Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Stopover: Book Review in Talk (and here)

About a month ago, I got this mail from one Deepa Pinto who wanted me to review a book she had written. It was supposed to be a first in the photo-fiction genre. The Stopover website seemed promising enough. A few days later, she had sent me the book. At first glance, I was quite taken in by it. The photos by Ram Prakash looked nice and I liked how real life photos were used to illustrate fiction pieces. 

The four stories in the book left me unimpressed. The idea is novel but I wish they were written with a little more rigour. Perhaps my standards were too exacting, but I would have liked to see a little more sophistication in the plot, the language. This is more suitable for the ilk that read mostly Chetan Bhagat. But then these kinds have their fans too. While The Stopover is not as terrible as some of the others I have come across, a little more thought into the writing would have made it a better book than it is. 

I wrote a review for Talk here. Or read the original below.

Back in the days, Kannada weekly general interest magazines used to have two pages of colour photographs with little clouds of conversations printed above their heads. Most often, these were awkwardly posed for pictures of women with puffed sleeves and bouffant hair, it was the 80s after all. My grandmother would cut them out and tie them together to make picture books. Those magazines still lie around at home, another of the reminders of those growing up years. Months ago then, old man Mr Murthy’s shop yielded magazines of photo-romance, more 80s fashion, good looking Italian men and pained, fragile women who blushed after every six panels. I imagine they will someday have collector’s value; I hoard them.

Photo fiction as a genre has been lightly flitting about in the folds of magazines for a while now. But with The Stopover, it emerges, claiming an identity for itself. While the photo-romances of yore got characters to pose in a manner of film stills, this book uses photos to illustrate short fiction stories. Ram Prakash, a former advertising and marketing professional takes the pictures while Deepa Pinto, who teaches German at the Goethe Institut writes the stories in the book.

The Stopover, in the manner of new market savvy book releases, comes with its own trailer film. Designed in the manner of a coffee table book, there are four stories here, set in Ladakh, Channapatna, Ooty and Kolathur in Chennai. An advertising professional takes a break and lands in desolate Ladakh, desolate himself over a personal crisis. There he meets the gentle Tibetans and learns of patience, peace and hope. Then there are two brothers who bond over the colourful toys of Channapatna. In the third, the Toda tribe has to find a way to protect its young men from the temptations a girl from the city brings with her. The fourth has a young man, at the brink of his dream life, give it all up to try makes changes in the ornamental fish breeding industry.

When you hold the white book in hand, the white book looks good. The photos, while not extraordinary, are well chosen to illustrate the stories. All four of the stories are designed for the urban reader to be able to relate to, from the choice of the professions of the characters to their cultural references to their manner of speaking. But there is an inconsistency in the narratives that grates most often. In some places the conversation sounds overly formal, jarring against the casual-cool tone elsewhere. Certain tall-sounding words sit awkwardly in places while the overall style follows that of the bestsellers of Chetan Bhagat and such like. But they do pack quite a punch fact-wise, weaving in as many details of the Tibetan issue, the Channapatna toy industry, the culture of the Toda tribe and the ornamental fishes as possible with the fiction stories.

The Stopover is supposedly the first of its kind to be published in the country and has to itself quite an online following. There is a simple-ness to a picture book that harks at days of childhood and the early books you had picked up because they looked good and had colour pictures. Then there were stories you started reading, joining the words, slowly, holding your pointer finger below each word, reading them aloud. The Stopover is both these. The old reader in me would have yearned for the stories to have been better crafted. The words aren’t taxing on the mind, in the manner of metro reads, the plots are linear and characters look like the guy in the cubicle next to you. As a bonus, for the armchair enthusiasts, there are photos you can flip through now and then. These are the sort of books that make the bestsellers lists these days, aren’t they?

The Stopover, by Ram Prakash and Deepa Pinto is published by Krab Media and is priced at Rs 495.

Photo courtesy: Deepa Pinto and Ram Prakash, from stories three and one, respectively.

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