Print and the personalities

EACH ONE read one. That seems to be the magic formula of Bollywood these days. Yes, the same guys drunk on megalomania, often sniping at "intruding" press and suddenly discovering its virtues when the need arises.

With the reel life being what it is with transitory glory, the guys have either hired the hacks or better still, just acquiesced to a proposal from doting publishers with one eye firmly on the market. From Suchitra Sen and Shyam Benegal to Aditya Chopra and Aamir Khan, all have just got a nice biography through. Many of them little more than extended eulogies, others just banal exercises, they have all hit the headlines. And stayed there for sometime this year.

It all began with that literary take on "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge", now having completed 400 weeks of uninterrupted run at Mumbai's Maratha Mandir. The film's success has been put in print by Anupama Chopra with her book "Dilwale Dulhania... — The Making of a Director".

This bestseller relates Aditya Chopra's progress from a gawky youngster who lied to his father, Yash Chopra, about the prospects of "Faasle" to the man in his own right who gave us record-breaking DDLJ. Yes, they took the bride away but gave us this tome that would stay in cinemagoers' memory in the years to come.

Incidentally, Aditya Chopra's book has just followed one on Yash Chopra, that venerable old man who makes romance the flavour of the season, year after year. Rachel Dwyer met him once; decided she had to write on him. However, she found him ``polite, correct, quiet, thoughtful yet totally unromantic.''

After a none-too-enthusing first meeting she almost shelved the project. A visit to his shooting site and the lady had a change of heart. The man was changed too. ``He was a high-spirited, creative filmmaker... altogether a different person,'' she says. The result? "Yash Chopra: Fifty Years in Indian Cinema."

If the Chopras got their `due' this year, many more luminous stars of yesteryear got their moments of posthumous glory too. Thanks to Rupa and Company's fixation with the star world.

Uttam Kumar got a tribute. Many lapped it up. V. Shantaram was applauded too in verse. Nobody complained. He had earned it. Nobody had forgotten "Do Aankhen Barah Haath" and everybody could do by imbibing its prayer "Ae Malik tere bandein hum".

The book, "Shyam Benegal",was launched with fanfare in Mumbai and New Delhi.

The book, "Shyam Benegal",was launched with fanfare in Mumbai and New Delhi.  

There have been others. Notably those dedicated to Suchitra Sen and Raj Kapoor. Not to forget the peerless Madhubala. The magic of "Pyar kiya to darna kya" "Mughal-e-Azam" beauty was brought to print by Alpana Choudhary in "Madhubala: Masti and Magic." Not exactly a work you would like to read in a moment of introspection, it kept the legions of Madhubala fans happy. And the cash registers tinkling

Enough of blast from the past. Our good old Ismail Merchant, Indian films' face in America, got a biography through courtesy Roli. "My Passage from India" created a flutter in literary circles and Merchant took time off from his busy schedule to walk down memory lane and even signed copies of the book. ``I remember everything from my childhood. For the first year or so — after reaching New York on August 11, 1958 — I maintained a diary but not after that. Most of the incidents in the book are pure memorabilia.''

He recalls: ``I can remember the exact moment when I knew that I wanted to spend my life in the world of movies. I was 13 years old and had been invited by Nimmi, one of the up-and-coming stars in the Bombay film industry, to accompany her to the premiere of her first film, `Barsaat'.'' He can remember vividly his first meeting with James Ivory — the other half of Merchant Ivory Productions. He met him in a coffee shop in New York and discussed the idea of making Indian themed films for Western audiences.

The book has countless anecdotes to supplement 75 photographs, most notably of Merchant giving that shy smile as an adult past his prime, and of those early days and visits to Ajmer as a devout Muslim.

Keeping Merchant company is Shyam Benegal. In fact, probably he is going to do better. He has just had one eulogy passing off for biography this year, and another is on the anvil.

Ismail Merchant with copies of "My Passage From India".

Ismail Merchant with copies of "My Passage From India".  

Says Sangeeta Dutta, who is planning to make a film with Shabana Azmi and has in the past taught at Mumbai's St. Xavier's College, ``My book is no giving over to Bollywood. Before `Zubeidaa' he had worked with Rekha. Doing a film with Karisma Kapoor was fine, the actress broke out of the mould with the film. It was well received everywhere. It was one of the biggest hits abroad. With `Zubeidaa' he acknowledged that there was a huge market to be tapped.'' Never mind earlier Benegal had turned down a "Chaudhvin Ka Chand" to dish out the likes of "Ankur," "Manthan", "Mammo," etc.

The book, "Shyam Benegal" was launched with fanfare in Mumbai and New Delhi but only troubled die-hard Benegal fans. Never mind, this `serious' book `on a serious filmmaker' is to be followed by another book that has even greater potential to be a eulogy. This time, Pia, Shyam's daughter is putting pen to paper for Roli's Family Pride series. She has earlier been a costume designer for "Zubeidaa" and is now engaged with "Netaji," Shyam's film based on the life of the legendary freedom fighter. What literary value that is likely to have can only be guessed.

Pia is in good company. Rubbing shoulders with her is Meghna, that affable young girl who wielded the director's baton with some style and limited success in "Filhaal." She is writing a biography of her father, Gulzar, who barely needs a new chapter.

Rajeev Srivastava's ode tosinger Mukesh.

Rajeev Srivastava's ode tosinger Mukesh.  

Then there has been Rajeev Srivastava with his ode to Mukesh. His "Tumko Na Bhool Payenge" may have had only limited readers at a time when remixes are in order but he attracted attention.

Just the same thing happened with a take on Madan Mohan's life. And another eulogy, Chitravali series, on Aamir Khan in the wake of "Lagaan".

Meanwhile, Bollywood made it to print in other ways. Notably through Bhawana Somaya's pen. The lady who had created a flutter with her book on Amitabh Bachchan, this time made a more low-profile entry with "Take-25 — Star Insights and Attitudes." Just like R. K. Verma's "Filmography — Silent Cinema" and Encyclopaedia Britannica on Bollywood with Gulzar as a contributor. Incidentally, even seasoned Ismat Chughtai whose acerbic pen gave us "Sone Ki Chudiya" and "Garam Hawa", is now the object of study.

Print and the personalities

Not to be left alone, Jonathon Torgovnik has come up with "Bollywood Dreams: An Exploration of the Motion Picture Industry and Its Culture in India" (Phaidon Press). From star bedrooms to stifling studios, this photographer's venture has been a delightful exercise. And as we go to Press, there are reports that a channel devoted to wildlife is planning to turn Archana Mishra's "Casting the Evil Eye" into a film — this time from reams of paper to reel!

There is more to come. Wait a while as the grand old tragedienne of Indian cinema, Dilip Kumar, is getting his biography ready. Lord Meghnad Desai is giving finishing touches to his life story, to be brought out by Roli Books later this year. This is going to be a parallel study of the growth of Dilip Kumar and the development of India as a nation.

Happy reading.