Book review

Zoon by Selina Sen, Book Review

Zoon means Moon, a poet whose poetry and song lives long after her death in 15th century Kashmir. Kashmir is the reason I picked up the book and it’s beauty as described by visitors and locals did not disappoint. I got both the Romantic and real, on the ground version of Kashmir aka paradise on earth. 

Book cover image courtesy Amazon India, it’s a screenshot if you are a stickler about that stuff. :))

Zoon – Selina Sen

Book

Title: Zoon

Author: Selina Sen

Publisher: Tranquebar Publication 

Published: 9 Jan 2017

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Location: Kashmir, Delhi, Mumbai.

Profession of main character: Filmmakers and History Professor

Book  buy link: Amazon India 

Story

Acclaimed Bollywood director Shantanu Rai is eager to begin shooting his magnum opus, Zoon, a film on the 16th century Kashmiri queen, poet and musician, Habba Khatoon. Joya, fresh from film school, joins the production team to work alongside young Kashmiri historian Rashid. 

The filming progresses well; the romantic landscape unfolding in picture-postcard vistas forms an irresistible backdrop for the film—as well as for Joya and Rashid to fall in love. But this is Kashmir at the onset of a crippling insurgency. A shocking incident of terrorism halts the shoot and lives descend into interlocking spirals of loss and betrayal. Ten years on, Joya returns to Kashmir to complete Zoon and reach out to a lost love. She struggles in a strife-torn Valley, marred by curfews and barricades, despair and anger, until she finally discards Bollywood’s rose-tinted lenses in a quest to face the truth. 

Will Zoon the film ever be released? A powerful mingling of real and reel, past and present, played out against the violence and volatility of Kashmir.

My thoughts

Zoon, the word means Moon and is the story of a woman in 15 century Kashmir. Zoon, a regular Kashmiri goes on to become one of the wives of the last Kashmiri King – Yusuf Shah Chak and later an acclaimed poet whose songs are popular and sung even today. 

Zoon’s eventful life which ends in a tragedy is cinema worthy and that’s what Bollywood director Rai, Joya his fresh out of film school assistant – screenwriter and Kashmiri local history professor Rashid set out to work on. A Bollywood period film with big name director and Oscar winning photographer and fresh, young blood of Joya, the screenwriter and local history expert Rashid. 

Will they succeed  in making the move of Zoon, a woman immortalised for her poetry and song she left as her legacy? 

Will the audience see the movie and applaud the people behind it? 

Will the team survive the changing face of Kashmir, the beginning of what it is today? 

As it usually happens the lead characters’ lives draw a parallel with Zoon and the people in her life. Joya, Rashid and Sudhanshu Rai’s passion for Zoon and storytelling is met with a end none of them had imagined. As the film making begins, the lives of the 16th century poet and that of the film makers are meshed and blended in creating a cinematic experience. 

Every movie has a goof reel where the audience or entertainment newsmakers revel in pointing out the discrepancies. There were quite a few goof ups in the book too which always takes away the pleasure from reading. So without waxing poetic here’s what I did and did not enjoy.

Did like

1: Kashmir’s beauty is brought to life with vivid descriptions in the narration. The frames created by the characters both local and visitors shows you a romanticised version, yesteryear beauty of Kashmir and how the locals resent the very romanticising of their scarred landscape. 

2: The relevance or the essence of Zoon’s life reflected in people and situations even after 400 years. 

What I did not like

1: The cowardice of the characters. Their redemption felt like an effort too little too late. 

2: There were loose ends in the story like the film crew up and left as tragedy strikes one of the team members. They just up and leave and never look back. I mean come on it today’s time you claim to love someone yet do nothing to save that person when you can. 

It is the portrayal of a contrast, of Kashmir’s beauty and tragedy which makes the story interesting.Otherwise it’s an indulgent attempt at poetic prose heavily reliant on Kashmir’s beauty. 

Author

Selina Sen’s articles have been published in most of India’s leading dailies. She has also worked as a scriptwriter for a documentary series on art and was Correspondent for a Hong Kong-based publishing group for more than a decade. She has lived in Kashmir for three years and travelled extensively in the Valley, both before the insurgency as a student and during it while researching Zoon. 

Her first book, A Mirror Greens in Spring, was translated into several European languages and the French version shortlisted for the Prix du Premier Roman. She is working on her third novel, set in Kolkata, in and around the lane where her ancestral house still stands. 

Sen lives in New Delhi with her son and a Lhasa Apso who imagines he is a lion.

Reviewed by Bharti

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