Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A dialogue on cinema

This book review appeared in print last Sunday. --- Name: Talking Cinema By: Bhawana Somaaya Published by: HarperCollins Publishers India Price: Rs 299 Pages: 222 Every Friday, a new God or Goddess appear on the screen and soon enough their faithful multiply. We love, eat, drink and perhaps even pray in Bollywood ishtyle. Going beyond these cliches is Bhawana Somaaya's, Talking Cinema that captures the 'thinking aloud' moments of actors and film-makers, whose work has become the barometer of Indian cinema's history. Most of the interviews were done in early 2000, when Indian cinema was in a flux. And, it's that changing mindset of film-makers and actors, Somaaya hopes to capture in this book. Talking Cinema succeeds in its objective, besides getting the timing right too – we are celebrating the centenary of Indian cinema. The Q & A format of the book might at the outset seem pedantic and prosaic. But, it's not. Most of the questions posed to the actors and film-makers are simple and uniform, but have been answered differently, going beyond the breezy cheerfulness that you encounter in cinema reporting. Somaaya has succeeded in getting the actors to drop their guard; as the interview progresses, their choice of words become more candid, revealing and honest. For instance, Shah Rukh Khan on being asked on the definition of good performance, says, “This may sound like a cliché, but I don't think there can be a fixed definition.... Acting is a complex exercise and works differently for different people. I am often criticized for being Shah Rukh Khan in all my films. My argument is that even if I do bare all, is it about being different or being about yourself? For fourteen years, I have exhibited bits and pieces of me on celluloid. The day I feel I have exposed myself completely and have nothing more to offer, I will pack up. Such a time can be described as creative salvation or it can be called burn-out.” The Q & A format also enables you to begin reading from any page and even skipping some of the interviews, if you are not interested in reading the work philosophy of the actors/film-makers. The only count on which the author could have bettered the book is by widening her choice of interviewees. For instance in the 'Director's Cut' section, Sudhir Mishra or Vidhu Vinod Chopra's approach their craft could have made an interesting read. Only one 'Badhshah' Khan has been featured, with Aamir Khan and Salman Khan missing from 'An Actor Prepares' or 'Character Speak' segment. No one from the regional cinema has been featured, barring Kamal Haasan and Mani Ratnam (of course it's their work in Bollywood, that's the talking point). Barring these glitches, it's a book to be read, if you want to understand what makes our cinema tick.

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