One on One: Rage Productions’ Dramatic Delicacy

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It was supposed to be a regular Saturday. A late waking up, a very late lunch, tea and sandwiches followed by a really late afternoon snooze at seven in the evening, and a play in Prithvi. I was looking forward to cozying up on those sofas, on exactly the same place I have been sitting for four years now (exceptions would be irritatingly late companions. Yes, I am very Sheldon Cooper-ish about auditorium and movie theatre seats. I have fixed seats in all my regular places. Other seats meet a frown, mutterings, and continuous arse-twitching), and unwinding my favourite way.  We were comfortably early – got to our regular seats, chatted regular nonsense; made regular comments about how ugly and fat and black the people around us were, and made our regular smirks and sniggers when the show started late even though Prithvi tries to headmasterly scare people against it. The lights dimmed.

And all sense of comfort and ‘regular’ evaporated. One on One is not a comfortable experience. It comprises of short plays (mostly monologues) which deal with various aspects of Mumbai, reveling in the minute details, the smaller problems, and bigger dreams. Every single story draws you in, either with dramatic poignancy, slapstick comedy, biting sarcasm, or howl-out-loud humour. You are made to rise and fall, shift and swerve, dive and fly with the energetic rhythm of the play.

I personally enjoy monologues and one-person plays. It is the biggest challenge for the writer and the actor to perform a single story and/or multiple characters with conviction and dramatic prowess. The format reveals the best of writers, and the cream of an actor’s craft. One on One brings, arguably, some of the best young actors of Mumbai’s theatre circles together to display two hours of sheer brilliance.

The collection opens with Rajit Kapoor’s Punjabi monologue of a Chief Minister’s bodyguard who displays canine characteristics after being bitten by the CM. Hilarious and provoking, the sarcasm in the script was pungent. Rajit Kapoor delivers one of his most seamless performances, absolutely comfortable throughout his stage time. After watching him recently in Motley’s Walk in the Woods (a disaster that even the great Naseer Saab could not salvage), this was a relief.  His second performance as the disgruntled passenger who writes to Richard Branson detailing the gastronomical trauma served on a flight brought the house down. People were laughing till their sides hurt, tears and snot emerged, and wardrobe malfunctions took place. Kapoor’s delivery supported by fantastic writing made it a treat absolutely unforgettable. His quality of diction, comic timing, and dialogue delivery is definitely textbook quality. Here’s to you, good sir.

While Neil Bhoopalam and Preetika Chawla’s short was disturbing, it felt incomplete. Chawla gives a much more striking performance with Anand Tiwari, discussing the struggle of small town habits and dreams to survive in big cities. Chawla emerges, finding a much more spacious script which allows her to sprawl and play around with delivery and expression. The star of the piece is definitely the writer – the language is lyrical, with crafted words and crisp editing – performed to the hilt by the two actors.

Tiwari stole the show with his lamp post act – a commentary on politics and city goondom surrounding the naming and inauguration of the sea link. I believe it is Tiwari’s sheer unpretentious Indianness that makes him so endearing. He comes across as someone extremely rooted in his education and values, which brings forth an incredible honesty in his performances. At certain places, his delivery seems very similar to Darshan Jariwala’s, who gives a brilliant solo performance in a different monologue bouquet, ‘Bombay Talkies’.

Zafar Khan Karachiwala, the man who brought tears to my eyes with his performance in ‘Bombay Talkies’ comes back in a whole new avatar of a gaudily-dressed junior artist for Bollywood films. While the piece heavily depended on his histrionics, the writing fails to leave a mark. The climactic punch line fails to draw laughs. Although, I don’t think I will ever forget this line – “Eh doctor, maine tereko itna paisa diya, aur tu apun ke begum ko bolta hai, ‘push kar, push kar’?! Tu pull kar!”

Shernaz Patel and Anuradha Menon (the adorable Lola Kutty) portray completely opposite pieces, both shining independently in theirs. While Patel’s deal with the touching issue of physical intimacy in widowhood, Menon shines light on the hypocrisy of the city’s moneyed socialites. Stars in their own right, their performances remain refreshing and heartwarming. Amit Mistry’s piece was funny but lacked the climax a finale required. Oh sit.

With writing heavyweights like Rahul Da Cunha working on this production, it is no surprise that the quality of writing is such a gem. Actors like Chawla and Tiwari deserve more visibility and this team should come together to create many such theatrical treats. By the end of the show, I was exhausted.

Like the way you want to be exhausted after a satisfyingly brilliant play. Only theatre whores will understand that feeling.

Why ‘Feel Good’ is the Bollywood Mantra

 

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The basic integral embryotic problem with Bollywood is that it always desires to maintain itself as the idealistic Miss Goody-Two Shoes. The films have to be glossy, shiny, and wonderful. The music has to be comfortable. Every hurdle has to be overcome, every obstacle shattered (either through superhuman will power or divine intervention), and everybody has to be divided into happy, laughing (or married) couples at the end of the films. Films have even gone to the extent of showing dogs and cats snuggling together – a testimony of how one couple’s love can encompass the whole universe. It happens only in Bollywood. If me falling in love would make India BFF with Pakistan, annihilate terrorism, and make China our gilli-danda playmates, I would have shrines and ‘jai mata di’ bumper stickers of Eros and Aphrodite in dozens.  But no, that is not how happiness and love works. While a man slides off the ghungat from his newly-wed wife’s head in one room, someone could be beating someone up in another. The realities of life are just too real. Every problem does not always come with a solution that makes the whole world happy. Therefore, films that deal with problems WITHOUT solutions are hilariously termed ‘parallel cinema’. It is ‘intellectual’ to deal with the honest realities of life; for every instance of mindlessness, there is the mainstream razzmatazz.

I am not arguing with the need for escapism. It is extremely essential for entertainment to, well, entertain. But the saturation of mindlessness needs to be broken. Even films that attempt daring storylines fall into the rut by the time the credits close in. Case in point: Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Fukrey.

YJHD talks about a group of four college friends who make an excursion at the crossroads of their lives, only to meet years again to re-think their priorities. A coming-of-age film about life, ambition, family, and friendship. For once, it was refreshing to see the lead man give his ambition more importance and try to do something for himself. Even the dissonance his friendships suffer is very natural. It could have simply been a heart breaking story of a man who chooses his career above everything else, tries to find happiness in it, and suffers the pangs of loneliness. Also, why a hormonal Indian boy cannot find himself a girlfriend in Europe and America is a shocking surprise. Why he has to become a sort of nomadic recluse is a further point of confusion. Why he is averse to ‘love’ and only likes having sex with random women in random streets is equally surprising. AND, if he is averse to ‘love’, why is it that he falls in ‘love’ very conveniently with our heroine and NOBODY ELSE in so many years of travelling the world? So, love HAS to be at home? A sort of overriding prejudice that desi is the best option and whoever marries a firang has treaded the path of Satan? Confusing.

Hormonal boy (rich, successful, travels the world, has a hotshot job), not in love with an Indian girl = BAD. Not Bollywood-hero material.

Hormonal boy (becomes a one-woman man) gives everything up to fall in ‘love’ with Indian girl = GOOD. 100 crore club material.

Why can a rich, successful man who travels the world with a film maker’s job and enjoys the companionship of different partners NOT be a good thing? Why does the ‘right’ description of a hero, even today, has to be that of a married-man-with-a-job-and-dreams-for-two?

And, why does the geeky heroine always bloom into the sizzling girl of his dreams? Is it absolutely not possible for people to fall in love with a woman who wears glasses? Does she have to lose weight, get hair extensions, and wear navel-bearing outfits to find the right man? Do beautiful people ALWAYS HAVE TO couple themselves with beautiful people? And the supporting cast has to settle with the average looking dunces who will not distract us from staring at the beautiful people. And if, by mistake (or casting couch; or a big brother for a producer) the supporting actor is more handsome than the lead, character ‘flaws’ are heightened. He is made a failure with stubble and an alcoholic drawl (he even pulls that off with aplomb. Kudos, Aditya Roy Kapur)

YJHD is a Jab We Met meets Cocktail via Purab aur Paschim. And while it is a fine one-time watch, we must realize that ‘one-time watch’ is not a compliment. Most of the songs are unnecessary, and hardly any stay with you. With the same gimmicks, old jokes, and Manish Malhotra clothes, this film will be soon forgotten.

Aditya Roy Kapur is star material; he just needs to choose the right films to land up in the A-team. Kalki and Kunal are much too talented to be in such films. Deepika should go back to modeling. It is not that she cannot act. I am just tired of waiting for her to play anything but Deepika Padukone.

Ranbir did not need this film in his CV. Especially after a Barfi. You disappoint us.

Fukrey had the promise to become a sadistic cat-and-mouse chase of a film. A sort of dark comedy based in the bylanes of Delhi about four young boys trying to raise enough money to fund their bribes for college admissions and daddy’s surgeries. Throw in a femme fatale of a mafia don, her African henchmen, and a crassy Haryanvi policeman, and you have struck gold. Peppy music, brilliant actors, crisp dialogues, and some delicious moments could have made this memorable film.

But, it has a happy ending. Everything falls into place. Not one problem exists. Even heartbreak is miraculously bandaged. Every failure becomes jackpot-ringing success. The Fukrey do not remain fukrey anymore. What Fukrey hopelessly lacks is anger and frustration. Four jobless loafers have to raise 25 lakh to save themselves from the claws of a reckless Godmother – and not for once is there any urgency. You are never at the edge of your seat. Not once, are you forced to worry about whether they will be able to raise the money or not. ‘Or not’ does not exist. It is a Bollywood mainstream film. The crazy iron-pumping Godmother will not chop their balls or shoot through their arse. We are allowed to comfortably assume that they will raise the money eventually.

The ‘eventually’ is always a happy ending.

Pulkit Samrat and Varun Sharma should take a bow. They might just be the future hotshots of the industry if they choose their films responsibly. Manjot Singh is finding it tough to play anything but a sardarji. Ali Fazal is much more talented than what we see in the film. Take it from someone who has seen all his plays. Richa Chadda is an absolute delight. Pankaj Tripathi is a star in his own right.

Eventually, these are two films that had the promise of becoming something much bigger and better than what they turned out to be.

Dual Disasters and a Lyrical Luncheon

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My creative juices remained stunted last week. Nothing flew. There was just no intercourse between the sheets in my head. The lack of stimuli was so frustrating that for the first time, during a torrential monsoon, the true meaning of ‘drought’ dawned on me.

The rains are not helping either. Whatever of a poet I am, I am fueled by fire and sweat – there is nothing romantic in being cat-drenched, shivering, with your car stuck in traffic, water sloshing around you like a pregnant river, and an occasional urchin floating by you on a plastic tub. I do not mind being wet. I also do not mind another wet body clinging to me, wet hands roving around happy places. But, I want to be dry after the hanky panky is done. I do not want to be perpetually damp. I do not want to be soaked every time I want a mere burger. I like the sun, I love the brightness. I love the idea that when I want to escape it, I have the option of an AC. During the rains, the dampness seeps through the walls. It is absolutely disgusting! It is like an air-borne disease, that even when it is not raining, everything feels wet all around you. See, I would love a song-and-dance in the rain on a table top at Panchgani but you know well enough that getting there in this weather would be a trip to Purgatory and back. Sanjay Gandhi National Park, you say? Closer home, you say? B O R I V A L I – The name itself sends a chill down my spine.

For those of you living in Naigaon, Dahanu, and Kharghar – my apologies. You must hate the rains even more than I do. There are only a few things the rains should do for us; for everything else there’s Essel World. This continuity is excruciating.

Thus, shacked up at home, my partner in crime and I settled down for some cinematic risks due to boredom. We tried watching Zindagi 50-50. A Veena Malik-Riya Sen-Arya Babbar-Rajpal Yadav-Random Unknown Ugly Actors starring slice of life drama on how a man’s success depends on how wide his woman will part her legs. The women parted their legs with aplomb (obvious tears and the choicest street cuss words), the men remained as arsehole-y as ever, double entendres flew around, serious social issues like ‘unpaid sex with a prostitute’, ‘owning my own house’, ‘making my own film’ and ‘my wife eloped with another man’ were thoroughly dealt with. The police were mean, the pimps friendly, and the supporting cast adequately ugly. If you still have not realized that the film was absolutely bogus, sample this – a guest appearance by Kiran Janjani.

Janjani who?

Exactly.

The next day I met a dear friend and darling sociopath for lunch. I was out scourging information for my story for the magazine’s July issue and thought that lunch and usual intellectual banter would not hurt. We discussed the regulars – sex, me, love, how awesome I am, his personal battle with necrophilia, my super human brains, literature, my throbbing sex life.

Just kidding. You all will not be privy to our clandestine discussions.

I like dropping into Aroma’s in Powai. It is bloody expensive but the ambience and the food is warmth for the soul. I settled down with a Chicken Salad in Mango-Chilli Salsa dressing and Egyptian Keftas with a generous dollop of hummus and pita bread. And a lovely glass of my love, Cabarnet Sauvignon. My dear friend asked for a mug of hot chocolate which came with a complimentary shrewberry cookie. His happiness knew no bounds.

The salad was light and homely, drenched in that delicious dressing which was creamy sweet with an adequate kick of the chilli. Chicken and mango marry well. The keftas were healthy bites of herbed baked chicken patty with a smooth hummus wrapped in some good pita bread. The wine did all the talking. For dessert, a handsome slice of a luscious chocolate mud cake came over, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It was raining cows and bulls outside, while we chatted heartily, cozily sunk in the warm sofas.

Disaster number two struck the next night. Bored yet again (yes, we bore easy. We oscillate between manic banter and dipping boredom – which needs manic banter to lift our moods – which leads to boredom again. It is a vicious cycle), we reached out and mutually agreed (which means my views were autocratically overridden) to watch Yamla Pagla Deewana 2. Big mistake.

Conning Dad and Younger Son loot people in Banaras. Older Son is Harishchandra-in-shining-armour in London. Throw in a rich man with pretty daughters, a funny goon with a garish wardrobe and feline moll, misunderstandings, misfortunes, missed fortunes, misunderstood fortunes, and drunk orangutans.

And Bobby Deol pretending to be an artist. And thinking that he is too sexy for his shoes.

Yes, yes, we should not have watched it. But we did. The film was abso-fuckin’-hindi gaali deserving-ban worthy-hang worthy-lutely idiotic. These films should be censored. Seriously!

I am still scarred for life. Luckily, Sunday was salvage. I washed all the trauma down with good ol’ SRK-Ash-Madhuri-Ch se Chunibabu starring Devdas. Zen has been restored.

A Very Bengali Evening and Anglo-Indian Stories

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Yes, food will feature in this blog too. No art form can be as pleasurable and conversation-spewing as food. The sheer variety, myths, legends, stories-that-my-mother-shared-with-me, this-is-what-the-nawab-used-to-like, versions, arguments, ours-is-better-than-yours, you-can-use-cilantro-instead-of-that, absolute confusion, and major delight is absent in any other art form in the world. My earliest memories are those of my Mother making crude rice-fish-broth balls and putting them on my lunch plate. She would stuff one of the balls into my mouth and go off for her household chores. She would return after 20 minutes to find me nonchalantly chewing the same ball, its size undiminished. Lunches used to be long and that is the root of my Mother’s impatience. I also remember long telephone conversations she had with friends, discussing Biryani recipes or a grandmother-version of some meat pulao. Saturday nights and Sunday lunches were the highlights of the week with Dad going off for the weekly vegetable shopping on Sunday mornings. I used to hate accompanying him then but it is one of those little pleasures of life I adore now. Vegetable shopping is an extremely scientific procedure – an almost clinical exercise. The vegetable has to be properly squeezed; it should feel appropriately hard/soft, have the right amount of seeds, and makes the right sound when shaken near the ear. I picked up correct-vegetable-spotting tips from back then. These were also pre-hybridization times, hence, cauliflowers were only available during the winter months and summer cabbages were looked down upon with wrinkling noses. Winter meant beetroots and turnips and radishes and carrots and cauliflower stews with coconut milk and deep-fried-spiced-green pea-mixture-filled-flatbread and coriander chutney. Summer meant Mother helplessly flailing her hands when I said I was bored of what she cooked – “I just have potatoes and pumpkins and gourds. Am I going to produce vegetables myself now?!” Those days are gone.

These were also pre-globalization periods. So, noodles and pasta were special – not everyday snacks available in ready-to-eat packets. We are a Chinese-European-south Indian cuisine loving family so, Ajinomoto was stacked alongside garam masala boxes and big containers had fermenting rice-urad dal mixtures sitting in them regularly. Yes, this is before Ajinomoto was harmful and dosa mixtures were sold in pouches. My Mother is an absolute diva in the kitchen, and my Dad and I used to be faithful hungry minions to her. This woman had not cooked a thing before her marriage, and even afterwards she was not allowed to do so, thanks to her mother-in-law (my darling Grandmom, who was a legendary tastemaker. Her mother, my Dad claims, was even better – The Queen mother of culinary offerings). My Mother just watched my Grandmom cook, and that was training enough for her. My Dad is a lucky man. My grounding in taste is just my Mother’s cooking. It is more than enough. We discuss recipes and procedures these days, and even cook together (after she saw me cook alone, and realized I was actually good at it. After she tasted what I cooked, her doubts were put to further ease).

You should never get a Bengali talking about food. I have no idea how far I have digressed. But it was a happy detour.

So, to appease my Bengali-ness, which cries for mustard oil, roshogolla, and black-and-white Soumitro Chatterjee films, I dragged a dear friend of mine to Calcutta Club – a Bengali restaurant in Oshiwara, Mumbai – oft recommended by my other rice-and-fish Bengali friends. It is a simple, cozy place, filled with simple black framed photographs of Bengali icons, with folksy Bengali music playing in the background. You knew, once you entered, that the restaurant did not want to waste time and energy with décor and upholstery. Food was the priority. Very Bengali. I felt at home. It reminded me of Bengali eateries like Bhojohori Manna and Kewpie’s back in Calcutta.

My very eager friend was all about tasting Bengali food. We called for the Bhetki maacher paturi – fillets of fish caked in a mustard mixture and steamed to perfection in a banana leaf wrap – and Aam porar shorbot (the Bengali aam panna, where raw mangoes are roasted and beaten into a pulp with spices. A dollop of this mixture is spooned into a glass of cold water for a very refreshing aperitif). Honestly, I did not want anything to disturb the paturi experience and hence skipped the rice. It was a mustard-y roller coaster ride. The fish was succulent and the mustard had infused the meat with all its delicious pungent goodness. While my friend spluttered with all the mustard, wide-eyed at seeing me relish it, I smiled – Welcome to Bongland!

The luchi (a less crispy Bengali version of the batura) and jhaal murgi (spicy chicken gravy) that came next helped us settle into a wonderful conversation. We talked about our grandparents and the Great Bengali Anglophilia. He told stories of his grandfather fighting the war, how his grandmother was from Calcutta, his absolute glee on finding that a quick potato broth his Mother makes and calls ‘alu jhol’ might just be Bengali…The chicken gravy was extremely kind, not too spicy but had a lovely kick. The luchi were homecoming. That I guess is the biggest compliment – Every Bengali walks into a Bengali restaurant for a piece of home cooking. And if the man is reminded of his Mother, the restaurant will remain garlanded forever.

Next stop – the kaju kishmish pulao and Rui maacher jhaal (Rohu in a traditional Bengali curry) complemented each other excellently. The rice was light and mildly sweet while the curry was fiery, the fish wholesomely tender. It was a long dinner, with a dear friend – the kind of dinner a Saturday night craves for.

Dessert was a quickie in heaven. The roshogollar payesh (cream cheese balls in thickened sweet milk) and kheer pathishapta (condensed milk-and-coconut filling rolled in rice flour pancakes and served in rabdi) were absolute perfection. I could hug the chef and kiss him. I had tears of joy, a stuffed tummy, and felt like a KFC chicken that could not walk. I was a satisfied man. And satisfying a Bengali man is an Olympian challenge. Yes, we skipped the prawns and the other exotic fish because –

I don’t eat fish. Or prawns. Or any other kind of seafood. I make an exception for the Bengali fish fry, the paturi, and potoler dolma (wax gourds stuffed with a spiced fish mash and deep fried).

Yes, let the accusations and abuses begin!

(Photo courtesy: Mr. Kalyan Karmakar. I adore this man’s food blog. Sample his post on another Bengali restaurant in Mumbai here – http://www.finelychopped.net/2011/08/fawlty-towers-aka-bhojohori-manna.html)

No Alcohol. No Testosterone. No Hangover

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Boring comedy films are the worst. When a funny film is not funny, it is an absolute failure – a breakdown of the whole machinery. The single-most, frightening, catastrophe. You lose faith in life. You realize that you suddenly needed a movie to lift your mood and even that failed. A self-doubting bug creeps in. Was it just you? Were you the only one who was bored? Is the dull, boring daily grind finally getting to you? Are you growing old?

Then, reluctantly, you dismiss the film and deem it too unintelligent. You say that you are above such dung. You feel like Baudelaire on bullshit.

You don’t believe yourself.

I went through this exact process when I did not find Hangover 3 funny. This is after finding the last two installments absolute riots and being a sworn fan of Zach Galifianakis and Bradley Cooper. I kept wondering afterwards what on earth was wrong with me. My only source of comfort was the fact that everyone else in the theatre also tramped out, looking as bored and yawned as I was.

Faith in myself: Restored.

Thanks to Alan’s stupidity and underground romance with Chow, the Wolf Pack is dragged across America searching for the moronic Chinese man with Marshall (a gold-owning white Big Daddy of sorts whom Chow robs and dupes twice) holding the gun behind Doug’s head in captivity. The gold rush takes them back to Vegas with ample Alan-Phil bromance, Stu sweat, blondes-and-drugs-and-cars, random abuses, spoofy seriousness – all fizzling down to a yawn-inducing end. The whole movie tries hard to be a coming-of-age for Alan, a sort of road movie meets intervention, after his father passes away. He eventually finds the woman of his dreams, who sucks his lollipop just right (I mean that literally. The scene will make you retch), and they reservoir dog off to his wedding.  The short epilogue is the only ha-ha moment in the film. That, and when Chow sniffs Stu’s arse because they are pretending to be dogs. Yes. So funny.

Nothing in the film is impressive. The actors are much more talented than what they have to offer here. I am so terribly bored that I cannot even criticize it with vengeance. Yawn.

An absolutely unnecessary film. Hangover trilogy – Rest In Peace.

In Conversation with Dan and Dante

After the release and reading of Dan Brown’s Inferno, I caught up with him and his latest muse, Dante Alighieri, in a small café in Florence called Baciare il Culo (please use Google Translate to unearth the secret message Dante had for Dan). It was a romantic Italian afternoon with slim ties, wayfarers, and shiny shoes all around us. Dante looked stoic. Dan looked smitten. I looked just the way I do during an imaginary conversation between two people I have never met (one dead for centuries).

Dante, often referred to as the Father of Italian Language, poet par excellence, and sadistic comedian, led a life of action, conversation, and exile. His resurrection is welcomed.

Dan Brown, crown prince of conspiracy theory pop literature, is in conversation with the man whose work served as the inspiration for his latest novel, Inferno.

(If you have not realized yet, this is an imaginary conversation. Any resemblance is not coincidental – just fake)

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Arnesh: To start, I must say how amazing it is to have the both of you in conversation together. This is an absolute delight.

Dan Brown: I am delighted too.

Dante: Charmed, charmed.

Arnesh: I am here to just mildly moderate the whole chat. I leave the floor open for the both of you to take this ahead. I am sure you can feel free to discuss anything, and your common ground in literature will surely help I guess.

Dante: We do not have a common ground in literature, signor.

Arnesh: Umm, Mr. Brown has written a whole novel inspired by the poetry of the Divine Comedy, Mr. Alighieri.

Dante: Mio amico, I am found under the classic section in bookstores. Signor Brown is a pop culture fad.

Dan Brown: Signor Dante, fad is too strong a word, don’t you think? After all, I have almost become an ‘Introduction for Dummies’ when it comes to secret societies, Renaissance art, and code cracking. I have brought so many parallel theories to the foreground, shaken belief systems, instigated fiery debates…

Dante: (sneering) Just because you made the whole world debate over whether Jesus married a whore or not, got your book banned in countries, increased tourist footfall for the ‘Last Supper’, you do not become a classic. You lack the most important thing – literature.

Dan Brown: Apologies, but my language is extremely embellished!

Dante: Your writing is autocratic. You act like a bossy professor who knows everything about everything and is making it a point to run down everybody else by flooding them with information and footnotes. Why do you describe so much?

Arnesh: Is it not helpful, signor? For people who have not visited the actual premises mentioned in the book? You described Hell extremely vividly yourself.

Dante: I created Hell like you all know it. (He smiles at the evident shock on Dan’s face) Yes signor, the way everybody knows Hell today is after all, my creation. And with a little help from Botticelli. He set my poetry on fire! So, at that point in time, it was important for me to be detailed as I was creating fiction. Today you behold my fiction as fact and treat the tiers of Hell as told by me, as actual truth. That is the best compliment you can pay me. What is funnier is that people refer to the Divine Comedy as ‘proof’ for the descriptions of Hell! I could laugh! Signor Brown, on the other hand, describes existing structures with such unnecessary detail. Why not create intrigue in the minds of the readers to actually go and research on it? Even if you describe every single brick in Florence with words, you have not described enough.

Arnesh: Signor Dante, are you irritated with something? Are there any factual discrepancies in Mr. Brown’s book?

Dan Brown: I beg your pardon? My book does not have any factual discrepancy. It is heavily researched and you can verify every single fact used in it.

Arnesh: That is a fact, Signor Dante.

Dante: I agree. He does have precision with facts. The descriptions are exacting too. The problem lies with the fact that his book is an information overload. There are too many facts. He talks about the Consortium in this book. Was it necessary? If he had created a fictional group, how would it make any difference? We are not talking about the Knights Templar or the Priory now, are we? Also, such lengthy, detailed description of artworks not related to the actual plot is another sag point. Why does the book have to become an art handbook?

Dan Brown: People expect that from me!

Dante: No they don’t. They expect a racy thriller, signor. Give them that. Every time the plot picked up pace, a chapter break, a POV shift, or a lengthy description of Hercules’ well-sculpted penis is the last thing the reader wants to read.

Arnesh: Ok…let us talk about the plot of Mr. Brown’s novel.

Dan Brown: I believe it makes you think.

Dante: I agree. The thought behind the whole novel is inspiring. It is an imminent problem which requires an instant solution. And a part of me also agrees with the solution the antagonist provides (chuckles).

Dan Brown: I am sure a lot of people will find the solution favourable.

Dante: But what I do not understand is, why am I being treated to an art course and population control discourses in a fiction piece? More so, in a thriller?

Dan Brown: It is a holistic approach.

Dante: Signor, this is not a doctor’s meal! I did not ham about Heaven while talking about Hell just to give it a holistic approach. You should have taken a leaf out of my book rather than just using it as a plot key.

Arnesh: That brings us to a very important question. How important was Dante’s Inferno in Dan Brown’s Inferno?

Dan Brown: Very.

Dante: Not at all.

Dan Brown: Excuse me?! The books share the same name! That is how connected they are!

Dante: Your antagonist quotes two lines from my book and fictionalizes the rest in his germ-hunt clue; he shoots a creepy video in an underground cave, which has nothing to do with me. He believes he is a Shade and tries to align his mission with my vision. Nonsense! Firstly, when at the end of it all, his mission was hardly Inferno-like, how do you explain the aligning to my text? Where was the hell fire? Where was the suffering and destruction?

If you created a riddle-poem out of thin air and made your Langdon run around Istanbul with it, how would it make any difference to the plot? If the antagonist thought he was Ivan the Giant instead of a Shade, how would that even matter? My Inferno has no part to play in your Inferno.

Also, instead of playing around with darling Botticelli’s masterpiece, your silly clue could have been on any painting and would still make sense. Also, the riddle-poem could have been hidden in a box of cow poop for all I care. Desecrating my death mask was not necessary. (Stops to breathe heavily)

Dan Brown: I feel helpless…

Arnesh: Mr. Brown, these points are hard to counter.

Dante: This was an unnecessary book. The book has nothing to do with Inferno, the antagonist is hardly evil, everyone is on the same side, and you are disappointed when you realize that it was a good thing that Langdon and party could not –

Arnesh: Too many spoilers, Signor!

Dante: Apologies.

Dan Brown: What did you like about the book then? Nothing at all?

Dante: You did stir up an interest in people to read my book. My publishers must be very happy. And the Church. After all, before Inferno happened, they too were confused about what Hell looked like!