Monday 29 April 2024

Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing - Matthew Perry


‘God, you can do whatever you want to me. Just please make me famous’       

- Matthew Perry before he got ‘Friends’

Frankly, I was never a big fan of the cult TV comedy series ‘Friends’ when it was first aired in the late 90s (It ran for 10 years, 1994 – 2004). But much later one day while scrolling through the channel Comedy Central on television, I happened to see a few episodes during the endless re-runs and was suddenly hooked on to it. And after watching umpteen re-runs and many more reels on Instagram,I would still be up for another watch. All the characters are unforgettable but Monica and Chandler (Matthew Perry) would always hold a special place in my heart. Not only because of their individual characteristics (funny guy Chandler and control freak Monica) but also because of the beautiful relationship they shared and how they always supported each other despite all their shortcomings. Hence, it was heartbreaking when I read that Matthew Perry  was struggling with alcohol and drug addiction during and after ‘Friends’. Somehow, if you watch the series, you can never make out that the main funny guy has a serious addiction problem. In fact, for the episode in which he and Monica get married, Matthew Perry came from the rehabilitation centre to the shoot. This and many more of his struggles on and off the set are revealed in his frank ,revealing and disturbing autobiography – Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing (Hachette, 2022) which had been on my TBR for some time. No marks for guessing what the Big Terrible Thing is.

Born in Canada to a University pageant Queen and an American band singer, Matthew Perry always had the right genes to make it big in show business. Unfortunately, his parents’ marriage soon fell apart and his father returned to California, America leaving Matthew and his mother in Ottawa, Canada. Though his father always kept in touch with him, and both his parents re-married , Matthew had a lonely childhood and  always felt abandoned and a craving for attention, as his mother had a hectic work schedule. Finally, at the age of 15, Matthew decided to move to America with his father, and first tried his luck as a tennis player! He had been doing well in Canada but found the standards much higher in America. His father had moved on to working in Hollywood and Matthew also started doing the rounds of studios. He always had the ability to make people laugh and was also acting in school plays. How he landed the role of Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’ is one of the more interesting parts of the book. One of his actor friends was finalized for the role first (‘My heart sank, because I knew I was Chandler’) and Matthew was also contracted to do a sci-fi comedy. However, the stars so conspired that eventually he got selected for the role of Chandler Bing and there was no looking back. It soon became a world-wide phenomenon with the lead actors going on to earning 1 million per episode. Unfortunately by the time he started with ‘Friends’ in 1994,  he had got addicted to alcohol. Then sometime in 1996 while shooting for a film, he met with a Jet ski accident and was given opioid pills. A year and a half later he was taking fifty-five of those pills everyday! This followed with a repetitive tale of struggles to give up the addictions in a rehabilitation center, recovering in some cases and then again relapsing. The fame he had craved for so much came with a very heavy price. Regarding his physical appearance while shooting for ‘Friends’ he writes –‘ When I’m carrying weight, it’s alcohol; When I’m skinny, it’s pills. When I have a goatee, it’s a lots of pills.’ Though he writes how his fellow actors on friends supported him through his addiction, I felt he should have devoted more pages to the days on ‘Friends’ and shared some more behind the stage stories. ‘Friends’ fans are likely to feel a bit disappointed.

There are also encounters with many girlfriends including Julia Roberts and how he always messed up the relationship as soon as it was close to maturing. Eventually towards the end of the book, he says that he has been ‘clean’ for the last 2 / 3 years and was focused on helping others with fighting addiction

The book came out in 2022 and passed away in 2023 (He was only 54). Autopsy after his death revealed that he had overdosed on ketamine, a short-acting anesthetic. He may or may not have relapsed but it brought an end to a chequered life marked by professional highs and personal lows and a constant struggle with addiction.

- Amir Bashir

Wednesday 27 March 2024

Sakina's Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag

 'I  find getting killed preferable'

Vivek Shanbhag is a Kannada author and playwright became whose first book to be translated into English – 'Gachar Ghochar’, published in 2016 received a lot of critical acclaim and made him a household name in the world of Indian English fiction writing. It won numerous awards, was translated into many other languages world-wide and hence his next work was eagerly awaited. Sakina’s Kiss (Penguin Random House, 2023) is his new book (translated by Srinath Perur, who had  also translated Gachar Ghochar) and it does not disappoint though it is much lengthier (180 pages) than Gachar Ghochar (115 pages). I mentioned the length because brevity is Vivek’s strength and that made his first book so powerful.

A typical middle-class couple’s (Venkat and Viji) college going daughter, Rekha, goes to visit her ancestral village. Meanwhile, a couple of students from her college pay a visit to the couple enquiring about her. On further enquiry it is revealed that although the daughter left for home from the village, she then went incommunicado. The couple rush to the village where the ancestral home and the land is being looked after by Venkat’s uncle Antanna. A journalist in the village may or may not know about Rekha’s whereabouts. The visit brings back memories to Venkat of growing up in the village along with his extended family and he is forced to confront the unpleasant secrets buried there. The fragile inter and intra family relationships and complexities are gradually revealed though not explicitly (as I think is Vivek’s signature style). A lot is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to take the cues and interpret in his /her own way. There are multiple open possibilities and the dice can roll any which way.

Unlike Gachar Gochar, on occasions I did find the narrative meandering but not for long. Apart from the gaze on the frailties of human relations, this book also makes a telling commentary on several other issues plaguing the country including the state of journalism and students’ politics.

If you liked Gachar Gochar, you should go for this one as well. If you have not read either then my suggestion would be to embark on the journey asap.

- Amir Bashir

Saturday 2 March 2024

City on Fire - A Boyhood in Aligarh by Zayed Masroor Khan


‘I will never have the courage to completely abandon my home , Aligarh- a beautiful curse’


I assume for many people, especially from urban areas, reading Zeyad Masroor Khan’s poignant coming of age memoir, City on Fire (Harper Collins, 2023) would be like entering a parallel universe where you never know when your neighborhood will turn on you or your family and a riot can break out at the drop of a hat. Having experienced this from close quarters once, I can assure you that it can be a horrible experience.  For others who have grown up in similar and small communally sensitive towns like Meerut or Moradabad will be able to identify more with his story which is based in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh.

Aligarh is normally in the news because of AMU (Aligarh Muslim University) or due to the recent news of request for its name change to ‘Hari’garh from ‘Ali’garh by a section of the right-wing. Only a few kilometers away from the University, are located densely populated colonies with crisscrossing narrow roads (‘How can a lane be this narrow?’) which have often been ravaged by deadly riots in the past and are sharply divided on communal lines namely Hindu areas and Muslim areas. The author grew up in one such colony (Uber Kot) in his ancestral home (Farsh Manzil) in a joint family. The author tracks his journey from growing up in this Muslim ghetto to going to school and university, first in Aligarh and then in Delhi to working in Delhi and finally being back to Aligarh to focus on his writing. It is quite interesting to realize that even though there’s always an underlying animosity between the two neighborhoods, they also cannot do without each other because of the commercial inter-dependence on each other. At another level it is frightening to imagine that the person whom you’ve know for a long time and been talking normally all this time might just take your life the next moment! The author also interweaves in this journey, the personal happening in his life as the joint family grew and the tensions it created within. I think he has nicely balanced this internal personal narrative along with the external.

While in Delhi he realizes that the hatred and animosity he thought he had left behind in Aligarh had followed him to the big city as he is forced to abandon his home in Delhi during the peak of the anti-CAA protest which lead to riots in parts of the capital city. As they say the more you try to run from something, the more you may be nearing it.

However, the author ends on a reconciliatory and hopeful note in spite of what we have witnessed in the last decade, which I guess is a testament to  his love for his ‘home’.

-  Amir Bashir

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Dream Machine by Laurent Daudet and Appupen

                                             Dream Machine

Perhaps one of the most disruptive events in the recent times has been the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022. The world has since been embroiled in analyzing the dangers and benefits of Artificial Intelligence (AI) with several doomsday scenarios already floating around.

So, what exactly does the rise of AI mean for us and the world? How can it be harnessed for the good of mankind and the not-so good uses it can be put to? Dream Machine (Westland Books, 2024), a new graphic novel by the graphic artist Appupen (Moonward, Legends of Halahala) and Laurent Daudet (Physics professor and CEO of an AI start-up) attempts to answer some of the questions surrounding the break-through technology.

Hugo runs a Paris based AI startup called KLAI with whom a large technology company called REAL wants to sign an exclusive deal to utilize KLAI’s technology for their upcoming AI products. Hugo and his team are obviously excited as this offer promises to carry them to the big league (and maybe a bigger flat for Hugo and his partner Anna). REAL is pressurizing Hugo not to overthink and get aboard quickly (‘because there is not enough time to think or wait for proof. It is the opportunity that we must seize’).

However, discussions with his fellow scientists, friends (including a graphic artist who could be Appupen himself) and an international watchdog group working for ethical AI raises doubts in Hogo’s mind regarding the actual intentions and aim of REAL. They could be working towards a technology which can imperil democracies and freedom around the world  amongst other things. He is now in a dilemma as to whether he should go ahead with the deal or not? What would be the best way to use AI? What are some of the ethical issues at the heart of the debate?

The novel is text heavy as it includes a brief description on how AI and its components work. This could prove to be a bit dense for some people and I feel they could have edited some of these details out. Appupen’s graphic work, with its intricate linework, is wonderful as usual. A little abstract but completely in sync with the story and helps to helps to clarify the concepts touched upon. At 156 pages, the graphic is not a quick read and you need to spend time with it to get the best out of it. Even though the story is based in Europe, it touches upon a lot of issues we in India have been facing over the last decade and I am sure a lot of you will be able to identify with the concerns raised.

Recommended if you are interested in AI and it's potential or a fan of Appupen's art.

- Amir Bashir

Wednesday 17 August 2022

Tears of the Begums - Book Review

Tears of the Begums - Stories of Survivors of the Uprising of 1857 


On the 11th of May, when the mob from Meerut entered daily, nobody would have thought it to be the end of the Mughal Empire. The fire of passion spread across North India, and with it, the stature of the Mughal Crown burned to ashes. Many writers have written about the events of Ghadar, but few writers have presented first-hand accounts of the whole event. Khwaja Hasan Nizami has written 12 books on the Ghadar of 1857. In these books, he has given a detailed account of how the events unfolded during and after the Ghadar. In his book, Begumaat ke Ansoo, translated as Tears of the Begums by Rana Safvi, he interviews various Mughal Princes and Princess who narrate the tales of their suffering.

Even though the title suggests that the book might focus solely on the royal womenfolk, there are a handful of first-hand narratives of many princes as well. Nonetheless, no matter who narrates their sufferings, the reader cannot help but feel sorry for them. One theme that is heavily present is that of 'helplessness'. In a matter of hours, everything was taken away from them. The ones who ruled the entire nation at one point were now beaten, abused, left to beg. The subjects of the Mughal court, in a matter of hours, changed their loyalties and turned their backs onto the royal blood. The book is a magnificent, heart-wrenching and moving collection which depicts the repercussions of the Ghadar and the cruel  vengeance that was meted out towards the people who had nothing to do with it. 

Rana Safvi's translation, Tears of the Begums (published by Hachette India), beautifully captures the essence of their plights and mishaps. She has retained a few original words that helps the reader to connect better. Her book is an attempt for the non-Urdu readers to reconnect with the past and understand how history has largely forgotten the members of the Mughal family.

-Sudipta Agarwal

Phd Scholar, Department of English
New Delhi

You can order the book here -

Thursday 23 June 2022

Hope On - Book Review by Nandita Basu

 Hope on is a pleasant collection of short stories in full colour, where writers and illustrators from different backgrounds have collaborated.  Short story collection, narrated in the comic form is not very common in the Indian space of comic writing. Hope on plugs itself in that space, and it is a rather pleasant exploration of very personal experiences and stories.

Because of the varied backgrounds of the illustrators and writers, each story has a distinct narrative and art style.


Short stories can be hard to deliver and especially in the graphic narrative form. The stories in Hope on manage to put across both the emotion and graphic content smoothly. The stories are an easy read, each story has a different art style. However the difference in consistency  with the art styles might bother some readers.

 But that also helps the book draw up it’s own flavour.  Almost like a bouquet of flowers. So it can come across as a bit of a mash up with the art styles but as you read on you will start enjoying it.

This book is a quick refreshing read. Often with lighter reads there is always the danger of losing out on the emotive content. Hope hits the bulls eye there. Even if the stories are short and breezy, make no mistake it is loaded with a lot of emotions that make you feel, think some cases smile. And the best part is like the name of the book suggests the stories all of a ray of hope shining through.

 Each story feels like you are sitting over a nice cup of coffee and having a conversation with both the writer and the illustrator. It does provide that sense of intimacy with the reader.

 Any good book is always about how it connects with a reader. And finally it all boils down to that.

- Nandita Basu, graphic artist and author of The Piano

Shop for the book here -

Wednesday 8 December 2021

                                      Q&A with graphic novelist Nandita Basu

Rain Must Fall  is author Nandita Basu's second graphic novel ( The Piano being the first). It is a tender coming of age story of a teenager and her friendship with a ghost and how they both help each other to resolve personal contentious issues. A wonderful story, which will appeal to all teenagers as well as adults.

Here's a brief Q&A with Nandita, conducted over mail.

Q1. So let’s start from the beginning. When did you realise you wanted to be a graphic novelist? Are you a professional visual artist or self-trained?

Well I was in my twenties when I was introduced to Franco-Dutch graphic novels by a friend and that world drew me in completely. I was into writing but this introduction changed my expression. As far as being an artist goes, I am not trained. I used to draw comic panels and illustrations to entertain a very dear friend of mine who was terminally ill. Writing stories and drawing was a way to brighten up her day.

Q2. What in your opinion is more important in a graphic novel – the visuals or the story?

It’s actually a very delicate balance. Words and visuals are constantly in conversation with each other, and if any one of them become dominant, it could just end up sounding like an argument. I suppose it is much like brewing a good cup of tea.

Q3. Since you also play the piano, was your first graphic novel (The Piano) partly autobiographical?

No, it’s not autobiographical. But having said that, I think every writer ends up expressing some part of their life sub-consciously in a book. Of course the piano, Marcus Aurelius is a real piano that I own and I do relate to it as more than an inanimate object . But I have never had to lose it thankfully. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Q4. Now about your latest (2nd) work- Rain Must Fall. How did this come about?

Honestly, I don’t plan books. They just happen. So in this case. Rain just fell. It took me about four months to finish it. This was right in the middle of the pandemic. But I must add, it was not because I had a lot of time on my hands then:) It was quite the contrary. So I have no idea how Rain Must Fall ended up happening. It just did.

Q5. How did the idea of using a ghost (albeit a friendly one) as an important character come to you?

We are all ghosts inside, aren’t we!! The spirit is the finer part in us, ( that’s my belief) and it is beyond boundaries of society . So I felt the friend Rumi had to encounter quite literally had to be out of this world. Besides, When I was about 14, I had a great desire to meet the ghost of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and hang out with him. Of course that never happened. That was also an inspiration for Rain.

Q6. Rumi is rather an unusual name for the teenage protagonist. Any specific idea behind it?

Yes, I love Rumi’s poetry. This poet found eternal truth and in that way his name stands for freedom for me. For me that name represents going beyond the physical form.  I wanted the main character of my book to carry a name that speaks of the same freedom. It also fit the character because  I didn’t want a conventional gender oriented name for the protagonist.

Q7. Do you think confusion regarding gender (as in the case of Rumi) is a common phenomenon nowadays amongst teenagers? If yes, why?

Well, I don’t believe it’s confusion. It’s more about someone confronting their own truth. And it’s a process, the time involved can be different for everyone. The way one approaches it can also be different. These days teenagers are more aware and have a lot more avenues and information which they can access when they identify differently. So that just gives them more space to express and even start understanding their own feelings. That’s the only reason one gets to see/hear about it more.

Q8. I think in India there’s still low acceptance of boys opting for activities traditionally associated with girls ( like the character of Dada in the novel). What do you think?

Absolutely, but if I may add, the Arts as a discipline is not a preferred professional choice for most families, (I don’t think this is restricted to India alone). Add that to a boy and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Q9. Rain Must Fall is a much longer work than The Piano. Was this intentional? And how long did it take to complete it?

Yes, The Piano was meant for a different age group. Another thing I wanted to convey in that book was a sense of time passing without the reader being caught in it. So the briefness was important. Rain Must Fall, is meant for a slightly older audience , also the story has a lot more emotions, the characters needed a little more depth as opposed to the one’s in The Piano. Like I have mentioned earlier I finished it in four months.

Q10. Do you write down the story first and then work on the graphics or both the things go on simultaneously?

It’s integrated. I actually see most of the pages and hear the dialogues in my mind before I write and draw. And once I start drawing/writing it’s all at the same time.

Q11. Both your works have been in monochrome. Why so? Also, would you like to continue in the same vein or add colour in future?

Well, one reason is I feel I have more control when I use black and white. Also, it is more cost effective for the publisher. I do not see my self using a full colour palatte even in the future. It would at best be 3 colours.

Q12. Any major influences? Which is your favourite graphic novel?

Well inspiration maybe. Influence would mean I would have to be insanely talented to integrate certain art styles in my work. I don’t believe I fall in that category. I love the work of Comes (Belgian/Dutch graphic comic artist), I adore the illustrations of Sukumar Ray. I don’t have one particular favourite book, but the one’s that come to mind right now – Stilte (Dutch), Persopolis, Maus.

Q13. How do you think you have evolved from your first graphic novel to this one?

Well, I always seem to have a problem knitting the middle part of a story, I think I am getting a little better with that. But maybe the reader will know better.

Q14. What is your next project?

Like I said before, books happen to me. So when the next story decides to appear I will start engaging with it. Right now there are just glimpses of it, so there is not much to say there.

You can buy the book here -

                                  Literary gifts for all -