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A literary pilgrimage into Bollywood (BOOK REVIEW)

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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The problem with definitive Bollywood sagas is that they encompass a universe that's impossible to pin down.

"Bollywood" by its very definition is a conundrum. It isn't just a cultural tradition but also a way of life and a form of socio-political expression in India. How does one select the most important aspects of this phenomenon and turn it into a digestible and comprehensible look-see into popular art?

Co-authors Dinesh Raheja and Jitendra Kothari have earlier worked on a lively overview on the 100 most influential stars in Bollywood. Their new collaborative effort is a logical, and more comprehensive, progression from the earlier work.

Delving into the earliest beginnings of Hindi cinema, "Indian Cinema - The Bollywood Saga", takes us on a fairly illuminative pilgrimage into the heartland of Hindi cinema.

From the silent era to present times, the book takes into account the most monumental and magical moments from the existence of the moving pictures to chronicle what the authors call "the benchmark of vibrant changes".

The account remains largely objective and revealing, except when the authors' opinions impinge a little too broadly on the celluloid saga.

The write-up "The Breaking Of The Lata-Asha Monopoly" by its very nature and definition appears anomalous. Musicologists now agree that the term "Mangeshkar monopoly" -- coined by churlish hacks and music composers who were denied access to the two singing divas -- had no historical validity.

Furthermore the voices that according to Raheja and Kothari broke the "monopoly" - the likes of Anuradha Paudwal, Sadhana Sargam, Sapna Mukherjee - made no headway beyond the initial spurt of curiosity.

Factual errors also mar the otherwise-fine account of eras and auras that constitute our comprehension of the cinematic experience.

On page 112, the authors erroneously tell us that actress Deepti Naval sang the lines "Aisa nahin ke humko koi bhi khushi nahin" in the film Ek Baar Phir. The lines were actually lip-synced by Naval in another film, "Saath Saath".

On the very next page we're informed that Smita Patil passed away at "childbirth" when in fact she died some weeks after her son was born, and that after avant-garde directors took to big commercial stars, Shabana Azmi "concentrated on her international projects".

As a matter of fact, Azmi has hardly done half a dozen international films. Her main body of work, with or without the avant-garde directors, remains within Hindi cinema.

On page 144 we are told Mira Nair's next film is "Hysterical Blindness" with Hollywood actress Reese Witherspoon. That was Nair's last film. Witherspoon stars in Nair's forthcoming "Vanity Fair". On the same page Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Black" is listed among Indian films in English. Black is a Hindi film.

That the largely authentic documentation of cinematic facts is supported pictorially is a huge asset for this work. However, a majority of the pictures, including the stunning Aishwarya Rai cover, are publicity stills. A volume of this nature needed more exclusive photographic support, and minimal factual aberrations.

Looking at the larger picture, "Indian Cinema The Bollywood Saga" telescopes a tantalizing overview of the Mumbai film industry. The random glitches do not take the shine away from the Bollywood saga.

Raheja and Kothari go from the general to the specific without losing focus of the comprehensive cinematic vision. Descriptions of films from every decade are especially illuminating.

This is among the more significant works on Hindi cinema, and a much needed endorsement of the fact that Bollywood has arrived, globally.


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