‘Jab kaam chalega to naam bhi chalega.’ (‘When your work is recognised, your name will also be accepted’). This was Mani Kaul’s advice to Shatrughan Sinha, when the latter wondered if he should keep his given name or shorten it to S Sinha – in fact, his name is listed as S Sinha in the credits of Saajan, his first film.
Bharti Pradhan’s biography of the man is richly detailed and well researched. Right at the start, she quotes Walter Isaacson, author of ‘Jobs’, before stating that India is not the US and that her subject is no Jobs. Her subject, Shatrughan Sinha, clearly had some control over what went into the book. Still, those looking for gossip and trivia will not be disappointed.
Pradhan smartly lets him do the talking, and Sinha does not disappoint. He brags a great deal and in the process, spills enough juicy bits to keep the reader interested. Sample this: ‘My problem was not whom to marry but whom not to marry’ (about his thinking a few days before he actually married his wife, Poonam). ‘I was going steady with a tall, very well educated corporate executive, who was a south Indian brahmin, and another short little girl, who is now married. And a well-known actress.’ SS continues with his bravado: ‘to this day some of them remain unmarried.’
Born into a family of academics in Patna, Shatrughan was the youngest of four brothers. With a stern father, an emotional and loving mother, and three elder brothers, who all excelled in studies, SS figured out early that movies and acting interested him more than anything else. Raj Kapoor was his idol and he watched his movies many times and copied his style. He even picked up smoking after watching Kapoor smoking stylishly. (He eventually kicked the habit years later with a little help from yoga.) The young SS discovered he was good at mimicry – a trait that made him popular with his peers – and eventually got into FTII. With a little help from his mother and brothers, he boarded the train for Pune. As he entered the compartment he ‘saw the most beautiful woman I had set my eyes on’. The woman was Poonam Chandiramani, whom he married 14 years later.
FTII allowed him to bloom, form abiding friendships, and hone his skills. His only regrets about those days are that he skipped yoga and dance classes!
After the course, Sinha went to Bombay in search of work. Luckily for him, his booming voice, unusual looks, and dominating demeanour got him into the Dev Anand-directed Prem Pujari and he quickly became a sought-after villain. In the early part of his career, Mumtaz went out of her way to help him. The relationship was platonic but it made Yash Chopra jealous and soon SS found himself dropped from Ittefaq. They later worked together in Kaala Pathar.
But SS wanted to be a hero and so he pushed his friend and senior from FTII, Subhash Ghai, to direct Kalicharan, a blockbuster that established him as a hero.
SS is unusually candid about his romances. Two days before he married Poonam in 1980, he says he was in London for a show with girlfriend Reena Roy, who drove him to the airport. ‘After my marriage, I could see her battling confusion. Sometimes she would fly off to the Rajneesh Ashram, sometimes stay over with someone in America. She wouldn’t talk to me for days’. This sort of honesty is rare among Bollywood stars and the reader can’t help but be pleasantly surprised. The love triangle sorted itself out when Reena Roy married Mohsin Khan.
The book also looks at Sinha’s friendships, including the one with fellow-Bihari Shekhar Suman. The two fell out over an innocuous remark that Shekhar Suman made at a function to mark the success of the Sinha’s play ‘Pati Patni aur Main’. The schism lasted for years. His relationship with Ghai too went through difficult times. Clearly, he isn’t an entirely easy buddy to have.
Sinha, who joined politics under the spell of Indira Gandhi, likes to point out that he was the first cabinet minister from the film industry; someone who did it entirely on his ‘own merit’. Now a long-time member of the BJP, he would do well to heed Sushma Swaraj’s words: ‘If I had to pick on a flaw I would give him sanyam ki salaah (advice on patience)’
A fairly balanced biography that allows the subject to speak (and often shoot himself in the foot), Anything but Khamosh is detailed and engaging. For those who love Hindi cinema of the 1970s and 80s, it is a treasure trove of information and trivia. For others, it is a peek into the life of an interesting, well-intentioned man, who has had an influence on public life for over three decades. And yes, Shatrughan Sinha does like himself a lot.
A film buff and an avid collector of trivia to do with pre-Liberalisation India, Satya Prakash is the Founder Partner of The Beach, an advertising agency. He lives in New Delhi