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The Stranger in Me by Neeta Shah and Aditi Mediratta | Book Review

There is no denying the part Bollywood has played and continues to play in the lives of generations of Indians.

It has given us memories wrapped with music and romance and also an escape from dreary realities of life. It has given us “stranger than fiction” rags-to-riches stories and some incredible, talented stars who created their own destinies with sheer will and fiery passion. Every movie buff in India knows the number of times such artists faced failures and rejections before they delivered that final hit to start their journey to superstardom.

But all these stories of failure come to light, only if at the end of it, there is a spectacular success. For every one superstar, there are thousands of struggling actors who never make it. And even for superstars, life can change in a moment and their success can vanish in smoke as if it was never there… We all hear numerous stories of how such and such hero left this role and it became making of another e.g., Rajesh Khanna got Aradhana only because Shakti Samanta‘s first choice of heroes were uncomfortable playing the double role of father and son..and the film went on to start the tradition of Superstars.

So the careers in Bollywood are all series of choices and what-ifs – just like everyone else’s life. We end up in life going where our choices take us. Every time we make a choice, the course of our life changes. But imagine that every time you make one choice, if all other choices were made too and you lived all these parallel lives – may be in a different time zone, a different reality, in a parallel universe – what then?

Book Title : The Stranger In Me
Author : ,
Publisher : Om Books International (15 April 2019)
# of Pages : 368 (Paperback)
5115 KB 368 (Kindle EBook)
Purchase Link(s) :

Is there such a thing as an inevitability? Would you still end up in the same place, no matter what route you followed?
This is the central theme of the book co-authored by Neeta Shah and Aditi Mediratta. Published by Om Books International “The Stranger in Me” explores the parallel lives of a Bollywood superstar. For Team Thinkerviews, I had the chance to read it on a rainy day and here are our thoughts on it.

Cover Page:

The cover page appears to be designed professionally and has that sleek look with a well – known megacity in the background and half the face of a young man. But it is the quotes on both cover pages from well-known names like Imtiaz Ali, Prakash Jha, Salim-Sulaiman, etc., that will clearly indicate the Bollywood connection to the readers. The face of the protagonist itself, could be anyone – after all, it is about a stranger within.

The Stranger in Me by Neeta Shah and Aditi Mediratta | Book Cover

The Stranger in Me by Neeta Shah and Aditi Mediratta | Book Cover

Co-incidentally, the book name also has a connection with Amitabh Bachchan‘s movie Aks – there is a stranger in the mirror :).

The Storyline:

We meet 60 year old Amit, waking up from a nightmare where he is dying from an injury he received while shooting for his latest film.

This Amit, when awake, however, is a retired bank manager, whose wife passed away some time ago, whose son has moved to US and who is ready to go back to Mumbai to achieve his 40 year old dream of becoming an actor.

We learn it in bits and pieces as the book progresses, but to give you a simple outline, 40 years ago, Amit was successful in a talent hunt and won a debut movie with a prestigious banner. His first co-star Chandni became also the love of his life. Unfortunately, the movie was a flop. Amit lost Chandni and also left Mumbai without a backward glance. He lived his life as a bank manager, got married, had a son, but the dream never left him. And so it is now or never for him to pursue that dream.

He arrives in Mumbai to find it has changed in so many ways and yet not all that much. A chance encounter in train with a handsome young man called Rocky finally results in them becoming flatmates. Call it a coincidence or fate, Amit’s best friend from his previous outing, as twenty something struggling actor, Sasha happens to be Rocky’s landlord, and so the friends meet again and pick up from where they left. While wondering on the beach one night, Amit meets Disha, who can sing like a dream, but is too busy being a rich, spoilt girl.

Slowly, these four people form a sort of family. As we see Rocky struggling to write a script that he can sell, Disha strikes on an idea that if she could re-kindle the romance between Amit and Chandni – she may be able to give Rocky a real-life love story that will be a hit reel life story as well. And then maybe, he’ll finally realise his feelings for her and their love-story will get to a happy ending.

While Amit makes slow and steady progress on auditions front, Disha befriends Chandni – a successful, mysterious diva who has aged gracefully. However, her efforts to re-unite Amit and Chandni are not that successful.

Rocky hits a road-block in his script and is thinking of returning home. In desperation, Disha tries to take help from a friend who betrays her and suddenly this family of four falls apart.

Out of this mess, Amit finally finds success as a “reality-star”, but he ends up paying too high a price. Or does he?

Views And Reviews:

Considering both authors have background knowledge of workings of Bollywood – with Neeta Shah’s previous book “Bollywood Striptease” and Aditi Mediratta’s career as associate screenplay writer – it is obviously a fitting setting for their book. It also has the added advantage that the readers will love to make connections between known facts, rumours, scandals and the fictional section of this book to make their own image of the characters and stories depicted here.

I liked the fast-paced story-telling, witty dialogues, and the real-life Mumbai and its grey characters – it is fun-loving, honest and sometimes ruthless young men and women who are clear about their ambitions in life and are ready to work hard to achieve those. The book is written in the present tense and could be almost a drama being enacted in front of your eyes, as you read.

Although filled with numerous people, the book’s focus never waivers from the main characters. It is very easy to fall in love with sixty year old Amit, who has a verve for life, a passion to act and most importantly, is looking forward to his life rather that looking backward at that age and thinking of retiring. Instead, of what happened before, he is determined to achieve success in what he loves to do. Rocky and Sasha are complementary characters, but it is Disha who takes the lead from the moment she is introduced in the book. Prone to make mistakes, mischievous, manipulative and yet lovable, she holds her own as a rich, spoilt kid, with a lot more to her than just money.

Chandni’s character is created with a lot of detailing and remains true to the “mysterious” part of herself until the end. The only thing she does “out of character” is to take part in a reality show. But, all in all, she is someone Amit could love with all the passion he has for life itself.

It is an interesting premise to get into, just consider what if Amit had given up half-way into the rejection phase? How poor the world of cinema would have remained?

And also wondering how many such actors do give up and how many careers end for various reasons without achieving their due – e.g, Divya Bharati died so young, or Amitabh Bacchan could have died while shooting Coolie. The list could be endless. The book also reminded me of Zoya Akhtar’s debut movie – Luck by Chance – starring Farhan Akhtar and Konkana Sen Sharma. this film also talked about the series of choices and co-incidences that seem to make or break careers in Bollywood.

Although the premise might appear well-known, the book explores this world with detailing and tells the story of its characters with twists and turns that keep the book interesting. You let your imagination wander with the authors and think about what-ifs. As usual, we wouldn’t want to put too many spoilers out there, but we’d love to share some parts of the book that we liked.

Being a book about Bollywood, it is, of course, full of gems about following your dreams and the difficulties involved in that:

How naïve he had been, imagining that lives and dreams came with a price tag?
— — — — — —
Her dreams had been shattered and never came true, but at least she had been spared the disillusionment of having those dreams come true and then realising how little happiness they gave her, how much they took away and how little the payoff was in the end. At least, she had never known the loneliness of fighting alone and then the pain of having no one to celebrate her victory with.
— — — — — —
Where were all those things that they had forgotten to dream about? All those were lost and without them even the dreams had lost their lustre.
— — — — — —
Dreams and nightmares stem from the same place, and one had the propensity to turn into the other in a flash, that too, without a warning.

Since the book is set-in modern Mumbai, it doesn’t mince words and there are a lot of opinions about the harsh realities of the modern world and relationships that a lot of readers will identify with.

What has love got to do with marriage? A marriage without love has a much better chance of succeeding than marriages that are based on love, since love leads to expectations and expectations…

There are also some neat comparisons and use of metaphors to show how the passage of time takes the shine of things and turns tables.

Chandni had dumped Amit when she was the flavour of the day and he, a flop actor. She was the beauty, she had the world at her feet, he was at her feet.
Forty years later: the flavour of the day has gone stale. The beauty has faded, and the feet have done all the walking they had to. In fact, Amit is the new catch.

But amidst all this, it is a book about love and how if you really, truly, passionately love – whether it is a person or your craft – all your choices are directed towards the reality that is perfect for you. The mind does play the game and you ponder about a lot of what-ifs. The authors have captured a variety of these sentiments in many ways throughout the book, while also highlighting the importance of love and loss.

Life is an illusion. Sometimes, its not what we think we are, and what we really are, we don’t seem to know.
— — — — — —
There are times when you lose the person you immensely love…but that person always remains alive in your heart and mind.
— — — — — —
Life is too short to be angry with people who have ever made you laugh or even smile.

Near the end of the book, Amit and Sasha discuss the theories of parallel lives (very briefly ) and give us something to think about:

A memory is supposed to be something you’ve lived through, this is another one of those odd tricks his mind seems to play on him every now and then – throwing up random images and ‘what if’ scenarios’.
— — — — — —
A miracle, they said, no, a combination of choices. That’s what life was, you make a choice and it affects everything else. The minute you choose one option over another, your parallel life begins…one can have multiple parallel lives…that’s the logical explanation for recurring dreams and déjà vu..

Summary:

All in all, it is entertaining, good ‘value-for-money’ book, that will also give you some vistas to think about and let your imagination wander. You can ponder about big questions pertaining to life and choices, while not feeling heavily philosophical about it…

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