Kiran Nagarkar's The Extras is a sequel to his earlier novel Ravan and Eddie and sums up life in Mumbai

The chawls of Mumbai, aunty bars, a band called Cum September Jai Bharat Band, music, dance, plus lashings of Bollywood — Kiran Nagarkar's latest novel The Extras, we learn at the book's Chennai launch, is packed with extraordinary energy, drenched in dark humour and is, ultimately, an affirmation of life. A sequel to Ravan and Eddie published 17 years ago, The Extras picks up the story of the protagonists when they are in their twenties. Their lives, twined together, runs parallel in the first half, while in the second, there is some kind of convergence, culminating in their entry into Bollywood — as the title suggests — in the role of extras.

A unique literary talent, Nagarkar has the distinction of having been published in two languages, Marathi and English. (His first novel Seven Sixes Are Forty Three was a path-breaking Marathi work). Invited to read from his book The Extras, Nagarkar spoke for three minutes about the “new notions of censorship”. “We seem to be losing our sense of humour; cartoons are used for political mileage. We censor ourselves, other people all the time,” he said, adding that “if you think this is only going to affect literature, you are sadly mistaken”. After a brief reading, Nagarkar spoke about the genesis of Ravan and Eddie. “A director asked me to write a screenplay; but I'm grateful he didn't make it into a film; he might've made the humour into something tragic.” Replying to the question about the number of digressions/non-fiction meditations in The Extras (on Mumbai taxis, the Portuguese in India, extras making it big in films, besides popular Rajini jokes), Nagarkar quipped that “fun comes first, as always. I will never make claims to originality. My digressions are very good in one sense — skip it.”

“My relationship with Hindi cinema is difficult,” said Nagarkar, whose book incidentally revolves around the industry. But answering a member of the audience, he said “I realise we cannot even begin to understand the Indian psyche of the 20th Century, if we do not understand Bollywood.” The book, he candidly admitted, is “not just over the top, but imitates the excesses of Bollywood, and in the process, I'm having a ball”. But, he clarified, he is not writing a diatribe. “I'm a storyteller,” he told the audience, “if you're willing to listen to me, I will tell you stories all your life”. The author was in conversation with Mukund Padmanabhan, Senior Associate Editor, The Hindu. S. Muthiah, of the Madras Book Club earlier welcomed the gathering, and Geeta Doctor, art critic and journalist, proposed the vote of thanks.

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Aparna KarthikeyanJune 28, 2012