Book Review: ‘Johnny Gone Down’

May 12, 2010 12:04 pm by

If there was ever someone who deserved a T-shirt that read “Been there, done that,” then it’s Nikhil Arya, the hero in Karan Bajaj’s latest book Johnny Gone Down. He survived the Pol Pot regime, the mafia in Brazil, a monastery in Thailand, created a videogame that sounds exactly like Second Life and a Delhi version of Russian roulette. Plus, he studied at MIT, lost an arm, married a supermodel, has a good head for fund management, and is a martial arts expert. He’s also an idiot, considering the number of times he gets into trouble because of his own faulty judgement.

Johnny Gone Down is written like a Bollywood movie: it makes no sense and hurtles from one catastrophe to another without paying any attention to logic, character development or literary flair. Brazil reads far too much like a slum as portrayed in a Ram Gopal Varma movie, while Steven Seagal appears to be the model for the monk who helps Nikhil in Thailand. Nikhil is a curious combination of Forrest Gump and Rajnikanth’s Sivaji: nothing beats him, despite his stupidity. Bajaj tries to give him gravitas by adding an existential crisis to his already overflowing cup of troubles. Unfortunately, this only serves to make Nikhil sound whiny and repetitive. None of the other characters in the book get much love and attention from the author and exist only to propel Nikhil towards the next disaster.

In Bengali kiddie literature, there is a character called Ghana-da. He is a surly know-it-all and between him and his family members, they’ve done it all: from being there when the Inca civilisation collapsed to scaling the highest Himalayan peak. Witty as the stories outlining these escapades are, they seem rather unbelievable. Next to Karan Bajaj’s Nikhil Arya, however, Ghana-da is entirely credible.

Johnny Gone Down, Karan Bajaj, Harper Collins, Rs99.

Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently developing a keen appreciation for lazy brunches and coffee breaks in Bandra while working on her freelance assignments.

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Comments (18)

  1. AC |

    @Shashank Shastri, for what it’s worth, I too am recovering after reading it.

  2. Salman |

    Only thing I liked about the book was portrayal and reflection of protagonist’s emotion….that too was mediocre…You cannot connect to the lead….he’s way too hypothetical….plus KB’s repetitive lines made it even greater…..
    As everyone says, KB has really tried too much in one novel and fell flat on his face…atleast to me he did….Its like a hollywood flick by worst indian director….he was so hurrying towards the world tour with nikhil that he even forgot to tie the loose ends…the subplots were way below average and coincidences that led johnny into different characters even worse….there was no reasonable motive behind lead flying cambodia as he did…even saving Marco just came out of no-where…it felt like writer was just thrusting him into situations lead didn’t want to be in….I would sue KB for using me if I was Nick…win the lawsuit…take the money…and live rest of my one-armed-life on an island. Happy Ending ;p

  3. AD |

    I have a stupid weakness, when I pick up a book, I have to read it to the end. For a page turner its being made out to be. I had a pretty troubling time getting to the last page. Halfway through the book, I was like a movie buff who was sitting through a movie that was trash but did not want to walk out in the interval. Little surprise then, when I found getting through the latter half of the book even more of a task.

    Its just too fantastic for my taste. A couple of guys with IQ good enough to get them into MIT would not know that Indochina was under turmoil? Plausible but sounds unbelievable.

    Everything just happens because it has to happen for the story to progress. The characters are strange too. Marco who is painted as a sinister street thug, converses like Shakespeare. How do you get over such chaste English by a thug? Suffix all his dialogs with “men”. By the way he acts like a big sissy too!

    I think the plot idea was good and I so wanted it to turn out to be a good book (reading its plot summary) but the whole story depends entirely on co-incidences that borders on absurd and illogical.

  4. Mukesh |

    My Short review: if you haven’t read it, trust me and buy it.

    Longer one: I stumbled upon this book, while buying groceries. I had a look, since it was from unknown author, I didn’t spent extra time apart from reading the synopsis. The next time, I saw it in the hands of extremely good looking lady waiting at the airport. The third time, I was getting the information on ‘how to get your book published in India’.

    The final time, it showed up in the list of Indian reads from I just ordered it.

    I haven’t come across a well written thriller attempted ….. please continue reading on my blog by clicking here.

  5. bhupendra |

    it’s an awesome novel. worth reading.

  6. Siddhu |

    Read this novel… To put it honestly, its nothing more than a masala pulp fiction book you get on the road side. The difference is only that its in English.
    The character does nothing thorughout the book but whine, doesn’t stand up to a single challenge, but is just at that place at the right (or wrong?) time. The description of the places mentioned is pathetic. Brazil’s is an image conjured up after watching the City of Gods or some movie. Cambodia and Thailand? huh, no description whatsoever!! Could have replaced them with any place in the world without changing the plot a bit…
    Just a time pass, and definitely not a book worth remembering. For the price, buy a good magazine instead

  7. Anonymous |

    I read the Deekay’s comment and wonder how it was a casual reader’s book. This has got some serious stuff.. how Nikhil struggles through each and every phase in his life.. how things change drastically suddenly.. one may not find this interesting if one believes “living larger than life is bullshit”. But, being a MIT student that he is, all that he did, I thought was credible. And how has this become a bollywood crap.. this is a real joke I have heard in some time.. can you pls tell me which bollywood crap movie is really this deep in character picturization and tells you that hope is one real good thing in life? Lastly, for all the ones who thought this is unbelievable, of course because you are not a MIT student.

  8. Vasudha |

    Ya i agree with the author,it is nothing less of a typical bollywood masala movie with a larger than life portrayal of the protagonist.
    It more feels like a poor rip-off of ‘Shantaram’ but sans the more realistic characters and believable characterization..
    It sure though qualifies for a movie script…

  9. Amandeep |

    It is one of the most pathetically written book.

  10. deekay |

    It all depends on what one is looking…for a casual reader, this is the book to pick up on a weekend or during travel, for the ones with serious tastes…..this is not the book to pick….as far as i am concerned…it was nice to read

  11. Sinash |

    Even i agree with shashank.. it was an awesome book.. wisely crafted and fast paced..
    This book leaves an impact and meke u feel that life can turn u down at any time.. Very engaging stuff and inetreting too.. i loved it..

  12. Aashik Francis |

    He Spiced it up,dint he? The First Half was pretty good…till the Combodian escape . After that , the monk part was similar to a bollywood movie(Awarapan,if i’m not wrong) and then on it was just dragged and dragged . The End was expected. Overall ,could give it a 5.5/10.

  13. Anonymous |

    is it really like that?

  14. M K Girish |

    Very engaging stuff. Somewhat like the superhero ‘Shantaram’, in a nutshell. This crazy guy has been through it all, which makes our normal day to day lives appear pretty watered down, in comparison.
    I wish I could meet a guy like Nikhil, in real life.

  15. I disagree with the above review… Though there was few repetitions and few glithes… but the book is engaging. It is refeshing and the protagonist is painted really well. It was nice read.

  16. Rounak |

    I agree with Shashank..this novel, though disturbing at times is extremely deep and the detail at which the character of Nikhil is developed, the parts where it seems he is going crazy, the self conflict is very compelling. Also, the numerous locations throughout the novel make it even more interesting.

  17. Completely disagree with the review. This is one of the greatest novels I have ever read in my life. I am still recovering from reading it this weekend. The novel hits you deep in the gut and I can never forget the angst ridden, soul-searching protagonist who moves around from place to place, restless, getting caught in the most bizarre of situations which are strangely credible. He is a monk, he is a drug lord, he is a software millionaire, he is a Pol Pot survivor, he is friggin’ crazy.

    I can’t get this book and the cover out of my head.

  18. Manisangsu |

    I agree to this 100%. This is a pathetic book. If cheap masala movies of bollywood was not enough, now we have the same in books as well. What a shame!!