Patchwork of jokes over a skeletal novel

Learning from his experience at the consulate in Chennai, where the officer calls him Blue Submarine and Bald Superman, Balasubramiam2 as his friends call him, wisely changes his name to Bill Balasubramiam. To fill the void in his lonely life, Bala gets a dog he names ‘America’.

But soon, he feels the need for a wife and decides to find one for himself rather than be stuck with his parents’ choice. So Bala gets himself a ‘how to’ book and sets about implementing its suggestions, wooing ladies with naive ingenuity. He sends flowers to Brooke, the hot blonde at the local supermarket store, only to find out that the flowers didn’t reach her after all; the tag on her chest that Bala thinks is her name turns out to be a product ad.

He signs up for a biking event hoping to find the woman meant for him, but Sandra the brunette is already taken. He joins a book reading club only to be surrounded by women on the other side of 40. There are a couple of near misses — or, shall we say ‘near missus’ as Bala would have called them — but misses they remain. Finally, Bala finds his perfect woman in a schoolmate with whom he has not been in touch for a long time.

Bala Takes The Plunge is labelled ‘Fiction/Humour’ by the publishers. The former is really an excuse for the latter. It falls into  the  joke book genre. The plot is very thin but the one-liners and puns come thick and fast, a few of them laugh out loud, most others puerile. In any case, the book suffers from an overdose of jokes.

A few less and who knows, maybe the reader may have actually enjoyed and retained the better ones. A rickety plot makes it inevitable that too much happens at the end, when all too suddenly, the tap of PJs discharges some mush before whistling dry altogether.

It is doubtful if analysing characters in such a book is of any use but the way Bala’s Appa is portrayed is ridiculous. He is supposed to be a civil engineer from the College of Engineering, Guindy, but the poor fellow is made to spout inanities all the time. For example, he says ‘Masterji Seth’s Institute of Technology’ for ‘Massachusetts of Technology’.

A few seconds later he holds forth in jarringly good English to discourage his son from film making, ‘You can ... show everyone how I am designing bridges that will be able to survive any amount of flooding.’ Come on! That’s double jeopardy for both Appa and us!

Bill Bala goes through life philosophically, always guided by the wise words of Rajinikanth. Rajini speaks to us through Bala, ‘Self control is needed. You can’t scream’. As we read Bala Takes The Plunge, we would do well to hear and heed. Melvin Durai can do better. He must.

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