Tuesday, February 18, 2014


 Cover of The Blue Family Tree by Frans Enberg
Back in 2004 when Frans Enberg’s rebellious debut novel To the Anthill was denied the Bressner Prize nomination owing to its ban in Sweden, four of the nine co-nominees withdrew their entries in protest. “Muting one of the most potent voices in recent years” is how novelist Salma Mahmoudieh described the award panel’s decision, before starting a global movement to raise the ban that according to her was merely an act of “shooting the messenger”. In the middle of the ire and fire of controversy while To the Anthill was already on its way to becoming a cult even in Sweden, Enberg’s second book Spinning, a dissection of the Geijer scandal, was published to universal acclaim. There was no stopping the praises that this young writer was bombarded with from across the globe ever since. But then who was to know that these two books were to remain the only works of fiction in the bibliography of this literary genius for a long time to come!

His new book The Blue Family Tree was 7 years in the making, which when you read it, you’d know why. It took another two years before the English translation hit the market. So it’s almost a decade later that you actually get to know first-hand the much awaited successor of the multiple award winning novella Spinning. The new book has nothing in common with his two previous novels, not tone, not time, and certainly not the vision.

The Blue Family Tree is an ambitious work based on the royal bloodline of the Urmakt Empire spanning from Kaushroff to Harl. But before the idea of a history book dampens your spirits, it’s important to know that Enberg’s work isn’t a rerun of all those known facts about the various political moves made by the show runners of this dynasty, but the three dimensional nuances of the lives and chores of a family that ran office to a kingdom for nearly three centuries. His Gequell and Cev Barus are not rulers who merely waged wars against the Romans and the Persians time and again, but are men with trust issues and flatulence, and vulnerable to the many hard and familiar aspects of reality you never associated with their types. Here, Enberg creates a cold-blooded world swarming with fortunetellers, gossip mongers and liars, their imagination occasionally skewing even the actual course of history as you knew up until now. The narrative doesn’t follow the chain of inheritance in chronological order, but goes in and out of an alternative realm created by perceptions, dreams and ideas of the principal characters with its own internal rules, truths and logic. The book primarily dwells in the Cev Barus Period from where everything else is reached for as declining memories or frightful prophesies. Here Battle of Feltau is just a bad dream Queen Armada wakes from, to discover the mutilated torso of her son dangling above her bed dripping blood, and the construction of the Mausoleum of Vaidark is supervised by the elves and friendly ancestral ghosts that talk! The famous platonic love between Emperor Gequell and the illustrious court poet Shimo gives birth to an invisible bastard son who stirs up the Buzlao rebellion that leads to the overthrow of the Gequell reign! Figures not very prominent in history like the hunchbacked Markyi, the malevolent twin of Cev Barus, and the fabled courtesan Vannya Durff play key roles in the novel.

From everything you have read and heard of the book, when you start to fear getting caught up in the miasma of the cobwebby Urmakt family maze, the very first page itself assures you of the safe hands you are in. Here, the voice of the author belongs to a whole new literary curriculum. Unlike To the Anthill or Spinning, the language here is fashioned to adapt and transform through the course of the narration, which is only enhanced by Enberg’s trademark black humor that is omnipresent.

The Blue Family Tree is immensely researched, tightly written with strong and sinister psychological undertones and more often than not is hurtfully funny. Here, fantasy and reality are hard to tell apart as they are enmeshed into each other and told with an honest straight face. (The ghost of Mangatab, the eunuch emperor, second in line and son of Kaushroff the great, is a recurring presence through the entire length of this phantasmagoria as one of the four primary narrators.) With lavish number of trivia and unheard of details about the Urmachts and their unsettling obsession with the pagan traditions strewn all across its 693 pages, it’s difficult to distinguish fact form Enberg’s fiction. It’s not made clear whether Queen Armada’s cataclysmic eating disorder or the customary pre-war masturbation of Grand duke Barkao that’s a fabrication. One will have to wait for the historians to get back on these matters. But Enberg, as two of his previous novels as well as his constant stint with controversy suggest, doesn’t seem like someone who takes much notice of what is expected of him by the rest of us.

The Blue Family Tree is a masterful work beyond doubt and it’s not very difficult to agree with Ralph Sullivan who declared it “one of the top five novels of the century”. The genius of The Blue Family Tree lies in the fact that it never puts your thinking to rest, and you have to pay attention in order to keep up speed. Your are involuntarily made a part of the secrets, the ploys, the mistakes and the failures of the Urmakts that at the end of each day’s reading you lie sweating and panting at another glimpse of the murky underbelly of life you never knew existed. It’s also wise, expansive and often intimidating, and after you flip past the last page of The Blue Family Tree, you’ll certainly feel a few years older. It's like a life lived. A must read for the grown ups! Pick your copy tomorrow...truly a keeper... and start right away!
This book review is a work of fiction. "The Blue Family Tree" does not exist, nor does Frans Enberg, or Urmakt Empire. All details regarding the author and the content of the said book are products of the author's imagination.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

TOP TEN BOLLYWOOD FILMS you must watch before you croak!

(as on 15 Feb 2014)

The sheer number of films made in Bollywood each year alone makes it an extremely difficult task to list down even the best hundred, least to mention the top ten. But you gotta do what you gotta do! So here it is!

10. GOL MAAL . 1979

Director: Hrishikesh Mukherjee
Cast: Amol Palekar, Utpal Dutt, Bindiya Goswami

Considered by many as the best Bollywood comedy of all time, Gol Maal is a classic work that ridicules blind worship of conservative discipline and unstable character of deception, its worth lying in the restrain it holds from trying out hard to make you laugh.

9. BANDIT QUEEN . 1994
Director: Shekhar Kapoor
Cast: Seema Biswas, Nirmal Pandey, Manoj Bajpai

This unflinchingly deep, dark biopic of the dreaded outlaw Phoolan Devi more often than not makes you retch and your skin crawl non-stop at the bold details of the brutality that turned an impoverished low-cast illiterate village girl into a notorious teenage dacoit that a nation feared.


Director: Mansoor Khan
Cast: Aamir Khan, Ayesha Jhulka, Pooja Bedi, Mamik SIngh

One of the smartest from the clique of the so-called ‘Masala’ films that is a trademark of Bollywood land, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar is a sports drama about the series of events surrounding the sporting rivalry between local schools in the hill station of Dehradun.

7. KALYUG . 1982

Director: Shyam Benegal
Cast: Shashi Kapoor, Rekha, Raj Babbar, Anant Nag, Supriya Pathak

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal’s reworking of the Indian Epic- The Mahabharata- into a present day feud between two business families portrays the complexities and conflicts of the characters and key events in the classical text with commendable finesse and modern relevance.

6. SHOLAY . 1975

Director: Ramesh Sippy
Cast: Dharmendra, Amitabh Bachchan, Hema Malini, Amjad Khan

Apart from being one of the highest grosser of all time, Sholay, the action adventure curry western, defines the traditional sensibilities of the genre called Bollywood in a grand scale deliberating on the idea of ‘everything-in-it’- drama, action, comedy, music, dance, cabaret- you say it and it’s there.


Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Manoj Bajpai, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Richa Chadda, Tigmanshu Dhulia

This 5-hour-19-minute long film from uncompromising director Anurag Kashyap is a bloodthirsty revenge battle spanning over two generations of three crime families from rural Bihar played with the same spellbinding unpredictability as the film’s experimental music.

4. PYAASA . 1957

Director: Guru Dutt
Cast: Guru Dutt, Mala Sinha, Waheeda Rehman

This musical parable on the clash between man’s lust for materialistic success and spiritual fulfillment is a masterpiece by one of Indian cinema’s wizards, Guru Dutt. Along with great story telling, this classic presents us with a few  amazing film characters ever made.

3. LAGAAN . 2001

Director: Ashutosh Gowarikar
Cast: Aamir Khan, Gracy Singh, Rachel Shelley, Paul Blackthorne

An elating tale of conflict with colonialism told through the gripping kick of sports, Lagaan is set in a barren village, squashed under the weight of heavy taxes imposed by the British Raj, attempting to learn an unfamiliar game (cricket) to win a wager at cancelling the taxes by beating the British team.


Director: BImal Roy
Cast: Balraj Sahni, Nirupa Roy, Meena Kumari

Bimal Roy’s enduring black and white drama Do Bigha Zameen about a peasant family’s struggle to save the only piece of land they own from the merciless landlord is one of the landmark films in the history of Indian cinema that stands way ahead of its time.

1. MAQBOOL . 2003

Director: Vishal Bahrdwaj
Cast: Irfan Khan, Tabu, Pankaj Kapoor

Bollywood’s ode to the bard, Maqbool is one of the finest adaptations of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth from the celluloid world. Set against the Mumbai underworld, the film boasts of some powerful original moments tweaked into the actual plotline at the liberty of this visionary director.

…and for those of who wish to go down on the next ten…

11. MUGHAL-E-AZAM .1960
12. MOTHER INDIA .1957
13. SATYA .1998
15. CHAK DE! INDIA .2007
16. DIL CHAHTA HAI .2001
17. KAHAANI .2012
18. A WEDNESDAY . 2008
20. SADMA .1983

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