All that could have been by Mahesh Bhatt with Suhrita Sengupta:
an old-fashioned love story
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
Extent: 142 pp
Price: Rs 195
The fact that this story is the base for the soon to be
released film Hamaari Adhuri Kahaani
casts its own shadow, as does the fact
that this is supposed to be the love story of Mahesh Bhatt`s parents. Come to
think of it, the fact that one part of the duo which has authored this book is
the voluble, articulate and undoubtedly creative film-maker Mahesh Bhatt, casts
its own shadow, too. Be that as it may, we need to look at the book as a
standalone piece of fiction.
Given its slim volume, it is easy to cut to the chase here.
The heroine, Vasudha Prasad, is a woman of substance and more importantly for
the story, a woman of rock-solid morals and principles. That she is comely,
intelligent, unfazed by people and circumstances, as well as possessed of a
lively sense of humour, are all attributes that add to her appeal. Vasudha is
willy-nilly a single mother, raising her young son Saanjh as best as she can,
working as a florist in a plush hotel in downtown Mumbai. Her absentee husband,
Hari, the reader quickly realizes, is better absent than around; quite an
unsavoury character, he is abusive, drinks heavily, beats up Vasudha regularly
and when his mother tries to intervene, pushes her around, too.
Hari is a driver who has taken some American tourists to
Orissa and has been gone a longish time when the story opens, and his mother is
in an old-age home, of her own choice. Enter Aarav Ruparel, the billionaire
youngish owner of the hotel where Vasudha
works. He is immediately smitten by the hotel`s `flower girl.` The attraction
is mutual and Vasudha, as quickly as Aarav, finds herself drawn to this
sardonic, sexy man, and as quickly, tries hard to fight the attraction.
Aarav, of course, is a man who knows what he wants, and implausibly
soon, gets Vasudha transferred to his Dubai hotel, seeing to it that Saanjh
gets admitted to a school in Singapore. The Singapore angle is extremely
sketchy and we never quite get if it`s an on- the- spot decision by Vasudha or
something she has always dreamed of, sending her bright young boy to school in
Love blossoms as love must, but it’s a chaste sort of love.
The undercurrents are always simmering but Vasudha`s status as a married woman
acts as effective deterrent. Aarav has the ideal aide, Apoorva Kapoor, and Apoorva,
quickly realizing the lay of the land, is attempting to procure a divorce for Vasudha.
Meanwhile, Vasudha is
busy greening the sandy environs of the Dubai hotel grounds, watched by an
entranced Aarav. He takes her back to south India, to meet his mother, a woman
he loves but also has been angry with, for a large part of his growing years. Rohini
had taken to dancing in a seedy hotel bar, in order to see that her son was
fed, clothed and schooled. Today the wealthy and powerful Aarav is on the verge
of buying up that very property, a supreme act of revenge, of course.
And then fate intervenes. Hari returns, as unpleasant as
ever, and flies into a rage when Vasudha tells him she wishes to be free of
him. To complicate matters, he had taken the tourists to Bastar, where some of
them had been killed; he is a murder suspect
now, and actually fleeing the law.
Then the story turns convoluted. Marital values are put to
the test, as is an unquenchable love. What will win, who will win?
Vasudha is a fully fleshed-out character in the book, a somewhat
prissy woman who compels respect from the readers even if not a full understanding
of what drives her to do the things she does. Aarav remains a shadowy figure, pursued
by his own ghosts and in pursuit of redemption, interesting and enigmatic. The
rest are like Bollywood characters, they come and go without much effort expended
in character development, though a couple of Vasudha`s ditzy friends, Maddy in Mumbai and Naila in Dubai, are quite likeable.
The rundown neighbourhood and rowdy-
infested lanes of Mumbai (`a city that didn’t care too much for appearances` ) soon
get swapped for sweltering but sexy Dubai.
As a story, it is
wafer- thin but it does contain possibilities. The basic premise is that
sometimes, our happiness lies in squalid places. Alas, those possibilities die off,
killed by the most banal style of story-telling. One wonders which of the duo, Bhatt
or Sengupta, is to blame for the uneven
use of language, the awkward phrases (more on that anon), bloopers like Aarav dismissing
the importance of a hotel restaurant getting Michelin stars, the volte- face of
the bad mother (Mrs Ruparel senior) suddenly becoming a caring good mother.
When Aarav finally makes love to Vasudha, he does so with the care of `gardener treating
a seedling`! There is a faint of air of carelessness about the book,
like it received absolutely no editing spit and polish. There is also a
resemblance to a pulp novel with distinctly filmy parts, like when a police
inspector looks at Vasudha and sees a long line of warrior women like Razia Sultana
and Rani Lakshmibhai in her, as well as in
what happens eventually to Hari.
Parts of the book read like it was thought of in another
language and then transcribed into English. That`s no crime really but it does
make for jagged language. Saanjh nuzzles into Vasudha; she tries putting her
side to it instead of explaining her side of it; someone mutters `the potatoes
can go buy oil,` whatever that means; the hotel staff tries to make order; the
word urbanity is used for effrontery; don’t throw your airs and graces at me, Hari
shouts at his wife; her mother`s blessings are at her back…suchlike quaint
terms pepper every other page.
Maybe the screenplay is better developed, and doesn`t need
finely-tuned language. Maybe competent actors like Vidya Balan and Emraan Hashmi
will breathe poignant life into it. But then, that is a film, soon to be released. This is a book under
Ad copywriter turned journalist turned writer Sheila Kumar is the author of Kith and Kin (Rupa Publications). Her
short stories have appeared in several anthologies. She edits manuscripts and
copy for a set of technical magazines, and reviews books regularly for
periodicals as well as on her books blog.