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I judge people by what they find funny. And the thing that people have been finding hilarious lately is Twinkle Khanna’s book, Mrs Funnybones. I am still struggling to understand this.
Famous first for being the daughter of industry stalwarts Dimple Kapadia and Rajesh Khanna, then for her time as a Bollywood actress (Badshaah, Jodi No 1, Love Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega, Joru Ka Ghulam), and then as actor Akshay Kumar’s wife when she quit the movies altogether to make candles or something, Twinkle Khanna recently started a weekly column with a popular newspaper. It picked up and got popular quickly because here was an ex-Bollywood actress, still married to a current star, being able to put a coherent thought into a sometimes amusing sentence. In other words, people generously went, “Wow! She isn’t dumb?!” while simultaneously concluding that she must have a ghost writer because come on, get serious. And while everyone was still trying to figure out what the real story might be, she quietly bagged a book deal.
We’re a hideously judgmental people. Straining at the ring of the circus that is Bollywood, we’re watching our performance monkey-celebrities very closely, and waiting for someone to slip up. The wrong clothes, botched make-up, an errant remark, the rumoured affair, a misspelled tweet… they’re not afforded the luxury of a mistake, and the internet makes it really easy to never let you forget it when you make one. It’s all very unforgiving, and sounds exhausting, but one assumes it’s the price you have to pay for people wanting selfies with you everywhere you go.
While you can still be forgiven for human error, with a book, one expects that you have spent good time over what you want to say, and how you want to say it, with the keen eyes of an editor that has magicked brilliance you didn’t know you had out of it. But I’m not convinced that’s how this book came to be.
The best kind of humour is subtle, and comes at you when you don’t necessarily expect it. But there is no scope for surprises in Mrs Funnybones, starting with its title, which is also what Khanna calls herself. For the next 235 pages, we are told again and again (and again and again) how funny this book is.
In my opinion, the best kind of humour is subtle, and comes at you when you don’t necessarily expect it. But there is no scope for surprises in Mrs Funnybones, starting with its title, which is also what Khanna calls herself. For the next 235 pages, we are told again and again (and again and again) how funny this book is. In her foreword, Khanna talks about how she’s funny, how everyone else is constantly amused by her, and how she got talked into writing this book at all by the editor of DNA After Hrs, for whom she writes “a weekly humurous column”. There is no drop in the world that can match the kind of build-up you get with Mrs Funnybones. Everywhere there is so much telling you that it’s GOING TO GET HILARIOUS, ARE YOU READY? that unless you’ve got some real aces up your sleeve when it comes to final delivery, you’re just setting yourself up for a fall. Plus, I am not a fan of being told how I’m going to feel about something before it’s even happened. “Funny” may have been your brief when the publisher first approached you, but let the reader decide if you nailed it or not? A friend may recommend it highly, a review may tell you not to miss it, the sales and marketing team may get a whole host of famous and/or respected voices telling various target audiences something’s great, but when you do it yourself, it loses credibility. Like people who introduce themselves (in person or on a Twitter bio) with descriptors they really shouldn’t need: if you have to say you’re “a cool gal”, chances are you probably aren’t.
The other really painful thing about this book is its style. On offer are little glimpses into Khanna’s life: “prodigal son”, “man of the house”, “baby” et al; through anecdotes that are in no way connected to each other, even though all the chapters are like diary entries structured around time (7 a.m.: let the maid in, 8 a.m.: Almost slapped my yoga instructor, 6 p.m.: Packed some boxes). There’s also the persistent misuse/overuse of words like “blimey” and “yikes”, but let’s focus on the funnies since that is the whole purpose of this book.
Writing is extremely hard, even for those to whom it seems to come easy. So is having to make people laugh on cue. Writing a whole book is terrifying business on its own, so to my mind, combining the two must make your brain bleed out of your nose. Unless, of course, you don’t have such highfalutin agenda. Even though Khanna shows remarkable restraint by not actually milking her family’s celebrity, and keeping the focus on “relatable things” like house help, managing kids and how her mother is prone to driving her crazy, you know you’re only reading this book because of who she is. Under no other circumstance would you actually laugh at the kind of things in here. For instance, when her mother suggests she place an antique statue in Khanna’s foyer, so it looks less empty, she replies: “Granny is antique too, let’s make her sit on the console whenever guests come by.”
For the even worse jokes that couldn’t be stuffed into actual chapters, she uses another annoying device: each chapter opens with a cover page that attempts to give you a “handwritten” version of painfully unfunny “jokes” that should have been left out of the book entirely. But no such luck.
Should she have written this book at all? Sure. People are always interested in what celebrities are up to, and how their lives compare with our own. But a little less smugness and a few more drafts after honest edits might have elevated Khanna’s debut to something that’s not bestselling in the way that our over-confident but ridiculously average friend Chetan Bhagat is. In its current form, Mrs Funnybones was a struggle for me to read through entirely, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered if it wasn’t on my to-do list at work. My biggest worry right now is that based on popular reaction (which has been shockingly positive) there might be a similar Book Two. Blimey!