Book Review: ‘Opening Night’ by Diksha Basu
One day, somebody will write a brilliant book on the perils of breaking into Bollywood. Until that day comes, we’ll have to do with loosely-based-on-real-life dramas from one-time actors who probably realise there’s an easier (and quicker) buck to be made from re-hashing a few attempts, than from actually scoring an acting job in Mumbai. Diksha Basu’s Opening Night, based loosely on Basu’s life, is one such novel, a fictionalised account of an eminently unlikable protagoanist called Naiya Kapur, who like Basu, migrates from the US to Mumbai to try and break into Bollywood. Naiya promptly moves into a flat in Bandra, with two roommates, a pretty sometime-lesbian called Jess and an Italian expat called Dino; starts attending book launches and plays at Prithvi; and schmoozing with fellow strugglers, until she locks eyes with Jay, a drugged-out, failed model-turned-producer, at a book reading. Sparks fly, but naturally, which leads to a cliched tumble into drama, sex and drugs, worthy of an Ekta Kapoor soap.
Basu’s main undoing, however, is not in the predictability of the turn of events, but rather her failure to make Naiya even remotely sympathetic. Naiya is beautiful, yes, as we’re constantly reminded, and that’s about the only reason to like or root for her Basu seems to suggest. For the majority of the 279 pages, Naiya’s needling sense of superiority—she disparages just about everyone and everything including fat people and her best friend’s success—starts to rival with Jay’s needy egotism in the who-you-want-killed-off-faster stakes. Unfortunately, this isn’t a whodunit so while there is a death (yay!), it doesn’t quite come soon enough. Basu’s staccato style of writing, of recording in short bursts every mundane detail—from getting into a taxi to going for a shower to drinking coffee—suggests that she might have simply taken her real-life diary, and changed a few names and places (Zaza’s we suspect is Zenzi), to turn it into fiction. Unlike a diary, however, which if you’re lucky, you can read for free, you’ll have to shell out Rs250 to plug through something far more laborious and infinitely less fun.
Opening Night by Diksha Basu, Harper Collins, Rs250.