in fairs and festivals giving city slickers an opportunity to learn from them.”
 Interestingly, Baul songs are engaged in a conversation with the body. For them, human body is the most intricate and elaborate vehicle where universal truth lies hidden. The body is a means to an end – the final reunion with the ‘Supreme Being’ who resides in all of us. Human body is sacrosanct, a symbol of divinity. From novice to advanced baul singers, meditation and yoga are a must every day – exactly what health experts urge people to do.  
 “Physical exercise or shadhon-bhajon is as crucial to bauls as singing. All baul songs are centered on the body, which is a metaphor for leading to higher states of existence. A good guru will always decode the songs and explain its meaning to his disciple,” says 30-something Sanjay of Baul band Brahmakhyapa.
 Bauls believe in the principle of ‘here and now’. There is no concept of reincarnation or idol worship. Free of dogmas, it stresses on body and mind to find all answers. “What attracts me to baul philosophy is it’s scientific nature. To develop the inner psyche, you must reach a level of control that is achieved only when you are physically, mentally and emotionally fit. There is neither any sudden anger nor any sudden joy. Isn’t this what any spiritual guru would advise? Today, people earn bushels of money, but are they really happy?” asks Sanjay. 
 The prominent place of women in baul communities is another stellar aspect. While conservative religions put women on the pedestal and worship them, domestic violence continues unabated. Bauls are routinely dismissed for their apparent sexual proclivities, their lifestyle often dubbed as ‘free sex in a free society. Yet rising statistics of divorce and separation speak about the lack of respect and love in urban couples. Tanmoy Bose is aggrieved by such misinterpretations. “It’s an injustice. You have to look beyond the physical intercourse and discover the epitome of love in your partner. And it’s not as if bauls indulge in indiscriminate sexual orgies. They too have fixed mates,” he fumes.
 Echoes Sanjay, “My partner Malobika and I live together. We have a daughter too. As in tantra, baul philosophy too believes in the union of male and female and only the union of the two can lead to creation. There are so many married couples in the society who are miserable. Does the ‘married’ tag stop them from abusing each other? So, how is it different for the bauls?”
 Kartik Das Baul of Santiniketan, who is married with a son, says, “Bauls are not separate entities outside the purview of society. Lalon advises us through his songs to be free of restrictions. In India and abroad, we have finally got our due recognition and things look brighter for the future. As long as I can connect with myself, nothing can dampen my spirit.” 
 Golam Fakir, a noted baul from Nadia, observes that bauls as a sect will always remain a little mysterious and unfathomable to laymen. “Only those who come with a sincere heart and thirst for knowledge are able to apprehend the true essence of bauls. Yet for a world whose heart is bleeding, he shares a snippet from Gita  — Whatever has happened in the past, happened for the best. Whatever will happen will happen for the best too.”

The best Khan of them all




By Nasreen Khan
Just Another Fan (JAF) is a simple story told very simply. Yes, the one thing that stays with you after you finish reading the book is its simplicity. The first person narrative by Jayeeta Ganguly and for a little while by her best friend Tapati, flows like an homespun, endearing, conversation. It is direct and straight from the heart. Effervescent and full of positivity, it narrates the tale of the author’s quest to meet her idol, the cricketing legend Imran Khan.
What starts as a case of infatuation transcends limitations of a fan and idol story to talk about the author’s discovery of self. What could have been a regular chatter about Imran and cricket turns out to be a tale of beliefs and values lost in the midst of the past. As Jayeeta narrates about how everything in her life propels her toward her goal, so to speak, she talks of her family, her sibling, her neighbours, teachers and friends. The simplicity of relationships, the depth of emotion is palpable despite the author touching only the tip of the familial bonds. For those who value those ‘Wonder Years’ it is bound to tug at your heart, even though the story is targeted at a very different objective. The novel is about the ennobling effects of being a fan, a value that firmly  militates against the present culture of violent hero worship, vandalism and roguery. 
But the biggest achievement for Jayeeta as a fan is the way her idol became her guide and mentor without actually being present physically. Her biggest tribute to Imran, it is apparent, is the way she grew out of her setbacks and went on to become a successful woman. The one constant factor in her life, since the age of 10, was her idol. It is also interesting to note how she handled everyday situations and difficulties the way “Imran would have done” or stuck to the truth in “Imran’s name”. But what also stands out, particularly relevant to today is the complete absorption of secular values. The way Jayeeta includes Jesus and Islam, the religion of her idol, in her pantheon of gods, and the manner in which she narrates it deserve mention. There is no preaching, no talking about it as an achievement. It is just a way of life. And it is that very way of life that makes the read pleasurable. Not bad at all for a first time author.  Two notes of dissent: the editing could have been smarter and the price more competitive.


Shauli Chakraborty

Fynn, as described by Vernon Sproxton in his Introduction to Mister God, This Is Anna, has a strongly developed feminine side which can only be described as skin stretched over tenderness. Sproxton also concludes that Fynn is the sort of person who gives you the impression that though he has been tossed about by life his feet have firmly touched the bottom. And that is to say that Fynn’s Anna has a striking resemblance to Lucy and Heidi novels. Just as Wordsworth preached through his poems the theory of pantheism and how the child is closest to God when she is little and innocent, Fynn too explains Anna’s extraordinary ability for deduction and faith through his two bestsellers Mister God, This Is Anna and Anna And The Black Knight. The books have universal appeal in the sense that anybody can read them anytime and each time they can open a new window in your mind. They have a tendency to make you keep going back to them, if only to know what Anna made of your ideas. Anna is suspicious of people going to church and the whole business of collective worship does not appeal to her at all. Through Anna, we see Fynn questioning the methods of the Church but not the Church itself. There is no undercurrent of controversy. When the local parson asks her if she believed in God she says ‘Yes’. When he goes on to ask her why she did not go to church, Anna replies, “Because I know it all!…I know to love Mr God and to love people and cats and dogs and spiders and flowers and trees… with all of me… And God said love me, love them, and love it, and don’t forget to love yourself.” For Anna you went to church to get the message and once you got it you lived with it all your life, perhaps making modifications along the way. Those who kept going to church repeatedly, Anna thought, either didn’t get the message or did it just for ‘swank’. That’s a strong statement coming from a five-year-old and even more difficult one for a 16-year-old Fynn to come to terms with. Even in her death Anna is curt: “Fynn, I bet Mister God lets me get into heaven for this.” The relationship between Anna and Fynn is more like the one between two friends who get along extremely well but are destined to part ways. The books are a refreshing. Pick them up and confront yourself. That way even theological undercurrents could prove to be fascinating!



By Jaya Biswas

Humourist Melvin Durai’s riveting, snazzy debut novel, Bala Takes The Plunge, explores with wit and insight the age old struggle of middle-class Indian kids — to convince and seek their parents’ support — when it comes to choosing a profession or a partner. 
Bala Takes The Plunge is about Balasubraniam (aka Bala aka Bill) from Madras (Chennai) whose dream is to make Tamil films with superstar Rajinikanth, but who instead lands up in an engineering college. This earns him his Appa’s approval and the opportunity to export himself to America as Director of Design at FlexIt Inc., coming up with new ways to help Americans shed the extra weight around their middles and in their wallets.
Though in an another world, he is at least some kind of director, he consoles himself. Bala loves America, and America, it seems, loves him even more. He has everything he needs to be happy: a green card, a satellite dish to watch cricket, and a companion to share his home — albeit one with a limited vocabulary. His other wish is to find himself a wife before his Amma finds a conventional fair and ‘unspoilt’ girl for him. So begins Bala’s quest for his better-half, someone worthy enough to inherit his mother’s Corelle crockery.
The author uses sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek play on words weaving a humorous story around this main plot. The book has a lot of unique abbreviations such as HIT which stands for Harishchandra Institute of Technology and MRI which means Marriage Related Investigations and so on. But it’s the mundane, everyday sights and scenes we often take for granted that interest him. Also, it is hilarious to note how specific Indians get when it comes to hunting for a bride or a groom.
 Melvin has written hundreds of humour columns and funny blog posts. A native of Tamil Nadu, he grew up in Zambia and spent much of his life in America, which reflects in the manner he impeccably traverses into both the worlds with élan.
There’s a feel-good factor about the book which has an uncanny resemblance to Anurag Mathur’s The Inscrutable Americans in terms of storyline and style of narration. However, this one is livelier.

The comic hero: Vidur Kapoor

Sudipta Dey

He makes fun of his own sexuality and the consequences he had to face when it finally came ‘out’ that he was the first gay Indian stand-up comedian. But that doesn’t deter Vidur Kapur from laying himself bare before his audience to amuse them. Vidur performed at Roxy, for The Park Festival, with a bit of apprehension that the Kolkata crowd is ‘a bit too intellectual’ but in the end he left the crowd in splits.
Being a stand-up comedian is anyways a difficult proposition but Vidur gave up his white-collar job to take up what he calls his true calling. “Comedy is a means of self expression. Through it I make an attempt to express myself to the world and share my thoughts, feelings and emotions through the medium of jokes and laughter. Laughter breaks barriers. Stand-up comedy is an ideal way to address controversial issues that might be very difficult to hear otherwise,” says Vidur, adding, “You can actually say anything and get away with it making your audience laugh at the same time.”
Vidur has managed to tickle the funny bone in the audience, in his treatment of social issues. “In India, as well as in the US, being gay is still an issue. So I talk about it, I talk about my sexuality, and I talk about my personal relationships as well,” says Vidur, who makes fun of himself, his partner’s Jewish family, as well as his own Punjabi grandmother. Though most of them are not true, some of it is truly hilarious. “The trick is to take real-life characters and make them larger than life,” he adds.
A graduate from London School of Economics, Vidur went to University of Chicago. But he was never at peace doing a recruiter’s job in one of the top notch companies in New York. He took stand-up comedy classes as a hobby, but in 2007 took the “most difficult leap and became a stand-up comedian.”
He has opened for Russell Peters, did shows for the Indian communities abroad, took part in Just for Laughs in Montreal. The MTV awarded him the Brink of Fame award — just to name a few of the accolades he received. But what changed his career was one show at a university, which had nearly 3000 students as his audience. After the show, he received 150 bookings, which sustained him for the rest of the year.
It was never an easy thing to choose. “Being an immigrant, that too in New York, you can’t be unemployed, not receiving regular paychecks at the end of the month. But I took that risk, and it has paid off,” he says. “However, I have managed to overcome the challenges. The advantages of the honesty and openness are that it makes me stand out and be unique,” he adds.
After touring the country, Vidur will be off to West Asia, where he will be performing for the first time, as well as another six shows in Trinidad. “I don’t even know what I am going to put on there,” says Vidur, who has realised after touring almost half the world that all jokes don’t make you laugh.

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