Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Bollywood Vista

Encyclopedia of Bollywood—Film Actors, compiled by Renu Saran, Diamond Pocket Books Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi – 110020 (India), 260pp, Indian Rupees195, Soft (ISBN: 978-81-288-2899-7.
ollywood needs no introduction today. Its advent as world’s largest film industry and admiration by millions across the continents brings its worldwide popularity. Dubbing Hindi movies in other languages was tough nut to chew some five decades ago yet Hindi films were popular in the far off Russian and European regions. 

Boom in communication & information technology sectors proved a blessing in disguise for its easy reach to millions. Cinema lovers can straightforwardly recognize most Hindi film actors and actresses. New generation isn’t abreast of many talented actors of early period yet.

Hindi cinema—metaphorically denoted as Bollywood—attained several breakthroughs since inception. The huge entertainment industry from India’s finance capital Mumbai (earlier Bombay) appeals to global cinema lovers. Often denoted with Indian cinema’s sobriquet Hindi movies—Bollywood is the narrower version of India’s diverse film industry accommodating multilingual movie productions besides popular Hindi movies. 

Assamese; Bengali; Telugu; Tamil; Bhojpuri; Nepali; Brajbhasa; Rajasthani; Tulu; Punjabi; Bihari; Chattisgarhi; Oriya; Gujarati; Marathi; Haryanvi; Manipuri; Kannada; Malayalam; Kashmiri; Kosli and Konkani cinemas are the integral parts of India’s film medium.

Bollywood, as world’s largest film producer, maintains an undisputable ascendancy. A derivation from the erstwhile Bombay like Hollywood for the US film industry, it attained worldwide fame over the decades. Referred for regional Bengali cinema since decades until identified with the other regional cinema—Telugu in Telangana & Andhra Pradesh states, Tollywood inspired creation of Bollywood term in the 1970s while India overtook America as world’s largest film producer country. 

By 1932, Tollywood term was used in India as earliest possible Hollywood-inspired idea. It denoted with Bengali cinema from Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Tollygunge area until Indian cinema had its nationwide polarity.   

Indian cinema began its journey with Dadasaheb Phalke directed country’s first silent feature film Raja Harishchandra (1913). Until 1930s, India produced at least 200 movies annually. Ardeshir Irani directed India’s first sound movie was Alam Ara (1931). It was a big commercial success and so did it bring new resurgence in the entertainment industry. Its success paved the way for creative filmmaking in the coming years. 

Themed on the Great Depression, World War II and India’s freedom struggle to partition violence plots, Indian cinema from early 1930s to late 1950s was educative and pathfinder for a big social change.

Eminent filmmakers incorporated social issues in the movie plots. Bollywood had its ‘Golden Age’ from the late 1940s to 1960s with the production of finest movies ever. Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa (1957) & Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959) and Raj Kapoor’s Awaara (1951) & Shree 420 (1955) were critically acclaimed movies with strong socio-cultural themes. 

Epic movies like Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957) and K. Asif's Mughal-e-Azam (1960) are magnum opus even today. Bimal Roy’s Madhumati (1958) brought the reincarnation theme in Bollywood films. Producer-directors Kamal Amrohi and Vijay Bhatt gave the mainstream Hindi movies new direction. Such brilliant filmmakers nourished new talents over the period.  

Actors Dev Anand; Dilip Kumar; Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt ruled over Bollywood for several decades. Equally did these decades witness the emergence of many bright actresses like Nargis, Vyjayanthimala; Meena Kumari; Nutan; Madhubala; Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha et al. They showcased exemplary talents by 1950s while commercial Hindi cinema was already thriving.
Emergence of Parallel Cinema movement especially Bengali cinema left irrefutable impact during that era. Chetan Anand's Neecha Nagar (1946) and Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin (1953) were early examples as Parallel Cinema movement’s brainchild. Guru Dutt and Satyajit Ray emerged as greatest of the Asian filmmakers of all time with indomitable contribution to Indian cinema. They produced several exemplary Bollywood movies.

Bollywood had big transformation in the late 1960s and early 1970s with romance and action themed movies gaining momentum. Actors Rajesh Khanna; Dharmendra; Sanjeev Kumar; Shashi Kapoor and actresses Sharmila Tagore; Mumtaz and Asha Parekh dominated those decades. Mid-1970s Bollywood was at the zenith with the themes of romance, violence, gangster and banditries. It welcomed Amitabh Bachchan, Mithun Chakraborty, Anil Kapoor and Sunny Deol et al to rule over Bollywood actively till early 1990s. Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan and Rekha remained the dominant actresses in that period. Filmmaker Shyam Benegal produced realistic Parallel Cinema films during 1970s. By then commercial cinema had equally become popular.  

Successful amongst commercial movies of that decade were Sholay (1975) and Deewar (1975) to bring Amitabh Bachchan into limelight. Family centric and love themed musicals Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988); Maine Pyar Kiya (1989); Dil (1990), Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (1994) and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) projected new generation cinema in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Actors Aamir Khan, Salman Khan & Shahrukh Khan to actresses Madhuri Dixit, Sridevi and Juhi Chawla attained remarkable positions during that period. The decade was an entry point for the new actors and directors to experiment a distinct genre of Hindi films. Nana Patekar, Manoj Bajpai, Manisha Koirala, Tabu and Urmila Matondkar gave extensive performances to get recognized as the critically acclaimed actors.  

Bollywood’s popularity increased further across the continents in the decade beginning with 2000. Manifold revolution in filmmaking from cinematography to innovative story lines and implementation of technical advancements like animation and special effects were projected through the movies Koi... Mil Gaya (2003); Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003); Veer-Zaara (2004); Dhoom (2004); Hum Tum (2004); Dhoom 2 (2006); Krrish (2006) and Jab We Met (2007) etc. They changed Bollywood’s filmmaking perspective.

Popular actors of today Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Shahid Kapoor and Abhishek Bachchan et al and actresses Rani Mukerji, Preity Zinta, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra attained their respective positions in Hindi cinema in the mid-2000s. Beginning from 2010s, the rise of new generation actors Ranbir Kapoor, Imran Khan, Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor to actresses Vidya Balan, Katrina Kaif, Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma and Parineeti Chopra reflected Bollywood’s new talent pool.

Bollywood attained popularity in Canada and the US in last one decade due to admiration of large chunk of South Asian communities. Several Indian movies do more business in the US today than those from rest non-English speaking countries. Fiji; Sri Lanka; Australia and New Zealand are the countries where Bollywood movies are immensely popular. Salaam Namaste (2005) was the first Bollywood film shot entirely in Australia and which was a huge success Hindi movie that year. Likewise, Heyy Babyy (2007); Chak De! India (2007) and Singh Is Kinng (2008) were the rest box office successes abroad.  

The book Encyclopedia of Bollywood—Film Actors is a compendium of Bollywood actors. Ironically it doesn’t cover the niche areas of Bollywood’s vastness but still interest cinema lovers to maximum extent. Alphabetically summed brief biographies of famous and infamous actors inform about the film actors. Ironically, not a single actress has been included in this book. Brought cursorily, biographies showcase struggling phases of actors to attaining remarkable positions in the entertainment industry—Bollywood.

This book has many old and new names together from Amitabh Bachchan to Dilip Kumar to Mukri to Jeetendra to Dharmendra and Amjad Khan to name a few out of 172 film actors included. Contemporary actors John Abraham, Arbaz Khan, Sunil Shetty, Abhishek Bachchan and Aamir Khan have been highlighted for their contributions to bring Bollywood on the global canvas. Non-inclusion of actresses is the biggest setback and therefore disappoints sincere readers. 

Revised edition of this book should have mandatory inclusion of actresses to increase reader interest. Its reprint with the updates from Bollywood’s evaluation since silent movies era to todays’ technologically empowered films would prove valuable contribution on Bollywood literature for the future generations. 

This review article first appeared in Ceylon Today, April 16, 2017 edition. 

Sunday, April 09, 2017

From Couture to Kutir


Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead, by Anu Aggarwal, HarperCollins Publishers India, Noida – 201301 (India), 185pp, 2015, Indian Rupees299, Soft.

ovie buffs still remember the unparalleled success of Bollywood’s Aashiqui (Love) released in 1990. Director Mahesh Bhatt picked dark-skinned model Anu Aggarwal and introduced her into acting. In debut she attained an archetypal success—and became a star overnight. Sensation with her first movie, she acted in many other films thereafter, sans any remarkable success. In mere one decade though Aashiqui girl gradually vanished from the public memory.

With the arrival of her autobiography Anusual: Memoir of a Girl Who Came Back from the Dead after more than twenty-five years post that unprecedented success of hers, revives memories of that unbound accomplishment. Readers know her in a different perspective unlike that glam image. As an open-hearted individual she vividly speaks up the truth about life before stardom to delicate setbacks, losses, achievements and more importantly her transformation from couture glitz to yoga and spiritualism.  

Through revealing much about her life, this book merits an honest confession of a former actress. She chose the path of spirituality and yoga in rejuvenation. This book is an offhand, strong and brusque recollection of her life’s confrontations which speaks her mind with an inner-strength from rise and rise of a successful model to an extraordinarily efficacious film career and the skirmishes causing constant downfalls until a fatal accident left her in coma for a month. She confesses everything from being catapulted to stardom with the debut movie Ashiqui to recounting countless untouched aspects of her life which she has narrated in an unbuttoned style in this memoir.  

What we know of her from this book are her personal and professional ups and downs to men in her life that also included millionaires and super-yogis. Her life’s story is worth a Bollywood script which revolves around the extremes of highs and lows. Like she puts in the book—“Excessive fame is a mother fu*ker”—her decision to forego modelling and Bollywood while at the peak of success was indeed a bold decision to reckon with.

This book reveals why she literally vanished from Bollywood and everything worldly which could keep her attached to glamour world and limelight. Without modeling, brand-endorsements, movies, cover story appearances to interviews in many gossip publications, she was literally forgotten. We didn’t know that her years of seclusion for more than two decades actually rejuvenated her. By listening to her inner verve she chose a path which changed her life to become stronger and determined.

Near fatal car crash in 1999 sent her into 29-day long coma. Post recovery, she was a changed person which she mentions—her rebirth. Although that incident shook her completely her life had major transformation thereafter. Not in the public limelight anymore, she learnt from adversities and finally turned a triumphant. According to her, ‘it was indeed a beginning of her real life.’

From distant memories of literally having been away from her physical body to being taken back to life again, she wrote about everything as if floating of the montage images. Besides that, fateful near-death experience, she lists the memories of her acute traumas to finally turning into a full-time yogi.

Revitalized Anu Aggarwal is determined to propagate her unique fun-yoga with Anufunyoga in the worldwide locations today. She considers it a solace for life as it inculcates goodwill and hope. 

This memoire is a firsthand narration of her brush with an unexpected fame in Bollywood which brought her stardom but ironically not remained ongoing. It reveals many facets of her life from that extempore fame proving harsh to other trajectories such as her relationships to indecisiveness to maintain the prevailing success and her failing to make prudent work choices and other agonies.  

Since delving into modelling in 1980s Anu Aggarwal had her zenith of success by becoming world’s widely recognizable face in the glamour world of that era. Aashiqui in 1990 added more fame. With her quick image making from modelling to acting, she was saleable in that period. Being dark-skinned was a taboo while she faced stiff competition and prejudices but she kept moving in life.    

A narrative prototype, Anu Aggarwal’s memoire projects her in third person—appearing constantly as “that girl”—throughout. Being a confessional narration, it has punch lines, and thus highlights how a Delhi girl in 1980s, who attained education in social work, excelled once destiny took her into an entirely different path. She writes about her personal episodes from falling in love with a jazz musician to being welcomed in the fashion corridors of Paris to countless other fames which brought more jealousies than friends. And, thus she was destined to remain lonely.

She writes in detail in more than two chapters about her dedication to yoga and training in an ashram. In frank narration, she mentions the uptight admiration and romantic encounters with a resident guru.

This book concludes with her emphasis on new-age spirituality, which according to her, could be an ultimate antidote to soul-killing fame. The memoir seems to be a must read for cinema lovers who are willing to digress to that era of movies which had immortalized onscreen love & romance.  

This review had first published in Ceylon Today, April 09, 2017 edition.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Anatomy and other bravery narrations

Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up, by Rana Ayyub, ISBN: 978-1-943438-88-4, Printed at Thomson Press, Year2016, 206pp, Indian Rupees 295, Soft. 

o be fair, nothing seems new in Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat Files: Anatomy of Cover Up. Facts she reveals about 2002 Gujarat carnage are available before the Indian judiciary, investigating teams and media. 

What still makes this book food for thought for the readers? Author digresses us to look at genocide flashbacks of reverberation which ashamed humanity. It audaciously describes how perpetrators of genocide liquidated communal harmony with the planned vilification of India’s secular fabric. Its social, cultural and religious ethics thus became a mockery before the world. 

Rather an individual scoop documentation by an otherwise nameless journalist (a Muslim girl impersonating herself into a devote Hindu filmmaker); this book in transcript is a daring account. As a filmmaker she questioned many things to be read between the lines. Clamored in journalistic tone yet not suspected by perpetrators, transcripts persuade the readers to ignore connotation—not in a context of an addition in the academic literature but its merit to be taken for fact finding investigation source.

Her clandestine investigations were risky affair. It became possible for her because of professional grooming in sting operation culture of Tehelka magazine whose investigative stories were often worth newsy and volatile for India’s power corridors. Her investigations in conversational tone of a film’s script is now in book form. It merits to be taken as reference by the justice system as additional source to investigate and punish the guilty who perpetrated a pogrom that massacred innocent lives.   
Book’s transcripts in conversational tone make everyone believe in the reality behind Gujarat riots. With scope to be used as an additional documentation for justice will it be of any use remains a big question in India today. The country is ruled by a political party which perpetrated goof ups to divide the communities for political pursuits.  

It is high time India’s justice system keeps all factors into consideration for analysis. Deliberate communalism feeling played key role to escalate embers of hatred between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat to spread throughout the nation. It accelerated fortunes of few leaders to achieve goals and reach at the zenith. This book engages readers to delve into the realistic narration in conversations between author and several people in Gujarat for fact revelations.

Meticulous recollection of an investigative mission in 2010 for which Rana Ayyub was assigned by her employer, Tehelka magazine, this book portrays life of an undercover girl pretending herself with a fabricated name of filmmaker Maithili Tyagi. She spent eight months undercover to obtain true account of a story behind state’s genocide. Ironically, foolhardy sting operation was turned down by her magazine. If this book hadn’t come that investigative effort would have buried in the history.
Conversations between author and the then bureaucrats to senior police officers holding key positions in Gujarat from 2001 to 2010 are put together. The audacity of this book remains unquestionable. The previously unpublished transcripts were surprisingly withheld by the magazine that planned a sting. It even had no takers to be published in book form.

Thus, we have the self-published copy. It is one of the select few self-published books in India that has been accepted wholeheartedly by the readers. Like the author lived a life of an undercover, transcripts presented describe how and who carried violence to shame India’s integrity in the aftermath of 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom while Narendra Modi was Gujarat chief minister. It recounts many other details including false encounter killings from 2002 to 2006 in the behest of Modi and ally Amit Shah.

Author’s conversations identify how bureaucracy was part of modus operandi with their connivance in conspiracies to utter silence instead of taking actions for justice. The scenario was that authorities became subjugators of lawlessness instead of playing their roles of law enforcement authorities.  

Transcript conversations with the then Director-General of Anti-Terrorism Squad in Gujarat in 2007, Rajan Priyadarshi quoting “Amit Shah often violated human rights”; SIT team members revealing in a pretext of being interviewed for movie and much more are revelations opposite claims of otherwise vibrant Gujarat. They bring into fore stories of suppressions in the name of caste even in even plum positions as witnessed in the cases of D. Vanzara, Rajkumar Pandian, Amin and Parmar to name a few.

They reveal in book’s transcript how Modi used the policy to “use and abandon” and make them equal partners to perpetuate atrocities. In transcripts, this book has ample insights and perspectives to study subjugations which Gujarat encountered through unlawful use of state mechanism.

Concluding in abrupt serenity this book leaves a strong message that Gujarat’s civil society under Modi and Shah witnessed terrible transformation in planned violence to develop hostility between the two communities. 

Almost completely in interview form transcriptions from tapes, this book doesn’t offer any narrative flair. Without too much extrapolations it still maintains substance due to speaking truth brilliantly. Its narrative brilliance defines Gujarat’s political landscape a decade ago which prophesied for whole nation to come into hate mongers’ grip. 

Facts are beforehand through book form now. Questions are still unanswered though whether justice would be done. Perpetrators, as hawks, are pacifiers today with further political empowerment in a span of more than one decade, justice seems bleak.
This book should be read in the context of political and social farsightedness to question self whether India’s cultural, religious and social antithesis exists in its true form. 

This article was first published in Mosaic, Ceylon Today, April 02, 2017 edition.