Capturing life on paper

Books on film stars and entertainment industry have not really enjoyed a market, let alone a captive one. People like to know about their favourite celebrities but for that they relish what comes out in gossip columns

Writing on films is not easy and least lucrative. Most of the time, it is hard to find a publisher and, those who want to publish, often have to bear all expenses. The publishing houses spend nothing on the promotion and, even save on sending out copies to critics for reviews or even listings.

Now, thanks to social media and smartphone cameras, the message of a book release reaches more people.

The fact is that books on films have not really enjoyed a market, let alone a captive one. People like to know about film stars but for that they rely on and relish what comes out in gossip columns. They don't have the appetite for true life accounts of a star. Not that Hindi filmstars have been much into narrating or penning their real-life stories.

Whenever, a star has volunteered to be vocal about real life, it has been through an insider. Such accounts in a biography project only the bright side of the star - one which he wants the world to know - and not the evil side. Not many Indian stars believe in penning a biography, and the few who agree to do so authorise a writer, usually a journalist.

Dilip Kumar's biography was written by Udaya Tara Nair, erstwhile editor of 'Screen Weekly'. The one that comes closest to being candid is the biography of Rishi Kapoor written by veteran film journalist Meena Iyer. Another recent one is that on Hema Malini, written by yet another journalist, Ram Kamal.

Since actors are not keen on autobiographies, this has led to unauthorised biographies of stars.

In most cases, these accounts are semi fiction. Most such unauthorised biography writers don't know the stars they write about or, have even been known to have either interacted with the star or lived through their era. Such biographies are borne out of fiction, gossip, old press clippings and a lot of imagination.

When it comes to unauthorised biographies, a lot of writers had a field day penning controversial and unconfirmed accounts of stars like Madhubala, Meena Kumari and one on Rekha, written by late Mohan Deep. The idea in such accounts is to sell on strength of controversial content. Even the late Vinod Mehta, the renowned journalist who edited many publications including 'Debonair', 'The Sunday Observer' and 'Outlook', wrote a biography on Meena Kumari. It was based on what he had gathered from various clippings and sources, having never known or met the actress in person.

Often, the film journalists who have spent a long time in their profession, feel they qualify to write books, especially, biographies of stars since that is a rather easier way to turn to book writing. Hema Malini, who has had a long career spanning over four decades, has had about four books penned on her. 'Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled' and 'Hema Malini: Beyond The Dream Girl', are both written by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, while one, 'Hema Malini: An Authorised Biography' is by veteran journalist Bhawana Somaaya, who has also written a biography of Amitabh Bachchan.

Then there are the coffee table books. Some photographers who have been on the scene for ages take this initiative. One of the prominent photojournalists, Pradeep Chandra, has been quite prolific in coming up with such books. He has to his credit, two books on Amitabh Bachchan, one on Aamir Khan, which has been translated into Hindi, Chinese and Turkish languages, one on Abhishek Bachchan, and one on MF Husain, which is also translated in Hindi. So, nine volumes in all. Photo journalists can say a lot through pictures and need not be well-versed at putting thoughts in words.

But there are other coffee table books by some foreign and some Indian authors. The prominent among them being, 'Indian Cinema: The Bollywood Saga' by Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari. The book needed research from the silent era till the time it was published in 2003. The other one is 'Bollywood In Pictures' by SMM Ausaja, which covers film posters 1930 onwards. There are numerous other and if you don't read or hear about them, it is because people love movies and nothing else. Besides the fact that the coffee table books are rather heavy on pockets.

Then there are those who work on books out of purely personal conviction or as a hobby.

All Indian films have what is called the overseas circuit, which relates to distributing and exploiting films in foreign countries and Hindi films enjoyed the biggest following with Indian diaspora. No Hindi filmmaker had an iota of idea about how huge or lucrative this market was and there were just about one or two buyers in Mumbai who bought these rights. The most prominent was Maganbhai Savani, a pioneer who started the film export business as long back as 1947. What he said and paid for a film was the final word.

But there was an enterprising cinema hall owner from Pune, BV Dharap who made it his obsession to research the various pieces or parts of the countries that had a huge Indian population and the details about the local distributors there, the cinemas and the population of Indians. Dharap owned the Alpana cinema in Pune and published this book at his own expense. Such was his obsession with bringing to the filmmakers the potential of the overseas market.

There are hobbyists who are fulltime film buffs and note just about everything in a film. One such person is Bobby Sing from Delhi. His favourite cinema hall is about a five-minute walk from his home. His book, 'Did You Know', lists lesser known facts about Hindi films.

Another category was the book of references. The one that was most popular was Feroze Rangoonwala's 'Indian Film Index', which listed all films made since the inception of films in India and included all the credits, as to the maker, director, cast and so on. This was among some 15 books he wrote related to films.

Rangoonwala's legacy of listing films year wise and with details was followed by Rajendra Ojha, who also published a directory of telephone numbers of film actors, producers and other technical departments. It was updated annually and it was very popular because it was handy.

'Bombay Before Bollywood' by Rosie Thomas was one such book that not only delved into the past and present and other details of Hindi cinema but for a change, also tried to explain the very complex details of how the commercial aspects of the film business worked. While most of the writers preferred glamour as their theme to write a book, Thomas sought to go into the business of cinema.

Rosie Thomas' approach was academic. Thomas is a teaching faculty at the University Of Westminster in the UK. She researched on the Hindi film industry for over three decades starting her search at National Film Archives of India {NFAI), Pune. And then she came to Mumbai, the hub of all activities she wanted in her book. This was a rare, serious, academic book on the Hindi film industry.

The business aspect, to say the least, is a vast subject, and complicated. Arrangements between a producer and a distributor differed in many cases, and somebody not belonging to the film industry would find it complex. However, she worked on this aspect as well and justified it.

Now, the way business is done has changed. The circuit barriers have been as good as done away with. Films are released from Mumbai where all the film companies are based. The films are released all over India simultaneously across thousands of screens. There are no film reels and the whole process has gone digital.

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