What Makes up a Good Novel?

A lot of people ask similar questions to me about writing. Most of them are clueless about where to begin. Some of them are clueless about how to end. And the remaining keep bothering about hitting a writer’s block even before they get to that point. And, while I busy myself with counting pages of my upcoming novel(s), I keep thinking if there were indeed a way to set up a good novel, what would I enlist as the top three things?

Allow me to delve this rather quickly.

A Big Idea

So long as you have a dream that doesn’t let you sleep, you are good to go. Similarly, so long as you have a plot that doesn’t seem to have an end, you are good to go as a writer.

How big should really a big idea be? The easy answer is: If you could figure out countless micro-plots between its beginning and its end, the plot is large enough.

I am of an increasingly believing belief that if the plot is quite simply explained in one line, why spend the rest of the pages of a book to reiterate it. I understand, toward the end, we all talk about feelings that can ultimately be summarized in a single word. For instance, love, togetherness, separation, sorrow, mindfulness, exasperation, devastation, despair, oneness, freedom, et al. Yet, logically speaking, if you don’t have a plot that’s big enough, you don’t need a book. Instead, create an article or a poem and have your readers enjoy it.

A Doable Deadline

Recently, I read an email advertisement that said: “Hurry! This is a deadline sale. It won’t be available tomorrow.” All I wish to say is that if you keep waiting to find time to write, you will never be able to make time to write. In the writing world, the souls don’t rest in peace, I say they rest only after the job is done.

A Sea of Emotions

Consider this: in a sea of emotions, readers wish to ride the waves of the story that flows up and down through the pages of your book. Your words set the sail for them. The gushes of your thoughts sail them through. Your expressions help them take deep dives into the writer’s thoughts. But, despite their sailing in a sea of emotions, the readers get drenched by only those emotions that move them the most.

In summary, a good novel must contain at least the three points we discussed. There could be a lot more than just the three we listed. As we end this conversation, I can only tell you to write for the reader; without them, you are nothing. 😊

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Here’s Monsoon

When the heat burnt souls alive,
When the thirst to quench
Nothing but physical selves
Turned all choices but naïve,
When the harks went unheard-of
And everyone began to strive…

The boon served us with a downpour
That drenched us with happiness
Decorated our windows with
Invaluable pearls of joy unspeakable

And announced its arrival,
Much louder than it announced
The departure of despair and gloom…

Here’s monsoon.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Be that Faith

Through the watery eyes that flow,
In the smoldering hearts that glow,
Be the faith you wish the world to sustain.

Through the darkest of nights,
In the glaring flaws appearing in daylight,
Let go of the fear. Let that belief remain.

Through the burgeoning dream you know,
In the countless hopes you sow,
Let the truth prevail. Falsity, never again.

Through despair have survived but few.
Be the one who comes out anew.
Let not the mind take over; that’s typical brain game.

For those who lament and shriek.
Reserve shoulders for those who are weak.
Let your life become a boon. Not a bane.

Through insanity you cannot be top gun.
Practicing Sang-Froid can make you but one.
Do that which is impossible; be sane.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Flipside

Tears that trickled down
My cheeks, filling me with fear;
Tears that once tore me apart,
Convey my thoughts, too.

Fear, the feeling of which
Scared me to death;
Fear that led me to nothingness,
Wakes me up to new limits, too.

Death, the addressing of people as Late,
Made me think of “for what?”;
Death that once parted my loved ones,
Cracks up avenues for a new life, too.

Cracks, within emotions, that once
Filled me to grief,
Cracks that leaked emotions
Leak my inner sunshine, too.

Grief, which once scarred me,
Only Time will come to heal.
Grief, which I’ve come to see,
Brings me to peace, too.

Time that once was clueless,
Brought me down on my knees
Time, the all mighty, now
Tells my brave tales, too.

Oblivion, the existence of which
Bothered me of endless inexistence;
The search for it again,
Empowers me to pen my dreams, too.

Endlessness that once endorsed
Unwilling, untrue souls around me;
Endlessness that then knew no end,
Authors my tiny successes, too.
©Suyog Ketkar

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Movie in Review: Blank

There is a one-word summary for the movie, which you can very-well guess from its name, but we will choose to delve. In a nutshell, I’d give the movie a handsome 2.5 stars. As always, a detailed review follows…

The movie begins with a promise. The promise that the movie will be:

  • Another movie on terrorism
  • Terrorism is an “organized”, full-fledged business of, well, those who do not have a religion
  • A lot of suspense revolves around the central plot, which isn’t blank (sorry for the pun)
  • There will be a happy ending (this one, I guessed)

Considering this list, at least, the movie delivers on all promises; yes, with a lot of hits and misses, which is what this post is about.

First, let us take a quick look at what I liked:

The story is guessable, except for the ending, the plot is but tried and the actors are good enough for their roles, except for the find of the movie <drumrolls, please>: Karan Kapadia, who is the lead antagonist, sorry, the protagonist (spoiler alert!) of the movie. He is better at acting than many of those who have played roles in a dozen movies. He has rage in his eyes, which gives him the right intensity for the role. That is amazing for a newcomer. I’d like to see more of his work in 2019 and onwards.

Jameel Khan outshines Sunny Deol in the movie, barring one scene where they have their 1:1 for the first time. One dialogue from the Deol and you will know what timing is. It is impeccable. It is pure acting talent versus pure acting talent. And, sort of, a comfort zone for both actors who come out winners. For the rest of the movie, Sunny Deol is slouched and tired. But this has nothing to do with his election campaigns.

Ishita Dutta is all fine until her two sequences that take your breath away. First, her fight sequence with Karan, where even though he gets better of her, she makes her mark as a police officer. Second, toward the climax of the movie. The other actors have played their roles in proportion to the budget of the movie.

Don’t miss Akshay’s cameo after the movie ends. That’s a promotional song that connects threads from the movie. The music is thumping and is generally good.

A special mention for actors who aide Maqsood’s cause but aren’t mentioned on the Internet. We need to enlist the full cast so that such talent gets the limelight it deserves.

Now time for the misses:

The list is long, but I will keep it short. Please don’t go blank. <Sorry, another pun.>

That’s what happens when you first tell that the antagonist has lost his memory. Then, the antagonist makes a fool out of you and of the polygraph test. Then, he surrenders to Maqsood (Jameel Khan is the real antagonist), who in just two magic tablets makes him spit the truth, which isn’t really the truth. But you know it only toward the end of the movie. Are you with me?

Then, the bomb squad chief who is also a doctor, an agent, an expert and can tell the difference between drugs and explosives by merely smelling the stuff. Yet, he isn’t that qualified enough to use the information from X-rays and scans to safely remove the bomb from Karan’s chest? Stay with me, this is important. But, what humbleness and modesty, doctor, for you still aren’t the lead of the movie.

The bomb connects to Karan’s heart. “The heart is the battery of the bomb”, yes you heard it right. If you disconnect, it will go off. If he dies, it will go off. I am not sure, but his heartbeat is shown in a digital screen, which neither breaks nor cracks despite his surviving a road accident and at least three fight sequences. I know exactly what I need as my phone’s screen now — but I digress. Then, in the last scene, you have Karan who quite effortlessly unplugs the bomb from his heart — doctor, you need to learn this from Karan.

Basically, the movie is a lot like A Wednesday in its plot in terms of what it earns for you toward the end, minus its excellence. Amongst the mediocre screenplay, and amidst the actors who have earned accolades with their talent, here is Karan who manages to outshine. But there is still hope. Because SS Dewan (Sunny Deol) will continue to do his duty and Hanif (Karan Kapadia) will continue to do his. Wait, what about Husna (Ishita)? Isn’t she the surprise factor? Does she resume her police duty? I am blank.

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Movie in Review: The Tashkent Files

Here is one movie that couldn’t have had a better time for release. You are talking about a whole generation who has been kept away from the contribution that the second Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri had in making India what it is today. Centrally, the movie revolves around the death of our beloved Prime Minister in 1966, but aside from that one question, there are a lot of others that we delve throughout the movie. For instance, India is the land of Gandhis and Nehrus; “why not Shastriji’s?”

Given the patriotism that underpins the movie, I’d rate it a decent 4.5 out of five stars. Like always, a detailed review follows…

The movie begins with Shweta Basu Prasad, the Makdi fame, playing Ragini Phule, who migrates from Pune to New Delhi in search of making her life in journalism. She is in dire need for a scoop when a mystery caller asks her questions on Indian political leaders. As a reward for her correct answers, he shares a docket with her that contains the information she requires to create a scooping story.

The movie graduates in its proposition organically for both us and for Ragini. She and her scoop gain the required popularity and overnight she becomes a celebrity. A controversy raises over finding the people or political powers behind the death of Shastriji. For this, a committee is set up. She gets added to the committee as a member and, thus, moves the story to its conclusion.

Here’s what I liked:

The movie is an improved version of the 1957 Hollywood classic 12 Angry Men—also adopted into Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (in 1986)—in so much as it is not filmed in only one room. Not for the sake of wordplay, the movie has a lot of “room” with respect to the capability the characters have. You will notice a lot of headshots and close-up portraits that help you grasp the intensity of the actors.

The actors have been carefully chosen and plotted into the movie. Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri, the director, gives everyone enough depth to contribute positively to the movie. The characters they played are metaphors for roles from journalism to the judiciary and from the public to politics. All of them have done a fantastic job. Their acting talent has assisted the lead actor and the director in bringing out their respective best.

I liked the way Ragini’s character is sketched. Her transformation is visible, not just in terms of moving from finding a scoop to finding the truth, but the better person that she becomes toward the end of the movie. We all undergo that transformation with her.

The director has used a lot of real, authentic footage, news headlines, and quotes a few letters, books, articles, and people (Shastriji’s grandson, for instance). This brings some solid authenticity to the movie and to the alleged assassination of Shastriji. A book named The Mitrokhin Archives finds a prominent mention. It plays an integral part in the movie.

The dialogues are a combination of good one-liners and hard-hitting realities. Given the genre of the movie, that’s a must.

I also liked how subtly the music director has changed the background song “Sab chalta hai” to “sach chalta hai” with the progression of the story. The second half of the movie shares some interesting, unknown facts that help form the micro-plots for you to form the complete picture. The ending is also good because it brings another reality of politics to the surface.

I would have liked Vivek Agnihotri to mind these gaps:

For all the while, it is the director, Vivek, who plays the mystery caller. Toward the end, it is Mithun Chakraborty’s character, Shyam Sundar Tripathi, that is shown to be the mystery caller. I’d have liked either Vivek to play that role or would have used Mithun’s voice for the mystery caller.

I really wanted Ragini Phule to handle the manuscript of “The Tashkent Files” more carefully. I mean who carries it out in the open. If V D Bakshi knew that his life was under threat, why did he do so? Also, why would he have written “The Tashkent Files” on the very front cover of the manuscript? It looks fake. Had the manuscript been unnamed, its pages, torn and turned yellow—like it is with a lot of old books—it would have looked authentic.

Vinay Pathak has considerably underplayed his character. I don’t know for what reason.

Here’s my conclusion:

The Tashkent Files conveys the message it was made to convey; it rather conveys the message a little too strongly.

More than the right-wing versus the left-wing politics, the movie is about the dual that we fight every day in our own minds. The movie leaves us with a revelation about ourselves and about the world around us. The movie also leaves us with a lot of questions.

With this effort, Vivek manages to successfully walk the thin tightrope that bridges assumed reality with history and aligns facts with intentions. Even though the movie releases with the General Elections just around the corner, it doesn’t influence people’s votes in any way. We all are empowered enough to connect the dots. I will end this the way Vivek and Mithun end the movie, “welcome to politics.”

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