THE MOST important lesson copywriter-turned-novelist Anuja Chauhan learnt from advertising, she says, is to never bore people. Her third book is many things, it’s witty and sparkling, playful and merry, it is like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women run in a blender and served fresh, it is life in pre-liberalised India described sharply but with nostalgic affection; what it is not, even once in its 400-odd pages length, is boring.
Consistency in the romcom genre is the most difficult thing to achieve. Helen Fielding’s follow- up to the two Bridget Jones books was a piteous attempt. With Those Pricey Thakur Girls, Chauhan shows that her earlier successes were no fluke. She is quite simply the funniest writer of contemporary popular fiction. So let’s not pigeonhole her as a writer of romcoms, or worse, as a writer of chick lit. She is a writer of comedy (snort-out-loud comedy) who also happens to be pretty adept at spinning a romance.
Which brings us to the most delectable part of the book, the romance between D for Debjani Thakur and D for Dylan Singh Shekhawat. Debjani’s father believes in the karma of first letters (he has named his five daughters alphabetically, Anjini, Binodini, Chandralekha, Debjani and Eshwari), ergo, Debjani and Dylan stand no chance when their paths cross, they must fall in love. There is a happily-ever-after as is only right, but it is preceded by misunderstandings and misadventures.
Debjani or Dabbu is a newsreader with DD (the first letter karma again) or DeshDarpan, which, with its depressing theme music and ugly logo, is a thinly disguised Doordarshan, the bane of our lives in the ’80s. Dylan is an investigative reporter who cannot stand the state propaganda that DD dishes out. The stage is set for a battle, waged amongst a quirky cast of characters: Dabbu’s pugnacious Chachi who is convinced that her husband is having it on with the cook with a funny name, the Hot Dulari; Chachi’s son, the unfortunate Gulgul who fails at his law exams and aspires for a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger so he can open a ‘jim’; Dabbu’s eldest sister Anji, catty but fiercely protective as only sisters can be; and her other sister Binni, who wants a “hissa” of the family haveli so her husband can consolidate his business. The characters say outrageous things and do outrageous things, but every one of them passes the test of good comedy. They seem to have walked out of real life, only tweaked a little.
As in her last two books The Zoya Factor and Battle For Bittora, Chauhan’s dialogue is zingy and fresh like Liril soap (can’t help the nostalgia flooding in). “You two had some chakkar? She left you, hain?” says a Sardarji to apply balm to Dylan’s love-scorched soul. The pugnacious Chachi laments, “What sad days for the Thakurs of Hailey Road! First girl is Banjjar, second girl is a Khanjjar — she has filed a court case against her own father! Third girl ka toh what-to- say, and fourth girl has been rejected by a Christian!”
The world of 1980s India is built with detail with references to Campa Cola drinks, treks to Mohan Singh Place to get jeans stitched, Maruti 800 cars, Halo Shampoo, Giggles Gift Shop, Apple Macintosh and Pac-man, and the worst song of that decade, O Miss De De Kiss from the movie Love 86. The book does have some regrettable typos as if the publishers couldn’t wait to send it off from the printers, but as Dabbu’s father might say, “What are some typos when Those Pricey Thakur Girls scores an ‘I’ for irresistible.”