Book Review: From a golden past, untold stories of the silver screen

Book Review: From a golden past, untold stories of the silver screen

By PAYEL MAJUMDAR | | 12 December, 2015
A hand-drawn poster of Meena Kumari’s Miss Mary.
Two new books about Indian cinema shed a new light on our cinematic heritage while enabling us to understand how the largest film industry in the world ticks, writes Payel Majumdar.

Cinema, one of the two “C Words” that unifies this country of vairous people with similar passions (cricket being the othero one), is responsible for many urban legends: legends about the film industry, and its mystery men and women, responsible for weaving their magic on the celluloid. While Bollywood has always been aspirational for millions in this country who follow it with devotion, there are many films that have slipped through public memory with the passing of time. Deepa Gahlot, in her book Take-2, has researched these forgotten films and attempted to revive in public consciousness 50 such movies that deserve to be canonized like the rest.
The book includes 50 chapters about films including nuggets of information. We now know that Himanshu Rai’s 1933 film Karma featured the longest filmed kissing sequence in Indian film history; we know about Meena Kumari’s rare comedic role in Miss Mary with Dev Anand; or Waheeda Rehman’s first break as the female lead with Dev Anand in Solva Saal (1958); or Bimal Ray debut as cameraman in Devdas (1936).
While these films have had an impact on how the industry is shaped and structured now, what scripts are being written, knowledge about these instances of cinematic history remains scant, apart from some obscure web articles on the same.
It is to Gahlot’s credit that she goes beyond trivia and explores each film in its entirety, devoting a chapter each to every film featured here. The author deals with her subject in detail, from how the films included here were made,  to more general points on the development of cinema as an artform.
Each film is examined in regard to the role it played in altering the course of Bollywood’s history — if Bombay is the stage, and the people involved in it are props, these films are the characters that determine the plot of this narrative.
Bollywood’s rich music history and its long posse of talented singers and music directors such as Hemant Kumar, Anandji Kalyanji, Geeta Dutt are also given due regard. The book essays the parallel music industry as an essential component of the movie-making business, giving us insights into the role that it played in making these films iconic.
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding Bollywood’s origins — in understanding  the peculiar nature of how the film industry works with its countless quirks and whimsies. Examining these films is not unlike doing a case study about cinema’s history, and to understand its current nature.

Rakesh Anand Bakshi’s book, Director’s Diaries,  focuses on the current crop of Indian film directors who have been behind a succession of mainstream films for the past 20-30 odd years. As Anand Bakshi’s son, the author is personally acquainted with either the directors themselves, or with their families.

Rakesh Anand Bakshi’s book, Director’s Diaries,  on the other hand, focusses on the current crop of directors who have been behind a succession of mainstream films for the past 20-30 odd years. As Anand Bakshi’s son, the author is personally acquainted with either the directors themselves, or their families from childhood. Every interview with the directors present in this book is preceded by a short introduction to them, followed by Bakshi’s impression of them jotted down from memory, about how he first came across them — an unusual practice that gives us more insight into the mind of the interviewer and his influences upfront, before we delve into the conversation.

Anand Bakshi’s questions are straight forward, influenced from information available about the authors publicly, as well as from his personal memory, and they are all an insight into the curiously whimsical nature of the industry which attracts people from diverse backgrounds.
Bakshi has interviewed 12 directors here — Govind Nihalini, Vishal Bharadwaj, Farah Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Subhash Ghai, Prakash Jha, Ashutosh Gowariker, Zoya Akhtar, Mahesh Bhatt, Santosh Sivan, Anurag Basu and Tigmanshu Dhulia. These directors cover a good range of cinema from script-backed, serious, multiplex films to box office hits knows for their formulaic success.
Each director’s craft is, however, borne in mind while Bakshi interviews them irrespective of their film’s perceptions. In other words, Bakshi has taken his subjects and their craft very seriously in the book.
The book offers the reader an opening into the now stereotyped-for-a-reason struggle that most directors have had to face in their race to make films — from Imtiaz Ali’s year-and-a-half-long futile job hunt before getting a writing job, to Vishal Bharadwaj’s days spent playing the harmonium at Pragati Maidan’s food stalls — before their lives turned forever.
Whether it is Subhash Ghai who wants to feel the thrill of being a new director, to enjoy the same “wakefulness” that can only come with one’s first film, or Mahesh Bhatt who doesn’t want anyone to emulate him, for he feels that his life is not a regular one, all of them share a common sense of mystery about what makes them so passionate about their everyday job.  
Meanwhile, readers get a sense of what it means to work as a director in this industry — or anywhere in this world for that matter. Bakshi doesn’t appear to alleviate himself as a chronicler or analyst as he goes about asking questions to his subjects, however they appear to be as taken in and involved with his questions to give us a peek into what drives them as people to direct the films that they do.
What makes both Bakshi and Gahlot’s book insightful is the meticulous research that both have invested in their subjects. Gahlot has approached cinema from films that provide a comprehensive argument about the nature of Hindi cinema; not as parochial, commercialized and formulaic as it is made out to be as a generalization. Bakshi approaches the film industry of contemporary times through its directors who have made it their mainstay — by inverting the camera’s gaze from the set to the people who drive that set, Bakshi’s readers will see a colourful, unpredictable world of auteurs driven by a mysterious passion that goes beyond glamour and money.

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