Sepia Stories Part 8 – Blog Number: 1840

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I’m often asked how I conceived the idea of The Legend and my answer is that it is an unplanned book. Bachchan had imposed a ban on the media for more than fifteen years and in the year 1990 one day in a surprise move he began talking to journalists.

Sometime in 1997 when I was doing a cover story on him, my secretary commented that I must not do any more stories on the actor because she had exhausted all permutation-combinations to name these files. This was an indicator for me to revisit the files and I discovered that I indeed had a lot of material on the actor.

Like any disciplined writer, I began to find a structure to save these stories and saw it taking the shape of an engaging chronicle. When I was ready with the final copy, I shared it with my magazine publisher and it was Maulik Kotak’s suggestion that I combine the text with pictures from our archives and create a dummy.

Art director P G Ghawali of g magazine designed the manuscript as a book and the production department bound it all together. The entire exercise occurred so naturally and so harmoniously along with our regular work that none of us questioned the motive behind the creative pursuit.

The next step was to share the idea with Amitabh Bachchan and to tell him how it originated and when he gave the nod everything fell into place. Amitabh: The Legend is among the early books on the actor, the first biography structured in question answer format to retain the superstar’s voice.

To make the book comprehensive I met up with all his filmmakers and heroines and all of them from Hrishikesh Mukherjee and S Ramanathan to Rekha and Raakhee, recounted unusual memories of the actor, I guess when something wonderful has to happen, everything falls into place.
To be continued

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