As an Indian historical fiction, Once Upon A Curfew takes us back to the age of classic Bollywood films, references to which are made frequently in almost every chapter. Fans of Rajesh Khanna and Bollywood songs from the 70s would definitely be engaged while reading this novel.
It is the story of two sisters, Indu and Amita whose lives are embroiled in the patriarchal ways of society. When they inherit their grandmother’s house, Indu finally gets the opportunity to pave a path of liberty and empowerment for all women, young and old. Her desire to set up a library in this house is met with disbelief as her male relatives are convinced that such property could be put to better use. But Indu is not one to go down without a fight.
Two thirds of this novel had me hooked to the story because it was entertaining, I was shipping a potential couple so hard and Indu’s persistence made the story fast paced. I loved how much the author stresses on the importance of education and how she places the protagonist in context of the political scenario. Indu being raised in a family that is tied to the Congress government and her resolute faith in the female Prime Minister adds a whole other dynamic to the story.
Some elements of the book that deserve due attention are the depiction of the Emergency, the societal outlook on women pursuing education and careers, the Partition, freedom of press and arranged marriages. I think Srishti Chaudhary has done a great job integrating these into the plot. I was glad to read how the concept of arranged marriages is treated and the stance Indu’s family takes on it.
That said, towards the end of the book, the plot execution fails to keep up with the pace of the establishing chapters and I found myself becoming detached from Indu’s story. My only wish is that the last 6-7 chapters had been written in a more immersive manner. There are a couple of time leaps in the book and I didn’t mind them so much, but the way Rana and Indu’s equation changes bothered me a bit.
On the whole, Once Upon A Curfew is definitely worth reading because you get a glimpse into 1970s Delhi and how the socio-political circumstances drove people to make their own destiny.
★ ★ ★.5