Kanika Dhillon’s debut novel “Bombay Duck is a fish” is partly an autobiographical book on career in film-making. Fast paced novel set in the tinsel town of India – Mumbai – is about dreams and ambition of the film city.
The protagonist of the story “Neki Brar” chucks a cushy corporate job to follow her dream to become a film-maker alike the author of the book. Young ambitious Neki successfully lands in the Assistant Director role to a famous director Fiza but soon discovers the darker side of the film-making. Cruelties of the city and of the profession soon teach her the act of survival and she adopts to the bollywood’s way of moving up the ladder. However, her entanglement with second lead actor, Ranvir, of Fiza’s movie unfolds ugliness of true love, which brings destruction to her life. Kanika cites in the book “Test of true love is to ask oneself if one would happily be destroyed by the other person. If the answer is yes, it’s true love.” Neki’s love for Ranvir destroys her.
Kanika tells the story via filings of Neki in her diary “Nano” in a fashion similar to Annie Frank’s narration via a diary “Kitty” in “Diary of a Young Girl”. The timeframe of the story is less than a year and sometimes the reader might find the pace of the story to be unrealistic. Kanika has effectively used humor in the story and has christened the chapters creatively. The title of the novel derives its name from one of the chapters of the novel where Neki realizes that “Bombay Duck” is a misnomer and “Bombay Duck” is actually a fish. The interspersed allusion to Freudian theories and quotes from novel “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse makes the reading interesting.
Character of Neki is etched well and in parts seems to be heavily drawn from the real life of Kanika who also started out working as an assistant director in bollywood. The characters in the story are young and ambitious and the racy life of the characters presented in the story might connect with many bollywood aspirants. Kanika has been honest to writing and has presented charcters like Aslam, Minty and Ranvir giving a peek into the dark side of film-making.
Language of the book is plain. It sometimes throws film-making jargons like AD (Assistant Director), Vanity Van, location recce etc. but does not really interfere with the reading. One must not read this book for wellspring of information on movie making but for the narration. The book is fast-paced and a seven to eight hour read. The plot is bereft of surprise elements and is predictable; unfortunately the end of the story is a let down.
My verdict – Thumbs Up for narration and recommended for light readers. Must read for bollywood aspirants. A three of out of five to Kanika for the work.