Dinesh Raheja Column: Stories behind books based on celebrities

There is a plethora of books on Hindi films and Hindi film stars today. It has almost become a cottage industry, and this week there’s a book on Sridevi that will be launched. But when I penned my first book on Hindi cinema 22 years ago, you could count the books published on the subject on your finger tips.

My journey as a columnist began when Ayaz Memon called out of the blue and asked me to write for Sunday Mid-day. Similarly, my journey as an author of books just happened organically; it was not planned. In 1996, I had been editing Movie magazine for eight years when I collaborated with my deputy editor, Jitendra Kothari, on a cover story titled:

The Hundred Luminaries Of Hindi Cinema. It was a compendium of biographical profiles of the film world’s most significant actors, filmmakers, music directors, playback singers and writers, both past and contemporary.

Padmini Mirchandani of IBH, the publisher of Movie magazine, was also a book publisher who had many prestigious coffee table titles to her credit. We had individual cabins on the same floor;

I had a simply done up cabin with the most amazing view in the city of Mahalakshmi Mandir and Haji Ali. As soon as the magazine with The Hundred Luminaries on the cover reached her desk, Padmini buzzed me on the intercom and asked me to come across.

She enthused, “Do you realise your cover story is material for a full-fledged book written in greater detail? I am commissioning this book right now.” By the next day, I had inked the deal for a modest sum but the fee wasn’t of much consequence; I was excited by the idea of researching and documenting biographical profiles of luminaries from Dadasaheb Phalke (he pioneered filmmaking in India with Raja Harishchandra, released on May 13, 1913) to Shah Rukh Khan.

Since we had to restrict the list to 100 luminaries, we had to reluctantly exclude names like Raakhee, Asha Parekh, OP Nayyar, and some of them were upset about it. We sourced the photographs from collectors and the film producers; the criteria was simple — the photographs had to be rare.

I tentatively approached Amitabh Bachchan to write the foreword of the book and, to my pleasant surprise, he instantly agreed, coming up with a long, ruminative essay. As a coup, I managed to get Rekha to pen a short but succinct note for the last page.

The book, The Hundred Luminaries Of Hindi Cinema, was released by Amitabh Bachchan with great fanfare at Crossword book store in the presence of Dimple Kapadia, Ramesh Sippy, Nadira, Sooraj Barjatya, Laxmikant of Laxmikant Pyarelal fame and Manoj Kumar amongst others. I still treasure the one rupee coin Nadira gave me as a shagun.

A fortnight later, Rekha agreed to sign copies for readers at the Crossword book store again. Soon, I flew to Hyderabad, where Sridevi and Anil Kapoor jointly released the book after cutting a cake shaped like the book.

I enjoyed the experience of penning a book and all that it entailed but became busy with editing my magazine. Offers to write more books could not fructify because they didn’t carry the weightage required for me to devote a big chunk of my time.

A few years later, Pramod Kapoor, the proprietor of Roli Books, approached me to write another book; and it resulted in Indian Cinema, The Bollywood Saga. It was an enormous tome that took us six months to write, including a long but beautiful period spent watching obscure films and researching in the library of the National Film Archives at Pune.

Once again, we laid great emphasis on the photographs — a friend, Suguna Sundaram, helped source the pictures and permissions from the producers. I requested Amitabh and Aishwarya Rai (they were not related then) to jointly release the book and, believe it or not, both agreed instantly.

Rati Agnihotri, a friend first and an actor later, agreed to compere the event and even clasped my hand reassuringly when I grew nervous during my opening speech. I was overjoyed when a French edition of the book was released in Paris.

At the beginning of this decade, Vinod Chopra and Om Books approached Jitendra and me to write not one but three books on the screenplays of Guru Dutt’s seminal classics: Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chaudhvin Ka Chand and Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam.

It grabbed my interest; besides giving me the challenge to examine and translate the screenplays and the songs, it afforded the opportunity to interview greats like Waheeda Rehman and cinematographer V K Murthy and document their contribution to cinema as well as write analytical think pieces such as ‘Guru Dutt’s Relationship with Fame’ and ‘An Ode To Platonic Relationships’.

The three books were written over endless cups of cutting chai and took two years to complete. The books were released just as I would have liked — we had an engrossing panel discussion on Guru Dutt’s cinema with Vinod Chopra and three eminent directors — Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee and Farhan Akhtar.

Seeing my five cinema books in my library gives me great satisfaction. Many writers tell me they use my books as references, and I hope they have acquired the archival value that Amitabh mentioned in his foreword to our book, The Hundred Luminaries Of Hindi Cinema:

“When we built our house in Delhi, I remember that we went through the customary ritual of taking a lota, placing a few coins, the day’s newspaper, photographs and burying it on the site.

It was a time capsule for us to unearth after a passage of time. The authors of the book are doing something similar with this book. They are capsuling something for posterity.”