Monthly Archives

June 2020

Sepia Stories Part 7 – Day 1839

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A week later, we hosted a similar book launch in Mumbai at the newly launched CrossWord Book Store in Tardeo. Amitabh Bachchan arrived at the time promised and as soon as the familiar beige and brown bus stopped at the gate, the large crowd assembled outside went hysterical. The first to descend from the vehicle were Jaya Bachchan and their extended family members, for a while the crowd showed restraint.

Moments later, as Bachchan emerged at the door, the large mob waiting outside collectively lurched. We had arranged security for the actor and even in those days, Bachchan traveled with his personal security but back then, security was not as professional as it is today and therefore the combined efforts of his and our security could not control the hysteria!

Somehow, the actor and his family were covered up and escorted inside but the frenzy was far from over. Looking back, it was a simple event in a modest space. In the 90s book launches, particularly books on film stars were not as common and far from glamorous.

The 90s was a defining decade in media business because the internet arrived at that time. Now everyone had access to computers and electronic media was on the rise. The Bachchan book launch was the beginning of the paparazzi culture that was to soon take over show business!!

A cluster of cameras followed Bachchan flashing light on his face from every corner not stopping even as he took position on the dais. The still photographers not wanting to be left out collectively jumped onto the stage aggressively elbowing the electronic media out. It was complete chaos and I had to plead all of them to exit the stage so that we could commence the event we had gathered for.

Finally, peace prevailed and we were able to complete the formalities. Sitting on the stage staring at all the cameramen and many scribes in the audience, a thought crossed my mind…Wasn’t this the same media who month after month relentlessly attacked the actor, called him ageing superstar and claimed that his magic was fading…Really?
To be continued

Sepia Stories Part 6 – Day 1837

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Sepia Stories Part 6

Salaam Bollywood was the first book I wrote but Amitabh: The Legend was the first book that got released in India. 

I was writing both the books simultaneously and strangely, both were confirmed by publishers for the 1999 release around the same time, The Legend in India and Salaam Bollywood in London.

I remember I was preparing to leave for the Delhi release of Amitabh book when the carton of Salaam Bollywood copies arrived at my office. It was an exciting phase in my career but I was also extremely nervous. I was curious to open the bundle and see my book but decided to wait till I got back from Delhi and was in a calmer state of mind. 

Too much was happening to me and too soon. The press conference was held at Delhi’s newly launched Habitat Centre and packed with prominent journalists representing topline publications. They listened to my speech expressionless and when it was Bachchan’s turn to speak, all of them welcomed him with a thunderous applause. 

During the QA session the journalists addressed questions mostly  to the superstar, some of them had candid queries for me and because I was inexperienced, I delivered candid answers. 

At the end of the press conference, everyone rushed to Bachchan for a handshake or an autograph. This was my first exposure to Delhi media and I was learning…To be continued

Day:1837 – Sepia Stories Part 5

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Date: 26.06.2020

Day:18367

The dream merchants inhabit a complex world of contradictions and my debut book Salaam Bollywoodpublished by Spantech & Lancer in 1999 in London was about the pain and the passion of show business.  Before the release of the book, I worried endlessly if I had crossed the boundary line of faith, revealed too much because I knew so much more. 

Shaban Azmi was a parliamentarian at that time and living in Delhi, she mentioned in the passing that she was suffering a sleep disorder and could not sleep at night. Will you read my manuscript of the book and check if I have been unfair to anyone? I requested because I needed feedback from an insider. She agreed and sent me a thumbs up.

It is not easy being always objective because deception comes in disguise here and truth very often remains a mystery forever. 

Salaam Bollywood was released in London in the early winter of 1999 and a few months later in Mumbai at T Series’ newly launched Music Café in Bandra. Anil Kapoor released the book and Mahesh Bhatt read a passage, a new horizon was awaiting and the excitement was infectious. 

It is more than 40 years of consistent writing now but the dialogue between the journalist and the individual continues and my constant endeavor is to not let down either.

So today, when someone asks me the question, ‘How does it feel to be a film journalist’ I look at the person asking. I wonder if it is worth reacting…Strongly…? I’m not sure.

Sepia Stories Part 4 – Day 1836

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I became film journalist while I was still in college and at that time it seemed like a fleeting hobby. My parents emphasized on academics and as long as the creative writing did not interfere with my post-graduation, they were progressive enough to let me chase my dreams. It wasn’t as if I was dying to become a writer/ journalist, there were no role models and no ambitions of a career at all but opportunities galloped my way and I followed my instinct.
Months multiplied into years and to my surprise and my parents’ bewilderment the love-affair with cinema continued. There were disillusionments too and when the dismay became overbearing, I fantasized giving it all up, took a break, explored options but there was no escaping writing and inadvertently films.
Every new decade and generation sprung new challenges and I was forced to redefine myself. From hard core reporting on the sets to launching a new style magazine, from writing columns and reviews to penning books, my world, like cinema was changing frequently.
One of the many reasons I continue to write books on cinema and show business is to present that other side, the better side of stardom. The side I have acquainted and grown to love. The experiences have been an integral part of my growing up, the intimate interactions have nourished me, enriched me. I have resolved many crises of my life watching them, learned many lessons witnessing their suffering.
To be continued

Sepia Stories Part 3 – Day 1835

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Naseeruddin Shah once said that unless you have something burning inside you, you cannot become an actor. He is right. This is a jungle world and there are heartaches on the road to stardom and heartbreaks while surviving stardom!

In so many years of my writing on films, I have been exposed to innumerable moments where I’m left open-mouthed by the savagery of what I witness and yes, it has been unsettling, especially when I was younger and looking for answers but gradually I learned that every conflict does not offer instant solution and time resolves it all, in its own unique way.

Film industry inculcates endurance, a wisdom that is beyond age and an exposure to life that is priceless. I have to say this in all fairness, that there is another side to show business too, the better side that only an insider can know.

Cinema is the most sensitive of all performing mediums where multiple talents come together and collectively showcase their talent. It is a magical process that only those engaged in it can experience. A world of creativity and compassion, of sharing and bonding on an everyday basis that an outsider can never imagine because inaccessibility prevents identification.

There is anguish and heartache too. Insecurity is an overwhelming emotion in any creative profession and in the film industry even more so. Film stars are peddlers of emotion. There are more emotional wrecks in the film world than in any other place. Everything comes in excess here. There is shame and scandal, exhibitionism and eccentricity but there is also affection and generosity, diversity and dynamism that you cannot experience anywhere else. Cinema is obsessive and once you have been a part of it you feel incomplete without it!To be continued

Sepia Stories Part 2 – Day: 1834

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How do I feel to be a film journalist and do I believe in the people I write about is a question that has followed me over the decades? I’m asked the same question time and again by family, by friends and by strangers and I have never found an appropriate answer.
Perhaps there is no appropriate answer for the illusionary world I’m associated with but what is ironical is that I always find myself defending the dream merchants for whom I am and will always remain the outsider.
I try as far as possible not to answer the question, not to tell them what I do for a living because once they know the context, they are consumed with curiosity about me and about the film world. The first reaction always is but you don’t look like a film journalist. Really? I mean what is a film journalist supposed to look like? I have never understood the implication or maybe they expect me to dress outlandishly in ostrich feathers like Helen and break into an item number and are disappointed that I don’t.
Whatever the reasons, it has to do with perception of the film world and if the perceptions are so unbalanced, then we as media need to do serious introspection.
There is a possibility that in our daily pressures to tell a story interestingly, we exaggerate words and images, spice up copies and titles for immediate attention and in the process, unknowingly present an unrealistic world to our readers.
The readers love this attractive world and live with the perception forever…!
Everything about show business is larger than life, the success and also the heartbreaks. There is a dark side to the glamour world that is not easy to endure and some like Sushant Singh Rajput submit to it, while others, the more courageous ones are battle the demons! Will they succeed, we don’t know, perhaps never will.
To be continued

Sepia Stories Part 1 – Day 1833

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The lock-down is not yet over and at the oddest moment, old memories long forgotten suddenly spring up. I recall some years ago, attending a friend’s wedding where they deliberately put up strangers on a common table for dinner. It was an experiment to get you chatting with people you would otherwise not make an effort to get acquainted.

It was a strange evening where in the beginning everyone was awkward and missed their regular companions but as the evening progressed, slowly everyone dropped their guards and looking back it was an interesting evening to spend with strangers.

On my table were two homemakers and I was fascinated by their daily routine described with passion, fascinated with their multiple skills and a selfless life devoted to the happiness of their families. The third, a doctor, shared that post retirement he spends most of his time reading newspapers and watching television, simple joys of life he always craved for but never found the time for all his life. He said all through his practice years, nobody ever asked him how he was because they were always so busy telling him about their ailments. “Now, for the first time whoever visits home, asks me how I am and I bask in the attention.” 

The fourth guest, a young girl who has just finished her MBA and was waiting for a placement revealed that this is the worst time to be qualified with fancy degrees because every youngster is super qualified and nobody has a job in time of recession. She was both angry and sad!   

When it was time to introduce myself, I was hesitant to say I was a film journalist because it is always followed by “Oh but you don’t look like a journalist” and then a question I always dread, “So how does it feel to be a film journalist and do you believe in the people you write about?”.To be continued

#LettersToMother/ Part 4 – day 1832

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18.06.2020
Year: 2018

LettersToMother/ Part 4

Location: My Home
A writer friend acquainted with my translation on Lord Krishna calls me up one early morning, out of the blue to ask why I was not translating any further books from Gujarati into English. He suggests I check out Shri Narendra Modi’s books and choose one as a project for translation.
He is right that I should be translating more books but I am not sure if I am ready for such a daunting task. Looking back, translating Lord Krishna was simpler but my writer friend persisted and there’s no way of winning an argument with him because he is strong headed. He followed up month after month diligently to find out if I had started, so just to get him off my back I decided to test the idea before giving it up entirely.
Next day, I walk into my study, open my book shelf and reluctantly pull out Saakshi Bhaav and begin reading…
It is a slow but meaningful read. Modi expresses himself in rich vocabulary which are not common words and I need to constantly check the dictionary to comprehend the meaning but it is well worth the exercise because the diary pages are intense and engaging.
I am amazed by his transparency of emotions and more important, his need for self-expression. It is almost as if he cannot contain himself and that makes him both vulnerable and attractive.
To be continued

#LettersToMother/ Part 3 – Day 1831

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17.06.2020
Year: 2014
#lLettersToMother/ Part 3
Location: Bhaidas Auditorium, Mumbai
There is a lot of excitement outside and inside the auditorium because Shri Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Gujarat is attending the Image book event. The program begins on time and after a long round of speeches, it is finally time for Modi to speak.
He jokes that the book would not have been possible without the combined efforts of two persuasive people, the first who saved the pages of a diary destined to turn into flames and the second, poet Suresh Dalal who did not give up on his idea.
I remember the evening clearly because I am in the auditorium, a special invitee from Suresh Dalal and sitting in the hall that day, listening to so many stories, I had no idea that one day, I was going to translate the same book into English but I guess that’s the beauty of life, it is full of surprises.
To be continued1h

Letters to mother – Day 1830

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16.06.2020

Year: Sometime in 2000
Location: Gandhinagar, Gujarat
It is a normal evening and Shri Narendra Modi, now Chief Minister Gujarat is in his garden, tearing up his diary pages and throwing them into the bonfire. Suddenly, a friend arrives and is led to the garden area. He is shocked to see what his friend is up to and snatches the rest of the pages from him. He is angry and reprimands him to never do that again.
Modi argues but his friend is in no mood to listen and when he leaves, he carries the remaining pages with him.
To be continued