Dear Mr Bachchan

Chosen by Farhana

12-year-old Vikram, growing up in the bustling slums of Mumbai, spends his days cutting hair, shining shoes and cleaning houses. At night, however, he rewatches his late father's treasured collection of Amitabh Bachchan films and dreams of becoming an actor. But when Vikram gets to meet the superstar and gets a taste of a different world, Vikram questions his own values and what he is prepared to do for a better life...

Dear Mr Bachchan by Saurav Dutt is an unusual novel, that both is and isn't about the legendary actor. Film fans will enjoy references to hits such as Zanjeer, Deewaar, Sholay, Naseeb, Coolie, Agneepath and more, but these are slipped in in ways that will also interest non film buffs and are used to convey the character- and plot-development in Vikram’s story. And it is indeed Vikram's story that provides the heart of this novel. He is an endearing lead and is supported by a colourful cast of characters, from his hard-working, feisty and no-nonsense sister and mother (‘films can’t live life for you’), to his roguish, dodgy older brother (‘beg, cheat, steal, that’s all we can do’), to the uncle who takes him under his wing, to the big B himself and other film industry types. All of these figures are painted with shades of grey, so that even when various crises strike, it's not always clear with whom we should empathise, who's right and who’s wrong.

Speaking of right and wrong, the novel also raises awareness of slum tourism, classism, ableism, child literacy and the condition of the working classes, especially the plight of struggling farmers in areas such as Uttar Pradesh. This keen interest in social issues is unsurprising given the background of the author. Saurav Dutt is also a political columnist and human rights campaigner, whose previous book, Garden of Bullets: Massacre at Jallianwala Bagh was featured in TIME Magazine and was lauched at the House of Lords.

Above all, Dear Mr Bachchan is an engaging and very readable coming-of-age story about sticking to one’s principles and the power of dreams in the face of adversity, all told through the eyes of a charming and spirited lead character. It is unashamedly part love letter to the work of Amitabh Bachchan, both on and off the screen, but also part tribute to the strength of the human spirit itself, and it will appeal both to film fans and newcomers alike.

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