Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Unreal Aliens


             A Romp with Real people in an Unreal World

  This hilarious political satire is a must read for any Indian ( or India follower) familiar with the loony world of Indian social media, with its seriously weird khichdi-cast of characters that populate the political- social circus of our public life. And Unreal Aliens presents the full parade -- mufflered mustachioed politician at large, a sleepy-head retired PM, verbose cricket commentator making painful puns, actors with unsought opinions,TV anchor stars who bully and outshout panelists and public alike, business savvy yoga gurus...and among others, a prime minister with a penchant for spiffy suits, colourful headgear and careful camera angles. Nobody is spared, many are named, caricatured, made fun of in a goofy, pretty bold, but good-natured manner....and one can't help but guffaw even if one is travelling by train while reading the book as I was. It's an unreal setting with real people -- and luckily no one's complaining -- and so may it remain. We need these laughs to survive tough times.

The book is authored by Karthik Laxman, a co-founder of the popular satirical- spoof website The Unreal Times, that till very recently, devoted itself to the honourable and necessary task of cocking a snook at our more colourful public figures. The website has (sadly) shut down , as of November 30, though one understands that it's Facebook avatar survives. UnReal Aliens is the second book that has emerged from this stable -- as a follow up to their first book Unreal Elections (2014), a satirical send up of the 2014 Indian election that proved a game changer.

This second book has plenty of chuckles -- and a trajectory that reminds me of popular Hindi cinema. It's got a rip - roaring first half, a somewhat muddling middle ( thanks to the author's love for Hollywood films like 'Inception' with its confusing dream within a dream concept) -- and a climax that is made to work despite its absurdity. That laughs continue right up to the climax -- which left me with a startled ( and satisfactory) what the eff feeling....but I am getting ahead.

In short the story is all about the world's first alien 'invasion'. And who do you think gets the honour? No, not good ol' USA which has made a gazillion films that show Americans saving the world from scary aliens .

A small company of aliens land in Modi's India, circa, 2016! And at the start, these guys come in peace -- similar to the American screen hero ET or our Indian Jadoo ( Koi Mil Gaya) , or the recent PK. Led by their commander Qaal-za, these grey- skinned hairy , four-armed Morons from the distant planet Mor are in search of their lost Prince, kidnapped decades ago, suspected to have been deposited ( and lost) in India. There is bonhomie ( covered by the media, but of course), a joint ' Mann ki Baat session to share mushy details about their budding friendship', plenty of talk about future joint ventures ( like 'manufacturing alien spaceships and saucers under the Make in India programme')....all of which dissipates into an uncomfortable standoff, when the aliens reveal their intention of searching for their long lost Prince.

But Modi and co refuse outright to give up any Indian who may or may not be the kidnapped alien prince. Though they do arrange a Lagaan style cricket match, between the inexperienced newbies and the Indian cricket team -- a riotously funny account; and this section alone makes the book worth its modest price. The visitors lose the match ( after some other- worldly shots) and a fair chance to search for their prince. Then the unhappy delegation now get bushwhacked by the waiting forces around them -- the opposition politicians, the TRP hungry media, our opportunistic rogue neighbour Pakistan ever - ready to create trouble for India.

And now the angry aliens really invade India. More Morons arrive , landing quietly in places as far apart as Meghalaya, Tamil Nadu ( at an Amma canteen in Chennai, no less) , Mumbai's TOI office, Lutyen's Delhi...the nation is at war, as zombified Indian citizens and a clueless central government wonder what to do.

It's a crazy rollercoaster ride from here, involving dreams within dreams. There's plenty of action, farce, hilarity, confusion, confrontation and a concocted climax that concludes a zany UnReal story situation, but peopled by real guys like Subramaniam Swamy as the 'Inception' inspired leader of the defence team -- which stars among others, worthies like a sleepy retired PM, a sleep inducing economist cum former PM -- and the mufflerwala CM with his perpetual complaint :' Sab mile huey hai ji.'

The book's varied and merry cast includes a politician mother and her child-like grown up son -- we know who. Of course, the author does not shy away from naming anybody. In any case the caricatured characters are all inhabitants of an UnReal impossible ( yet life like) India -- so any litigation angle is taken care of, I guess.

The book is very visual, reading like screenplay for a satirical film. It's all in good fun -- though Rahul , poor chap does get it more than others.

Ultimately what sticks in memory are the very life like situations and dialogues. -- drawn out as exaggerated subversive caricatures. Sample :

On the Northern outskirts of Islamabad....stood Pakistan's proudest educational institution, the Pakistan Institute of Terrorism Science, more popularly known as 'The PITS' in its military- jihadi circles.

General Raheel Sharif is speaking to the new students : 'Our faculty is truly world class. Seven of our faculty members are Nobel Laureates in terrorism, which means they have made it to the top ten of the US' most wanted list. Hafiz Saeed is a faculty member here. Al Zawahiri teaches every alternate year. Osama Bin Laden was a residential professor at PITS before his um, retirement.'

Beneath the humour real issues are quietly addressed. A teenage girl in a UP village is captured by the aliens but manages to escape, reaches home -- and realises that one of her brothers is threatening to kill her for 'bringing dishonour to our family.' The girl flees -- back to the spaceship and her erstwhile captors.

The ironies of India 2016, have been captured well in a most delightful manner. UnReal Aliens is well worth a read or two.

Some book reviews published in the Sunday Herald

                                              Published on September 14, 2014


                                                       Published on July 12, 2015


                                              Published on May 22, 2016


                                                 Published on November 27, 2016