What are the best monologues from Bollywood

Amusing study of society with satirical distortions

Shashi Tharoor: "Bollywood". Insel Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 2006. 413 pages

Scene from the Bollywood film "Sometimes happy, sometimes sad" (Rapideyemovies.de)

A novel for admirers of Indian cinema: Shashi Tharoor creates his own aesthetic from the narrative forms of the film, the heroes 'little tree-swap game and the song interludes and, with "Bollywood", presents an ironic appraisal of his compatriots' addiction to cinema. He draws every figure and numerous idioms from the great cinema myths of his homeland.

"Bollywood" is a novel for admirers of Indian cinema. At least since "Sometimes happy, sometimes sad" (2003), the first German subtitled and more widely distributed Hindi film with us, the German audience has also noticed the Indian film industry. Meanwhile, the colorful three-hour epics, which mostly tell of a failed wedding, the painful division of a family clan and the tearful reconciliation of the quarreling clan that took place years later, are even running on private television, albeit in slightly abbreviated form. In the European versions of the big films with the omnipresent Shah Rukh Khan, some of the sprawling dance and singing scenes, without which Indian cinema would be inconceivable, are dispensed with.

The Indian political scientist and writer Shashi Tharoor, who was born in London in 1956 and who was Kofi Annan's assistant and who now heads the UN's public relations department, uses the narrative forms of the film, the heroes' little tree-changing game and the song interludes to create a new one own aesthetics and presents with "Bollywood" an ironic appreciation of the cinema addiction of his compatriots. He draws every figure, every dramaturgical move and numerous expressions from the great cinema myths of his homeland. The wit of his novel lies in the kalaidoscopic structure.

Tharoor's characters take turns taking the floor and answering questions from an invisible narrator, interrupted by columns of a bared celebrity reporter who calls her readers "sweetheart" and ends each article with an ominously pregnant "Grrrr". These monologues are embedded in a kind of film script: there are six recordings, divided into indoor and outdoor shoots, each of which is supplemented by summaries of several scripts. Every now and then the characters belt out a song, and that is also quoted, such as "I - I - I - I - I - I luff you / You probably know that I do that".

The focus is - how could it be otherwise - the male leading actor. In an extremely funny way, the film life and the real life of a star named Ashok Banjara are spun out in parallel. This leads to precarious overlaps. Time and again, life seems to imitate the films: When Ashok learns in his first film through his partner Abha how business is really going, when he later marries the actress Maya, a typical innocent from the country, and has triplets with her and when he is on The end of a mythical film that tells of the devastation of the earth and is critically injured.

The basic idea behind Tharoor is that Ashok is a noble hero in the movies, but a selfish, narcissistic and characterless son, husband and father in life. Shashi Tharoor repeatedly works with satirical distortions. At the same time, Indian society is getting its fat off: nepotism and corruption are the order of the day. And just like in the film, the novelist, who has received numerous awards for his literary works, simply assigns roles.

In addition to the sincere wife Maya, who finally turns away from her faithless husband, there is also the villain Pranay, who is always the villain in the film, but turns out to be a caring friend and politically-minded person in everyday life. There is the brother Ashwin Banjara, forever in the shadow of the elder and never as loved as the firstborn, the strict father, a minister who is disappointed in his son, and of course the gentle, venerable mother.

The rise and fall of a star - that is the story that Tharoor's novel satirically unfolds. After a humble beginning, Ashok Banjara becomes the new idol of Indian cinema thanks to his sponsors, but when he wants to use his fame for a political career and contests his hard-earned parliamentary seat for his younger brother, his dubious morals put him in trouble: Ins Funds shifted abroad are his undoing, he returns to the cinema as a defeat, but his time seems to be over until he accepts a role in a mythical film, has an accident while filming and falls into a coma, which makes him a star again. Tharoor delivers an amusing study of society and portrays his story-addicted compatriots with tender irony. And by the way, Tharoor also provides us with a little ABC of Indian cinema: Anyone who needs extra tuition in Bollywood is well served here.

Reviewed by Maike Albath

Shashi Tharoor: Bollywood
Translated from the English by Peter Knecht.
Insel Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 2006, 413 pages, 22, 80 euros