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Chapter And Verse
Published: Volume 16, Issue 10, October, 2008

A puzzling literary rebellion, a Bollywood exploration, intellectual angles and relationships all combine to bring together a delectable set of reads

Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings
by Kuzhali Manickavel
(Blaft)

It feels great to read a book that refuses to be bound by scales of art. Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings appears to be a new literary rebellion of sorts. The abstractionist’s words seem to flow seamlessly and no, it’s not a rant. Magic realism is webbed with clever manipulation of language. Each short story in this collection is starkly different from another. Dark humour that may not hit you in the first reading will suddenly sneak up from behind. Much like the insects that inhabit this book. Manickavel can be noir and she can be lyrical. Hers is a contemporary Wonderland that’s messy. To unearth its symbols and statements seems to be an inviting yet arduous journey. Tread carefully, the book is ripe with obscurity and at times seems like a puzzle that only hints at more puzzles for answers.
- Arshad Said Khan

You Are Here
by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
(Penguin India)

With all the fanfare surrounding the launch of this blogger and journalist’s debut novel, it would leave us to wonder if the book would actually live up to the hype. Arshi is the archetypal protagonist, looking for love, bumbling along, full of insecurities about her relationships. Dealing with broken marriages, live-in relationships, multiple boyfriends and similar contemporary chick-lit angst, the novel proves to be a fun read. The author places the context of the book in the correct milieu.

How relevant do you believe is chick-lit?
I think any kind of fiction set in contemporary times serves as part of an accurate representation of how we live. It all depends on what you identify with at the end of the day. I think they’re fun reads but not something I go back to repeatedly.

How is You Are Here, different from other chick-lit novels?
Firstly, You Are Here is not chick-lit, at least, in my point of view. It was my intention also of showing a generation of young Indians struck by globalisation and living in the metros. There is a young woman protagonist negotiating her life and her relationships, yes, but I think the similarity ends there.

Was it an easy transition from blogging to writing a novel?
I always wanted to be a writer. Blogging regularly gave me the discipline I needed to write a book. It was tougher having to stick to a narrative structure and keep characters in place and so on.
-Sitanshi Talati-Parikh

Global Bollywood
Edited by Anandam P. Kavoori and Aswin Punathambekar
(NYU Press)
An anthology of essays by scholars who examine the phenomenon that is Bollywood. An academic effort, it looks at the cultural, political and institutional ramifications of the films and music as they making their way through a global journey. Editor Aswin Punathambekar answers a few questions.

Is Bollywood truly global?
Bollywood, and other film industries in India, have been always been global in the sense that filmmakers, music directors, and technicians drew on ideas from all over the world. And films from India have been part of a global circuit for several decades now. What is new, however, is the scale and organisation of Bollywood’s global flows. We are now seeing concerted efforts by companies to institutionalise markets - to convert a vast yet vaguely understood overseas territory into well-defined audience communities.

Has there been a shift from largely an area of interest for the NRI community to an international audience?
Audiences in countries like Nigeria have been following Hindi films for nearly four decades now. Simply because the dollar-and-pound markets of North America and the U.K. matter more to the industry doesn’t mean that’s the only audience. Even in these large NRI markets, Bollywood is beginning to attract non-desis. With Bollywood films making their way into mainstream theatre chains, it is bound to attract attention. It remains to be seen if this initial interest will last longer and attract greater numbers of people.

Can mainstream Bollywood movies hold their own against foreign films, or is it ‘offbeat’ Indian cinema that works?
“Offbeat” Indian films and mainstream fare often have different circuits and they rarely intersect. Even now, successful small-budget films like Manorama Six Feet Under haven’t been marketed and distributed widely in overseas markets – it’s still the big-budget big-banner films that make it into mainstream venues. There have been a few success stories of Bollywood films holding their own, as you put it. But this is where festivals like Mahindra’s Indo - American Arts Council Film Festival play an important role by introducing audiences to a range of films being made in Mumbai and not just the stereotypical 3-hour extravaganzas.
-Sitanshi Talati-Parikh

In the Land of No Right Angles
by Daphne Beal
(Random House)

A book on self-discovery, Verve contributor Daphne Beal’s In the Land of No Right Angles charts American student Alex’s journey to Nepal and her encounters with her friend Will and a local Nepalese girl Maya. Traversing America, Nepal and the seedy underbelly of Mumbai the novel is not without its share of platitudes. But this work, part travelogue and part melodrama, is more than just pop fiction. With a pretty insightful grasp of local culture and human connections that transgress parochial concerns, this suspenseful coming of age story is definitely worth a read.

Excerpts from an interview with the author:
Is the book based on your own travels/ experiences?
The research for this book was very much hands-on. While it’s not a memoir, I do share some biographical details with my protagonist, Alex. I was lucky enough to study in Nepal when I was 20, and then to be able to go back for personal reasons and for work every four years after that. There was no way that secondary sources could elucidate such a deeply foreign place. There is just too much sensationalism about prostitution to trust another person’s viewpoint. However, I do feel indebted to the insights I found in Mary Ellen Mark’s photo essay, Falkland Road, Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay, Vikram Chandra’s stories about Mumbai, and Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City.

What inspires you as a writer?
Like so many writers, it is the stories floating all around us that inspire me. Everything from newspaper accounts to family legend to eavesdropped conversations get my imagination going. ?I want to know why people act the way they do, and if that answer isn’t immediately clear to me, that’s often the starting point for a story.
- Mamta Badkar

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