Monday, February 6, 2012

Ravan And Eddie Redux

This appeared in the current issue of Tehelka.

THE EXTRAS Kiran Nagarkar

Like the city in which it is set, Kiran Nagarkar’s The Extras is bursting at the seams, with a crumbling infrastructure. This is a high-spirited follow-up to his 1975 Ravan and Eddie, and features the eponymous duo bobbing and tumbling like corks in the slipstream of Mumbai in the 1960s.

The narrative follows the two, now young men, as they set out to make something of their lives. As before, there are descriptions of lives across communities in the Central Works Department chawl in Mazgaon, segueing into a series of rambunctious episodes in which they encounter policemen, film folk, underworld dons and more.

From working in a speakeasy – a so-called ‘Aunty’s Bar’ --  to playing in wedding bands to driving taxis and ultimately hoping for success as extras in Bollywood, Nagarkar intertwines their lives, even though they begin to interact only in the book’s latter half.  As Eddie’s girlfriend puts it: “You seem to know each other's moves and you play off each other. There's some kind of rivalry and edge, and yet there's respect and you never cross the line”. We learn of Ravan and Eddie’s varying passions for physical fitness, music and acting – all of which will come to their aid towards the end – and the women in their lives. In this manner, the tale moves all over Mumbai and its environs, from Bhendi Bazar to Bandra, from Karjat to Colaba.

As with Ravan and Eddie, the narrative is interspersed with mini-essays on Mumbai life, this time on subjects such as the “brass bandwallahs”, taxi-drivers, Prohibition and a modest proposal to replace the system of education with private coaching classes. For the most part, these are entertaining little  riffs, although in some cases, such as when Nagarkar dwells on the rise of Mumtaz and Rajnikanth, the facts are so well-known that one wonders what the point is. (Perhaps one ought to heed the advice offered at the start of one of these ruminations:  “No extra charge if you jump to the main story a few pages later”.) A little later in The Extras, the narrative is also interspersed by lengthy song lyrics and letters, making it more self-indulgent than necessary.

With trademark irreverence, Nagarkar also takes potshots at established pieties. There’s a Maiboli Sangh, for example, trying to whip up Maharashtrian passions; elsewhere, Ravan muses that national integration can be truly seen on Falkland Road, the city’s red light district, as there were women from all states to be found there.

With its surfeit of highs and lows and occasionally too-convenient succession of entrances and exits, the continuing adventures of Ravan Pawar and Edward Coutinho turn out to be sometimes bawdy, sometimes implausible and almost always engaging.  As with a series of dishes on a long buffet table, it’s enjoyable to make your way through, but can also leave you too sated for comfort.

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