Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Book Review: Zoon by Selina Sen


Book: Zoon

Author: Selina Sen

Pages: 287

Publisher: Westland Books

Read On: Paperback

How Long It Took Me To Read: 2 days

Plot Summary: Acclaimed Bollywood director Shantanu Rai is eager to begin shooting his magnum opus, Zoon, a film on the 16th century Kashmiri queen, poet and musician, Habba Khatoon. Joya, fresh from film school, joins the production team to work alongside young Kashmiri historian Rashid. 

The filming progreses well; the romantic landscape unfolding in picture-postcard vistas forms an irresistible backdrop for the film—as well as for Joya and Rashid to fall in love. But this is Kashmir at the onset of a crippling insurgency. A shocking incident of terrorism halts the shoot, and lives descend into interlocking spirals of loss and betrayal. Ten years on, Joya returns to Kashmir to complete Zoon and reach out to a lost love. She struggles in a strife-torn Valley, marred by curfews and barricades, despair and anger, until she finally discards Bollywood’s rose-tinted lenses in a quest to face the truth. 

Will Zoon the film ever be released? A powerful mingling of real and reel, past and present, played out against the violence and volatility of Kashmir.




General Thoughts: I won't lie, this was first and foremost a cover pick. I was browsing in Kitab Khana and this beautiful and minimal cover caught my eye. I reached for this book and read the little blurb and I was sold. Thankfully, this book lives up to it's pretty cover. This was one of the books I read during my All Bengali Books reading spree in April, where I was only reading books by Bengali writers.

Things I Liked: 

1. I really enjoyed the writing and the story telling style of the writer. I am most certainly going to read her other book, which sounds incredibly interesting to me.

2. Books about Kashmir are important. It is a story, a place in time that needs to be talked about in a balanced and sensible manner. To see how people there deal with living in one of the world's most militarised zones. I find reading about Kashmir interesting but if I am being honest also very difficult and sometimes if not handled well, slightly problematic. This book handled the Kashmir and the Kashmiri voice well in my opinion. It didn't get unnecessarily political and painted a balanced perspective of the valley and it's perilous situation.

3. Film making is something that I find very intriguing in general, I am a movie buff and looking behind the scenes is something I find interesting. How movies are made and what goes into making a movie is always intriguing and this book, the first half is pretty much about a film from it's very genesis. I loved reading about it, especially all the preliminary research that goes into a film and script writing was one of my favourite things to read about. Even the second half and the second film being made and how a decade old film is being salvaged and made into something new made for some fun reading.

4. Joya was a well written, crafted and imagined character. She is serious and ernest and devoted to her first ever gig in the film business. She is sincere and comes across as very real. Especially in the first half of the book I really liked Joya and it felt like you were along for the ride. You were right next to her for her first big meeting with a renowned film maker and you were with her while she went looking for a lost book of poetry.

5. There are a few poems scattered in the book, poems by Zoon herself and some by others. If you enjoy poetry especially of the ghazal persuasion you will enjoy this aspect of this book. The book started with a couplet by Faiz and that was a delightful way to start a book.

6. I am not normally someone who enjoys love stories. In fact, I haven't read a proper love story in ages. So this book, which is a small but significant way is a love story was surprisingly enjoyable. The love was not an annoying and insta-love type situation. The love between Joya and Rashid brewed over time and after they spent a substantial amount of time. This is the kind of love story I can get into. I also loved that Joya and Rashid were quite different from each other and this difference in world view, beliefs and stances on politics was shown very well in the book.

7. The book is split in two parts and is a story of two films. The one being made in 1989 about Zoon and the one that Joya is making in 1999 which is more than just the story of Kashmir's last Queen. Through the means of these two movies and the decade between them, shows us the dramatic upheaval that the valley has through. We meet a lot of the same people in the two halves of this book and through them and some of their heart-breaking stories the author shows us tragedy of Kashmir.

8. The history lesson in this book was enjoyable too. I knew very little about the last King of Kashmir and how he was duped by Akbar and exiled in Bihar and died without ever being back in his homeland. I loved reading about this nearly forgotten chapter of Indian history.

9. There are so many stories and so many snippets of people's lives in this book, both in the first and second half. I really enjoyed seeing so many characters and so many little stories.

10. I really enjoyed the time I spent with this book. It kept me hooked and kept me glued to it's pages. A perfect read to read on a summer afternoon and escape to the valleys of Kashmir.

Things I Didn't Like: 

1. I have to say I enjoyed the first half way more than I did the second. I found the second half of the book is a little lacklustre.

2. While I do buy into the love Joya felt for Rashid and vice versa, I do find it a little hard to stomach that Joya would be still pining away and prickly from a love lost over 10 years ago. I mean, they weren't even together! They knew each other for a year or two but they weren't properly dating and her and to an extent him being unable to move from this 'relationship' was a bit hard to fathom.

3. Joya...can be crazy I kept calling her Zoya in my head. I don't know why her name was spelt this way? J-a-y-a is how all Bengalis spell the name Jaya and Joya is how they pronounce it. For some reason this spelling of the name really irked me! This is all me but it bothered me quite a bit so I had to mention it here.

4. The 'thing' that happens, the bad thing that bring the first film to a stand still is terrible. The thing that happens with Rashid is also horrible. But Joya's reaction, an almost PTSD like symptoms was in my opinion is a bit far fetched and really exaggerated. I am not being insensitive but seriously she falls apart! Nothing terrible happened to her. She got out of Kashmir before things got horrid and yet she acts as though all of the horrors were unleashed on her. Bit much!

5. The ending was also a little abrupt and sudden and a little bit unsatisfying. If you go in expecting a love story and seeing a happy ending or at least some sort of closure, this book won't make you happy. I was alright with not seeing a traditional, neatly tied up ending but I can see a lot people won't like it.

6. There is next to no Rashid in the second half and I would have liked to see a little bit more of his story.

7. There some serious editing mistakes in this book, the name of film maker keeps changing from Sudhansu to Shantanu over and over. Also this book could have been a little shorter and a bit more sharply edited.


Rating: 3.5/5



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