Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Name is Rajinikanth - Errr...

I just finished reading the book The Name is Rajinikanth by Dr. Gayathri Sreekanth. I picked it up at Landmark in Mumbai a few weeks ago, lured by its surprisingly prominent positioning and its surprisingly low price.

This book charts the life of Superstar Rajinikanth, right from his birth as Shivaji Rao Gaekwad in a poverty-stricken family in Bangalore to his current life - the Thalaivar and undisputed king of Tamil cinema.

There's some good, some bad. And I can also look at this from two points of view - one being that of the Tamil movie and/or Rajini enthusiast (though not as much of an enthusiast to call myself an avid fan), and the other that of a reader of books, in general.

And there you go; we have a simple two-by-two for us to analyze this book.

It being a weekend and therefore a period where I have time on my hands, I decided to waste some time laying it out on a slide. Here you go. (Yup, I hear orgasmic shrieks of pleasure from my fellow consultants.)

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Let's tackle them one at a time.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Good; Movie/Rajini enthusiast

This book is an absolute treasure trove of fun facts and interesting trivia (In particular, it's a super book for any quizzer!) The reader is taken on an exhilarating ride through his childhood, his wayward and aimless youth, the beginning of his interest in acting while a bus conductor in Bangalore, his days as a student of acting, and then his steady rise in movies. Along the way, one gets fairly liberal doses of insight into his love life (and that of his relatives) and his political and spiritual leanings. Plus a complete filmography and brief plotlines of his major films. This is absolutely as comprehensive and lovingly detailed a tome as you are likely to find on the Superstar. The author has clearly spent a lot of time and effort on research and interviews, painstakingly bringing to life the multiple facets of Rajini's personality. And for this phenomenal effort, she deserves a great deal of praise.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bad; Movie/Rajini enthusiast

The tone of the book can not even remotely be considered objective. It constantly deifies Rajini, and continually emphasises that he is a blessed being, one whose fame and fortune was predestined. It deals with all the negatives of his early life as mere trifles - amusing little asides to his character - and the good parts of his later life as superhuman (suprahuman is the term used, I think) achievements that prove that he is a great human being. Rajini is constantly shown as screwing up his friends and relatives lives, but he is immediately repentant and with tearful eyes contemplates the wonder of human relations. Bleah. I would much rather have had a more frank story of his life, one that does not suck up to him quite as much. Credit, though, must be given for the fact that the author has made it a point to mention those episodes of Rajini's life, although occasionally watered down.

Also, there's just a little too much about his spiritual inclinations... those parts of the book are (to me, at least) insufferably boring. As also his frequent ramblings on the subject and the detailed map of his astrological past, present and future. But hey, that's just me.

In addition, I felt that the book kind of lost the plot towards the end... the last fifteen years or so, in particular seem to have been dealt with rather summarily. It's almost like the author decided to write only about the transformation from Shivaji to established Rajini, and ran out of steam. The end is outrageously abrupt. I turned the page and found myself suddenly confronted by the appendix. I wasn't missing pages, I checked. The book just... ended. Leaving me very very dissatisfied.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Good; Book lover

The structure of the book is very interesting. Instead of a good old start-at-the-beginning-and-finish-at-the-end flow, it is episodic, interleaving chapters from the present with those from the past. It makes for very interesting reading, and keeps the book very lively and dynamic even though there is no real link from one chapter to the next. If only it didn't end so suddenly :(

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Bad; Book lover

Oh my god, this is such a TERRIBLY written book. Terrible in terms of the grammar, the sentence construction and the formatting. Three impressions strike immediately
  • The book was first written in Tamil, then translated almost directly and literally into English, using translations of Tamil phrases and very Tamil English. I wish I could give you an example of this, but I can't bring myself to go through the book all over again so soon. In any case, as someone who studied in Chennai for several years, the Tamil-toned English hits one straight between the eyes. Also, in some places, the choice of words is inexplicably bizarre.

  • The author has given little or no thought to consistency of format. Quotation marks (single, double) appear on and off at will when there is direct speech; the prose suddenly gives way to business-like bullet points (oh yeah... you like it, don't you, consultants!); the tense and direct/indirect prose keeps switching and changing. And that's just the beginning. For someone who likes reading, and likes reading good English - Salman Rushdie's stories are crap but, by GOD, he writes divinely! - this is extremely extremely grating.

  • The proofreader/checker was clearly sleeping/drinking on the job. Or one was not employed at all. How else does one explain the numerous spelling mistakes and punctuation errors? Even idiotically simple things like when the author, describing his important movies, writes, "Pudhu Kavidhai: Two novelties" and proceeds to list three. Grrrrr... quite maddening.

I just flipped to a page at random (293, hardback edition), and pulled out - word for word - a passage I felt best illustrates my point (and there are many many many many of them all throughout the book). This passage finds Rajini preparing for his first film shoot, for the movie Apoorva Ragangal.

< - Extract - >

Sunday just didn't seem to pass. Why has time slowed down so much? thought Shivaji, looking at the wall clock, and why is it that I am sitting idly.

He again practised in front of the wall mirror. What could possibly be the role? 'I think I look nice if I play a powerful villain,' he agreed with himself. 'May be KB felt I'll look great bashing up the goons.'

The night reached its stagnation. Time and tide came to a stand still. 'It will never be dawn,' Shivaji kept looking at the sky repeatedly. 'Damn the sun,' he swore.

Slowly the morning crept over, and Shivaji readied himself two hours before the scheduled reporting, combing his hair with his hand and a comb a million times.

He reached the location well before time, and began to take stock of the situation. Suddently (sic) he looked deathly; he clutched his chest and gasped for breath. He looked struck, "Kamal Haasan? I have a role with Kamal Haasan? The director thinks I can act alongside K.A.M.A.L? I hope someone tells me this is no bizarre dream."

< - End - >

I had great expectations from this book, especially given the few glowing reviews I'd read. Now, I love the fact that I know a lot of new trivia about Rajini, but I'm not sure I'll ever read through the book cover to cover again. It's great fun, but rather painful fun.


maxdavinci said...

I feel this is the most positive review of he book i've read so far!

AC said...

Really?! Wow... I remember the initial reviews I read when the book was launched (haven't read any since) and they all raved about how this was a perfect tribute to the Superstar.

Sheks said...

This review of yours is more interesting than the book...the book was priced at 495 bucks which,I feel,is way too high for a non-'Penguin' publication.The photo on the cover...would someone from north India actually believe it's Rajinikanth?

Srividya Jayaraman said...

Yes, yes, the book was denounced for its bad grammar and poor writing.

How did the publishers let so many errors creep in?

hariadarsh said...

Dude,ur point abt that being a quiz book is exactly what was goign thru my mind wen I read it. Besides, frank advice.. dont waste ur time on such books ..[:D]

Nandini Vishwanath said...

Aah, I wanted to read it too. Maybe I shall give it a miss?

AC said...

@Sheks: I think the photo was put there especially to cater to Narth Indians, with their fair-skin fixation! I'm guessing they expected NIs to go, "What, he's that fair! And i thought he was this stereotypical dark Madrasi. I must buy this book and find out more!"

@Srividya: The producers should be shot for sheer carelessness. This book is a shame from the editorial point of view.

AC said...

@Hari: Never again :)

@Nandu: Do read it. Just don't buy it; borrow it from a friend. Or an enemy, if you think the book is that bad.

meera said...

wow! after that excerpt and that review i doubt i'd ever read it! but i think the cover pic does a fairly good job of keeping people at bay...i'm impressed u had the courage to pick it up! kudos!