Book Review: Maximum City

Author: Suketu Mehta
Non-fiction, based on the City of Bombay (Mumbai).

The author does a terrific job of identifying a whole bunch of characters based in Mumbai and explores each one of them in great detail, through a series of anecdotes and very deep personal interactions. The amount of time and research spent in this book is truly fascinating. Its a wonderful expression of the author’s journalistic talents. To give you an idea, here is a gist of the kind of individuals and their psyche that he has tried to explore: Monolisa, the bar dancer;Babbanji, the teenager poet from Bihar; Bal Thackeray (“a cross between Saddam and Pat Buchanan”), the Shiv Sena supremo; Seventhibhai and family, who give up wordly life; Besides there are others from the underworld ranging from small time killers to top Dons (Chotta Shakeel), Ajay Lal, the ACP (cop), Bollywood folks like Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Mahesh Bhatt, Sanjay Dutt etc.

The author has a nice easy style of writing that makes the book easy to read. He certainly has a great sense of humor as is in display in the early part of the book in particular. The sections which talk about the use of the word “bhenchod” (its various flavors and connotations) is truly hilarious. For instance he describes the mood when India when it tested the nuclear bomb with a simple “We have shown the world, bhenchod”.

The only real issue I had about the book was its length. I thought it was a little too long. Personally, I find a 500+ page book a little daunting. I completed most of it on a plane journey. At least for me, on a regular day, its hard to find such uninterrupted time to read such a lengthy piece of work.

If you lived or live in Bombay (Mumbai), have an interest in Indian politics, have wondered about the Bollywood connections with the underworld, or simply care to know more about Mumbai — how it has transformed over the years, its people and its challenges, this book is a “must read”.

There is an interview with the author on NPR which I found very interesting as well.

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