Devil’s Advocate : The Untold Story – Book Review


A well-written memoir is often the golden key to understanding the mind and idiosyncrasies of a public figure, especially one who has been observable for decades now. Karan Thapar, is one of my favourite interviewers, and for good measure. An ideal interviewer must be able to engage the interviewee enough to elicit a response that contributes to the central idea that the question sought to address. With his soft yet stern questioning, which more often than not is backed by concrete facts, and deeply logical assumptions and theories, Karan has managed to strike the perfect balance that this niche skill requires. The Devil’s Advocateoffers a unique insight into how this balance developed, and interestingly also comments on the development of India’s polity in the effable yet subtle style that is sui generis to Karan.

The book is peppered with anecdotes and incidents from Karan’s life which are so visibly reflected in his approach towards journalism today. For instance, he writes about one of his first bosses at in the television broadcasting field, John Birt, and the basic tenets of interviewing that John taught him, which are evident in his manner to this date. A couple of weeks ago, Karan interviewed Nitin Gadkari, and it is pleasing and yet astonishing to see Karan follow the same pattern of interviewing that he first learnt back in the 1970s.

Gently, Karan also chose to drop in sly comments that reflect on the scenario of India’s politics today. The line (mentioned in context of the timing of when Indian politicians choose to give interviews), “When in trouble, they become invisible” spoke volumes beyond the context he mentioned it in, which in beautiful fashion builds slowly throughout the book and weaves into a broader commentary on the congeniality that underlies the world of journalism, policy, diplomacy and politics that he transverses through.

Another beautiful issue the book brings out is the jovial and almost familial manner in which Indian politicians function, across the spectrum. In more ways than not, these stories are a prophetic warning to the increasingly divisive form of politics that are practised in our country, and perhaps a sounding board to many.

The book, I believe, goes beyond being a narration, and could possibly have been an exercise in self-reflection. He speaks about his equations with popular personalities, and in typical fashion, builds their principled stances, points out their hypocrisy or the non-reflective nature of their actions, and goes on to question them on the same. Albeit the people concerned are proffered no opportunity to reply, that burden in itself, is an unfair one. An average reader unaware of Karan’s profession, notwithstanding the numerous references in the book, will have no trouble believing that the book came from the mind of an inquisitive journalist.

It is always interesting to trace the foundations of a strong poplar to its roots, and the biases of a self-narrative reflection aside, this memoir lives up to its expectations, offers vivid tales that assign new traits to revaluate some of the important personalities in our subcontinent, and makes for a light yet invigorating read.


You can buy the book on Flipkart and Amazon India

Chanakya’s New Manifesto by Pavan K.Verma-A Book Review

The Republic of India was born on 26th January 1950 after Hindustan gained independence on 15th August 1947. These two marvelous events are the important highlights of India’s history, results of a exhaustive meticulously fought revolution. Jump to modern day India. We are in the middle of a transformation, a revolution if you will. Yet, what we are missing is a concise pathway to follow. The struggle for independence, although never backed by a document, always followed a principle. The principle of non violence, ahimsa etc also cumulatively known as Gandhi’s principles. Somehow this book is exactly what we need right now.

Author of Chanakya's New ManifestoThis 247 paged novel is an excellent book by Pavan K. Verma. Before I dive into how the book is and how it deals with India’s needs perfectly, a word about the author. Mr.Verma is an ex-civil servant who took voluntary early retirement from the Indian Foreign Services and now leads an actively involved public life. I believe these credentials are enough for him to provide an accurate commentary on the topics this book covers.

Inspired by the great Vishnu Gupta or more commonly known as Chanakya’s Arthshastra, this book lays down a blueprint of systematic changes India needs to become a superpower. It clearly lays down five key areas which are down in the dumps and are in a desperate need for improvement. Mr.Verma, in a concise and precise way, first details the current situation in that sector, tells us how this problem came about and what its roots are. Thus, after establishing a firm background and working knowledge of the topic to be dealt with, Pavan elaborates on the changes he thinks are needed while backing each one of them with a sound and logical reason(s).

The only flaw which I could even possibly relate to this book is extremely remote i.e. it didn’t debate the cons of the plans laid down in the book. But in the author’s defense  he ends the book by humbly saying that these points are not perfect and should be debated. So, no harm done. This along with a grammatical error or two, the book is perfect.

Chankaya's New Manifesto

As a whole, the book is something India desperately needs right now. We are plagued by inefficient governance, archaic policies, slow judicial mechanisms, a corrupt system and a lax bureaucracy. Although we have an enraged population, anger is not what will change the system. People hate corruption but have no way to fight it. This book presents an idea, an implementable idea. Something for us to follow and do. The X factor lies in the fact that the author himself has been in the very system he is trying to change. As he is already aware of its nooks and cranny, his ideas lay out the battle plan to combat them as well. I don’t say the ideas of this book are perfect as that perception differs from person to person in a free and independent society like ours. All I am saying is that like those fancy self-improvement guides we buy, this book is a nation-improvement book. We have the blueprint, we want the change. All that’s left to do is, ironically, is to do!

Like: Clear, concise, precise, effective, well planned, well thought out, reasonable logic
Dislike: Nothing

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My Cinema or Your’s?

As I was watching Dilwale Duhlaniya Ley Jayenge with a hot steaming cup of coffee, my phone beeped. I picked up my Blackberry and saw that my status update with regard to my love for the movie had irked one of my friends who had sent me a smiley infested message labeling me as a “Chick Flick Fan”. This tag made me think and this is what I came up with.

To me, a movie is something which should involve me into a world which is not mine and keep me there. I do not care whether the critics label it as ridiculous, childish or mature. I do not care whether they were Box office hits or flops. Cinema has its own unique appeal to each and every individual. No one can judge what the film will be like to someone else on our own opinion just due to the simplistic fact that all of our opinions are knowingly or unknowingly biased to a particular genre. A jolly critic will despise of a serious, reality themed films while a journalist will for sure trash out a romantic movie which depicts unreal wooing scenes.

When I tell people that I loved movies like Bheja Fry or Double Dhamaal (termed “nonsensical and non funny” by film critics), I am often ridiculed and shunned. However when I explain to them the emotions I felt by seeing films like Dev.D or Inception, I am immediately alleviated to the status of a classy cultured human who appreciates the so called “true cinema”. This is where I fail to understand the inverse philosophy which is patterned in our society. I believe that a motion picture is a product which conveys numerous stories, emotions and ideas to a vast varied audience. Although it may be possible that a majority may have a common viewpoint but it is for sure that a minority with a contrary opinion will exist.

Nevertheless, it is not common for inspired films to crop up years after a film stole our hearts. Also, films that moved a generation are often made fun of by the next one just because of the story. What we fail to realise is that many movies are often the reflection of a film maker’s view towards the society the film maker is living in. A prime example can be seen in the invariable variations by the Censor Board. The same board which would rate a film as ‘ADULT ONLY’ just because of a mild abusive scene now allows for films having sexual innuendoes and many abuse filled slang scenes as “Universal Adult”.

Another issue I have often observed is the senseless discrimination between viewers on the basis of the language of cinema. Although this division is not as prejudiced as caste or gender based one but let’s say a viewer of English cinema will always look down upon an avid fan of Bollywood masala films. From childhood I have been brought up in a best of both worlds environment and I appreciate a sappy romantic Bollywood movie which has unrealistic events as much as a crisp and fun Hollywood flick which speaks out to a global crowd.

To end up, I just wish to say that a film has a varied audience and each one of the audience is entitled to an opinion. But it is totally unfair to judge and ridicule someone else for their opinion regarding the film. As James Cameroon said, “A film is what I envision them to be, not what the audience envisions.”

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