Hindi movies are the metaphor for all that ails the subcontinent in this satirical tale from Tharoor (The Great Indian Novel, 1991), all about life in India's own Tinseltown— ``Bollywood,'' Bombay. Cutting and splicing monologues, lengthy synopses of movies, and excerpts from ``Bollywood's'' sharp-clawed Show Biz columnist, the Cheetah, Tharoor relates the rise, fall, and apotheosis of handsome Ashok Banjara—eldest son of a prominent politician, a connection that helps him get his first role. Ashok's rise to megastardom in the Hindi movie industry—which churns out films with simplistic plots and plaintive theme songs to please the rural masses—is swift. The quintessential movie star, Ashok lives as if life were a movie starring him, along with a supporting cast of beautiful women and servile men. He marries a costar but cheats on her; becomes a Member of Parliament—just another starring role, he assumes—but is framed in a tax-evasion scheme and must resign; in disgrace, he accepts the lead in a low-budget movie, then in a terrible accident on the set is mortally injured. Apotheosis is assured as throngs of loyal fans keep vigil outside while he lies dying. As entertaining and diverting as this sashay through glitzy ``Bollywood'' is, characters like Ashok's father and brother, and a fellow actor who always played the villain, offer more serious commentary. For them, the politicians and films are the same: ``We are both involved in pretense, [and] politics is an end in itself, just like the Hindi film,'' the father says to his dying son. Corruption and illusion are rife; politicians behave like movie villains; and shallow movie stars are heroes of the people. Nothing is real. Tharoor is one of those rare writers who felicitously combines gentle satire with an urgent concern for society's ills. Another eloquent—and entertaining—commentary on contemporary India.
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