Baaz book review: Anuja Chauhan’s novel is a vapour trail that fades into the sky
In the dark, the engine booms, the pungent smell of burnt fuel hangs in the air, and with a screech of its wheels, the metal bird flies into the sky. It’s a surreal experience, watching a fighter jet take off. Luckily, if you haven’t yet witnessed it, a whole genre is devoted to it.
An air force pilot in love with a runaway photographer in times of war -- the theme is predictable but also a charter for commercial success. In that case, Baaz is a victorious mission and the novel, similar to an ad film, has been written to sell. Like love blossoming between an Indian cricket player and a clumsy woman in The Zoya Factor, Anuja Chauhan once again relies on veteran routes to take flight.
Baaz opens in the yellow fields of Haryana with Ishaan putting himself in reckless situations to achieve that heady adrenalin rush. Each stride after the introduction takes the dramatic quotient up a notch, ending in a horrible explosion of absurdity. In between, there are cheesy dialogues, a Chaplinesque depiction of the enemy and even an audacious rescue that involves a helicopter tail poking into a hotel room. It must be pointed out that the story is a rehash of iconic action films (remember Top Gun and James Bond) coupled with silly spectacles. A fair hero of average height with a perfectly sculpted body loves taking unauthorized spins in fighter jets and introduces himself as ‘Ishaan, Ishaan Jaanbaaz’, which sounds about as ridiculous as Tiger Shroff playing Rambo in the film’s Hindi remake.
Yet, Ishaan’s journey from a yokel to IAF officer and his doomed love story is wildly entertaining and as flashy as his overalls. Chauhan’s imagination streams onto Kolkata’s chaotic streets and subtly shifts to East Pakistan’s (modern-day Bangladesh) skies brewing with thunder and missiles and her writing pulsates in Baaz’s dogfights that leave you in breathless anticipation.
Successful stories often incorporate a clash of opposites that creates the necessary tension to make it interesting. Essentially a story of Ishaan and Tehmina, Baaz portrays the conflict between love and dreams. The success of Oscar-winner La La Land and plenty of popular Indian films depends on such plot devices.
This is the case with Baaz too. But this novel does so with some originality – it complicates the villain. It’s often believed the hero and his nemesis can’t survive without each other; Batman and Joker are proof of that. Baaz plays on these antipodes to talk about patriotism - an issue that is especially relevant in an India in which people have been ordered to stand up for the national anthem in cinemas. Tehmina’s unwavering belief that humanity exists beyond national boundaries clashes with Ishaan beliefs. He’s the hero who intends to script his success in the armed forces. He states bluntly that his role is to protect the country from the enemy (of course, that translates to Pakistan) and an ill-fated love story is awaited. But this is also where the grand design to question hyper-nationalism remains rooted in the trench. This reviewer won’t give away the end, but does believe the climax is a disappointment.
If only Chauhan had given us the sort of soul-crushing separation that made La La Land great. What you see now is just the vapour trail that fades into the sky.