LITERARY REVIEW

A film man's life without the gossip!

MEMORIS

V. GANGADHAR

A film man's life without the gossip!

WHEN a famous film magazine editor pens his memoirs, the expectations are high. We expect revelations like who was sleeping with who, who was committing adultery, who was charging the highest black money and so on. Blessings falls short of such expectations. B.K. Karanjia, now 86, played his long innings with a straight bat and despite having been the editor of two of India's leading film publications, Filmfare and Screen, he kept away from gossip.

That does not detract from the merits of the book, which devotes more pages to the author's holidays at this grandpa's home in Quetta, school and college days in Bombay and a brief stint with the Indian Civil service. We get fascinating accounts of the upper middleclass Parsi life in the country and, excellent pen portraits of some of the author's favourite persons, grandpa Burjorji, his male servant, Sikander. There is a part-funny, part-moving account of how the author almost lost his virginity to a Colaba call girl. Later, he converts this incident into a short story.

In fact, Karanjia's descriptions of his college days and the preparation for the ICS examination are very similar to two of C.P. Snow's earlier novels, Strangers and Brothers and Homecomings though Lewis Eliot came from a different, working class background. Karanjia did admire Lord Snow but could not recollect the two novels I mentioned to him. Some of the sections on the family happenings do drag a bit but then the book is all about the blessings showered on the author and these are the members of his family. Viewed from that angle, Blessings is a moving account of a family-loving gentleman.

But he always knew what he wanted from life. He fought his way to join the much-coveted Indian Civil Service but resigned his post when he was asked to work with the Supplies Department. I guess his heart lay elsewhere; writing came to him naturally and easily. He was put off by mainstream journalism with its sole focus on politics and opted for film journalism because he was interested in cinema as an art form. So we had a film journalist and editor who was a fan of Lawrence Durrell, not an easy writer to appreciate.

With his first two ventures, Cinevoice and Movietimes, Karanjia made the mistake of investing his own money and losing most of it, realising in the process that most film makers lacked honesty and integrity. But the magazines had good editorial content and Karanjia took heart from the phenomenal success of the Film Stars Nite and a Film Stars cricket match, which he organised successfully to raise money for national causes.

Here was an editor who was ready to forego his pay and perks and settle matters with his own hands (sometimes with help from his wife) during moments of financial crisis. Everyone including film stars appreciated the editorial content of Cinevoice and later Movietimes. Madhubala offered to work free in a film which could be produced by some friends of Karanjia but the offer could not be put into action. The Beauteous star used to charge Rs. two lakhs per film in those days

Finally, an offer from the Times for editing Filmfare came as a relief to Karanjia, though it meant leaving Godrej Ltd., for whom he was doing public relations. But then, once a journalist, always a journalist. The next 18 years were tension free. The Times group, one of the best in the country, paid the editors well, offered them facilities like the art department, research and reference section and of course sumptuous daily lunches. Karanjia speaks fondly of his Filmfare days and his friendship with professional editors like Sham Lal, Nanporia and Khushwant Singh. I think it is the gentleman Karanjia speaking here. He seems to have ignored the individual egos of these gentlemen, some of whom fought desperately to possess the much-sought-after key to the managerial toilets which was often discussed in the TOI corridors. Karanjia also tends to gloss over the controversies over the Filmfare Annual awards. Many ex-staffers of the Times and many from the film fraternity have made the charge that these were rigged. Well, Karanjia does not pretend to be an investigative journalist.

But Karanjia does speak strongly about his tenure as Chairman, Film Finance Corporation and how he and other members resigned during the Emergency protesting the interference from Information and Broadcasting Minister, Vidya Charan Shukla. This is a fascinating account.