Book review – The Other Guy by Aakash Mehrotra

Note – Thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy.

In Aakash Mehrotra’s debut novel The Other Guy, Nikhil and Anuj meet and fall in love. How they come out to people who are close to them, and navigate their lives forms the rest of the story.

The book is not set in an engineering college (thank God for that!) but media studies in Delhi and we get a sneak peek into the college life they lead. The Delhi the book evokes, the sights, sounds and smells would be familiar to anyone who has ever lived or spent time there.

Romantic relationships are tricky as it is but the figuring out part is even trickier for people who are not heterosexual. You never know who will reciprocate, who is in the closet or who is interested but can’t reciprocate. This is shown well in the book – the indecision and the risks involved of putting oneself out there. Not telling people and keeping their relationships or sexual identity a secret is familiar in the Indian context where repression is the norm but Article 377 makes it a criminal offence which adds to the tension. The book makes me wonder how many people are forced to live such dual lives to escape an archaic law.

(Edit – Article 377 has been done away with. Though we have a long way to go, one hopes the story would end differently now.)

The writing for the most part felt laborious to me, too many similies and ornamental language made for clunky prose. The difference between love and lust ought to have been evident; I felt it was leaning more towards the latter in most places. The book would have packed a punch if was shorter.

The author perhaps thought he was keeping it real but the cop out ending undermined the basic premise of writing the book, as far as I was concerned. I applaud the author for choosing to write on such a contentious topic but its treatment is conventional which takes away from the book.

One doesn’t have to be gay or have an alternate sexual orientation to understand the core of the book but if you have never loved anyone, you won’t be able to be feel the pulse of the book. Having said that, if you have ever felt out of place or not been accepted for who you are, The Other Guy will resonate with you.

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Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

A total of five people in the hall and it is only a couple of minutes till the film starts. Two more people came and seated themselves.That’s right. I’m going to keep a running tally until the movie starts.

I was sniffling throughout the day but somehow managed to dress myself and get out of the house without any medicines. Common cold has no cure. Damn viruses, the bridge between the living and the nonliving!

We changed three autos and then walked to the cinema hall, booked tickets even though only one counter was functional and reached our seats before time. That is no small achievement for me, especially when my mother tags along with me, who’s infamous for her lateness due to winding up last minutes chores.

Prof. Siras is a shy man, who dedicated his life to teaching a language. He was  thrown out of the university because of his sexual orientation. A man who has served the university all his life is treated with so much disrespect and disdain when only three months remained for his retirement is heartbreaking. He was not  given a chance to explain himself and a chargesheet was filed against him without an enquiry. Why should a section of people not be allowed to live their lives and be discriminated against be ostracised or live in fear of being outed because of their sexual preference as long it is consensual, is beyond my understanding.

Rajkumar Rao plays Deepu, a journalist in the film. He lights up the screen when he’s around and, no he does not always do weepy films as a friend pointed out the other day. The movie shows how journalistic stories should be done. With sensitivity. It is not only about the scoop. These are real people whose stories are being told so you might as well have some compassion or choose another profession. News sensationalism is subtly noted. In a scene Arnab Goswami’s show is running in the background and Siras was asked to sit in front of the camera but the debate rages on without his inputs. He is bewildered by the media circus. A shy, quiet man who loved language and found poetry in the messiness of everyday life thrust into the limelight for all the wrong resons is a sad thing.

Poetry is not in the words but in the silences, the pauses between the words.

Prof. Siras, who writes poetry, says this in response  to Deepu when he says he doesn’t understand poetry.

We have swelled up to nearly a dozen people which is cause for cheer. I suspect a few are here because it is rated ‘A’ though I cannot understand the reason. People have access to everything now thanks to internet. They had given the A certificate to Angry Indian Goddesses as well which was even more bizzare. We are a cosy bunch of people sitting if not near not far also, in the same area. I guess it was because nobody wanted to be too alone. Or so I think.

The film is a commentary on our hypocritical society which allows men to visit prostitutes when they are married but a consensual act between two adults is termed immoral because it is homosexual in nature.

The loneliness of the professor is haunting. Manoj Bajpayee has become Siras. Aligarh surprised me with its tenderness. The long takes made the scenes real; as if you are not watching someone act but seeing a real person which is brilliant because it is based on a true story. It unnerves you. Team Aligarh should take a bow for this wonderful film. Hansal Mehta’s film is real but never melodramatic. It is a film  where the quiet scenes are the most devastating.

Spoiler alert!

While returning home my mother asked why did he kill himself after fighting for his rights? We don’t know if he killed himself or was killed. There was poison in his system but the police refused to conduct an enquiry. His life would never be what he wanted it to be. A life with no respect or dignity. He had thought of going to America to start a new life but later on must have realized the futility of that dream.