Friday, 6 April 2012
Book Review: Bollywood Striptease by Neeta Shah
We’ve all heard stories of how difficult it is for aspiring actors, both men and women, to make it big in the world of movies, be it Hollywood or Bollywood or Tollywood or Kollywood. Now, here’s a tale set in Bollywood, where indecent proposals are apparently the norm, narrated by Neeta Shah, a former chartered accountant who had tried her hand at acting before she wrote this novel. The protagonist in Bollywood Striptease is called Nikki Shah and one gets the feeling that much of Bollywood Striptease is fact rather than fiction. In fact, author Shah admits in the Acknowledgements section that ‘while this novel is driven by my experiences and an in-depth research on the industry, much is owed to inputs shared by friends who have witnessed their share of Bollywood.’
Once Protagonist Nikki decides to give her Bollywood dreams a shot, she goes all out to achieve success, despite the fact that her family – father and brother – supports her reluctantly. Nikki’s best friend Shonali and rich boy Karan who is totally besotted with Nikki (though Nikki doesn’t reciprocate), support her wholeheartedly. At first, there is little sign of progress and Nikki tries out almost every route into Bollywood fame that could possibly exist. In addition to uncountable auditions, Nikki tries the ‘model’ route, the ‘reality show’ route, the ‘TV serial’ route, the Tollywood (as in Telugu movies and not Tollygunge) route etc., none of which works out. Nikki goes to an acting school, the best in Mumbai, and learns a lot. She gets her portfolio done. She goes to the gym regularly and becomes a fitness freak, but doesn’t hesitate to smoke Classic Milds when a role she is auditioning for demands it. Best of all, she makes a few good friends, like Amit Khanna (Shah-speak for Puneet Isaar), who we are told, played Duryodhan in the Mahabharat, Akansha, a young girl from Meerut who is also struggling to make it big in Bollywood and …………………..Akshay.
Ambitious Akshay, a chief assistant director, also waiting for a break that will allow him to make a name as a director, soon becomes Nikki’s boyfriend. Akshay seems to be a good guy, kind, considerate and clever, though he does have a temper. I did think that the way Nikki introduced Akshay to the besotted Karan, when she was wearing Akshay’s ring, was a bit nasty, and out of character for Nikki, but it all plays out well in the end, since l’affaire Akshay doesn’t work out exactly as expected.
One of the best things about Bollywood Striptease is Shah’s depiction of Nikki’s relationship with her mother who is divorced from her father and has a son from her second marriage. In this day and age, as divorces get more common, which isn’t such a bad thing as Amit Varma rightly tells us, we see Nikki initially struggle with her mother’s decision to leave her and her elder brother and go away, but later understand and accept her mother’s actions.
Nikki finally gets her break, not as an actress, but when she is made a creative consultant for a chick flick called Size O. From there things only go up. Soon Nikki is asked to write a book based on the movie’s screen play. Even before the book is done, based solely on the test draft, Nikki is given a 3 book deal. Before you can say Bollywood, Nikki is known as a writer and some movie directors respect her all the more for it. Finally towards the end of the book, at the ceremony for the launch of her book, Karan Chopra (a famous director and not the old flame Karan) offers her the leading lady’s role in his next film! Since the announcement is made in public, we can be sure that this isn’t one of those cons where a director makes a promise to a young starlet only to exploit her, with little intention of honouring the promise.
It’s not only Nikki who fulfils her dreams, but Akansha and Akansha’s flatmate Lisa Bharucha do so as well. Unlike Nikki, they achieve success by getting the better of a man who nearly wrecked Lisa’s dreams. No, I won’t tell you more – please read this book to find out how.
Written in simple and straight forward English, Bollywood Striptease is all about dreams and how one can make one’s dreams come true, if one works hard at it, as Nikki does. However, I am not so sure if it is a good idea to tell youngsters that Bollywood is a good place to hunt for stars, especially since the author did try her hand at acting before she switched to writing. Also, I did not really like the way Nikki goes so suddenly from being a creative consultant to getting a 3 book deal and then finally gets a movie offer at her book launch where she sees her book’s cover for the first time! Another negative about the book is that it has too many characters, many of whom do not appear more than in a few pages, whose names are really confusing. There is a Rahul, a Rakesh, a Rajesh, a Rohan, a Rohit, a couple of Karans and it goes on and on. Mind you, these are minor irritants. On the whole, Bollywood Striptease is a good read.