The Perils of Being
By Soha Ali Khan
Published by Penguin Random House
Pages: 176 pages
Price: Rs 254
The thing with people who are not famous is that they are unabashedly ruthless in the judgment of people who are. They revel in the love/hate that stems solely, and completely, from the latter’s choice of work. I shall mince no words in calling my earliest impression of Soha Ali Khan as that of a wooden replica of her mother, the veteran actress Sharmila Tagore. She was, to me, the sum of her stinted choices (but mostly facial expressions) in Khoya Khoya Chaand as she was in Dil Maange More. Non-celebs often like to believe that they know celebs through their work. I did too and I am not proud of it.
As fickle as we are in our judgment of people (celebrity, non-celebrity), I first realised I liked Soha Ali Khan when I stumbled upon her response to an army of trolls for expressing her displeasure on the former RBI governor’s exit: “LSE doesn’t stand for the London School of Entertainment and dumb actresses are citizens with valid opinions on economic policy #nuffsaid.” I kept liking her more as I swished and flicked through her debut book, The Perils of Being Moderately Famous. Then I came to the chapter which she casually dedicated to a discussion on German Cartographer Mercator simply to establish how actors think they are at the centre of the world, and I was sold.
The Perils… is a memoir of a “moderately famous”, albeit a privileged woman who decided to carve her own identity, so one naturally doesn’t expect it to be a heavily inspiring or a path-breaking read. No wows or raised brows here. Second, The Perils… seems flagged under the weight of Soha’s temptation to crack jokes on anything if it just bordered on the serious, even remotely. In one of the starting chapters, she talks about her family in a very affectionate and nuanced fashion, and then turns the joke on herself. I particularly liked how she first talks about the daily routine of her then 10-year-old paternal grandmother that included lessons in English, Persian, Arithmetic, and then goes on to share hers.
10 a.m.: Alarm goes off
10 a.m. to 10.40 a.m.: Snooze (x4)
10.45 a.m. to 11.30 a.m.: Drink coffee whilst scrolling through Instagram feed
11.30 a.m.: Make impossible choice of whether to eat breakfast or simply wait an hour for lunch …
5 p.m.: Stare into fridge hoping something delicious and healthy will miraculously materialise, failing which think about what to order from Scootsy (an online food delivery service) for an evening snack
6 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Bonding time with Masti (our nine-year-old Beagle) which involves my throwing a ball and then ultimately having to retrieve it myself.
Soha’s self-deprecating humour, her unflinching honesty, her unabashed smack down is what makes the read smooth and interesting. In one of her chapters “All Roads Lead to Saifeena”, it is hilarious how she neatly takes a dig at the media by penning the line of questioning that she is usually subjected to:
Whilst at a press conference for Balmain watches—
Q: Tell us what you like about Balmain watches.
A: They are stylish, elegant and feminine. A woman’s watch is more than just a timepiece, it’s a piece of
jewellery, a style accessory.
Q: Speaking of time, it’s a happy time in the family with the baby coming. When is it due?
Q: What is your favourite piece of jewellery?
A: My engagement ring, for obvious reasons.
Q: Speaking of rings, you will be ringing in the new year with a new family member, how will all of you spend New Year’s Eve?
You get the drift.
Or maybe only the “moderately famous” can enjoy the luxury of writing like Soha does. The “truly famous”, after all, can barely take their kids out on a swing in a park without being made a national headline of, let alone dare to be vocal about their feelings, like, say, punching their spouses in the face. This is what Soha Ali Khan does.
There is a relaxed levity to Soha’s writing. She is unfaltering as she talks about her choices in Bollywood. It is certainly a surprise that Soha Ali Khan was Amol Palekar’s first choice for Paheli, and that Paheli was Soha Ali Khan’s choice to leave her otherwise stable and secure corporate job for a life of uncertainty and insecurity. Only it did not happen, or more accurately, it did not happen for her. “And therein lies the irony which laces life like of Alanis Morissette’s bitter pills,” Soha writes.
Soha’s Bollywood debut was a lesson in “movie mathematics”. She was one of the three chosen actresses and she decided to go for the role that projected her as the ambitious, independent woman who chooses her career over the boy. Going by the cinematically accepted standards, the character was doomed to fail. And it did. “One boy, three girls. Girl who chooses job over boy=vamp. Girl who chooses boy over everything else=heroine. So I had, in effect, chosen not to be the heroine of my first commercial film.” Thirteen years on, Soha’s formula is still not very elusive. It rings a bell seven out of ten times I sit down to watch a Bollywood flick. But anyway.
The Perils of Being Moderately Famous feels like a breeze. It is soft and cool and smooth and you enjoy it as long as it is there. Soha’s writing is effortless, and so are her jokes, which are mostly in the guise of anecdotes. She keeps her documented journey real and relatable, and that’s a relief. In a lot of places, she feels just like the girl next door who does irrelevant things like posting a picture of herself in a green, leafy dress and captioning it “Leaf and let leaf”. And feels pleased with herself even when nobody else gets it.