Campus novels are almost always young, fun, and fizzy — just like those cola ads in the 1980s. Banaras Talkies lives up to its genre, and you will chuckle your way through it, even though the jokes are mostly cliches on ragging, bunking classes, getting canteen honours, falling in love, lurking around girls’ hostels, etc.
The action takes place at Bhagwandas, a hostel for male law students at Banaras Hindu University. In fact, the real hero of the story is Bhagwandas Hostel, better known as B.D. A graffiti legend is etched on a banyan tree outside the hostel, that reads, “Kripya buddhi jeevi kehkar apmaan na kare. Yahan B.D. Jeevi rehte hain.” Translation: “Please do not insult us by calling us intellectuals. B.D. Jeevis live here.”
Suraj, a hotel resident, talks us through the story and gives us brief sketches of himself, his best mates Anurag and Jaivardhan, and a few more characters who have big or small roles to play. While their idiosyncrasies are interesting, their characters are not fleshed out well enough. But then, this is young and fun, remember? It’s the boisterousness and escapades that keep you entertained, and apart from student life, you get a great flavour of the city of Banaras too.
The only tension points seem to be exams—not the exams themselves, but how to persuade professors to let them sit for them despite falling far short of the mandatory 75 per cent attendance. Oh, and how to procure question papers in advance too, of course! Most of Suraj’s friends appear to be uninterested in actually studying, because they have secure jobs in their daddies law firms to look forward to. Besides, they have fellow hostelite Dubeyji’s magic pill: “They say, if everyone buys the pill from him, our country’s education problems would be solved! It’s called Formula One — the formula of one, which means you read one chapter and write about it in all five questions. Here’s the logic: They can ask any kind of question, but a student can write only what he’s read. So Dubeyji prepares one answer and attempts all five questions in the exam.”
The light is so blinding that you miss the little clues that lead to the main plot: a series of bomb blasts in the city, and how it personally affects some of the residents of B.D. hostel.This is big, but once again, it has been handled so sketchily that you don’t get the full blast (pardon the pun). Equally unforgivable, the lazy stereotype issue is at play once again. This dark episode merely feels like a small blip in a cheerful story.
This book is enjoyable, if only for its jokes. Take a student’s answer to “Write a short note on Amicus Curiae”, for example: “Amicus Curiae was born in France. She was Madam Curie’s cousin. When Madam Curie discovered radium, then her cousin Amicus Curiae was with her. Amicus Curiae was shocked when Madam Curie did not give her name for the discovery of radium…” You get the drift?
By Satya Vyas
pp. 200, Rs.199...