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HindustanTimes Fri,22 Aug 2014
What prompted me to know more about Bollywood
Khushwant Singh, Hindustan Times
February 11, 2012
First Published: 23:32 IST(11/2/2012)
Last Updated: 23:33 IST(11/2/2012)

India knows Anupam Kher as one of the many stars of Bollywood: he has starred in over 450 films. India does not know there is another side to him; he is also a thinker. He has put his thoughts in a newly published book of some 200 pages, illustrated with scenes from nature to match his observations. He has entitled his publication The Best Thing About You is You, (Hay House). He tackles questions like: “Where do we come from? What are we expected to do? And, where do we go after we die?”

Nobody knows where we come from besides knowing that we are conceived by our parents engaging in sexual intercourse. Nor do we know where we go when we die. Answers given by preachers of religion are no longer acceptable to the thinkers of today. They are more concerned with how we should get the best out of our lives. Kher spells this out in lucid prose. He sums it up in a paragraph at the end of his thesis.

It reads: “Hope is not just another four-letter word. It is perhaps, together with love, the most powerful emotion known to us. If love makes the world go round, hope keeps us going on forever. Even in the worst of times, it is hope that keeps us alive. Hope makes us believe in a better tomorrow and it is hope that gives us the courage to face all odds.”

Bollywood Bonanza
As the cliché goes, what I know about Hindi films could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Come to think of it, the last time I saw a Hindi film was on Phoolan Devi, the dacoit queen. I was deeply impressed by the production. It had no songs or dances, yet held my attention because of its authenticity. Since then songs and physical jerks which pass off as dancing have become the staple diet of Bollywood productions. I have no time for such tamashas.
One incident still rankles in my mind. When I was living in Bombay editing The Illustrated Weekly of India, my friend, Rafique Zakaria, then minister in the government of Maharashtra and his wife, Fatma, took me to a cinema show. I was given a front seat next to a very beautiful young woman. Assuming
I would know who she was, they did not introduce her to me. In the interval I turned to her and asked “Aap kartee kya hain — what do you do?” She did not deign to reply and lit her cigarette (smoking in cinemas was allowed during those days).
 
After the show was over, I complained to Rafique and Fatma of the woman’s bad manners and asked who she was? Rafique lost his temper and called me a gadha (donkey). “She is Meena Kumari, the heartthrob of millions of Indians and you don’t even know her name! What kind of editor are you?”
I decided Hindi films were not my cup of chai. However, when Bhaichand Patel, compiler-editor of a profile of Bollywood’s Superstars of Indian Cinema (Penguin Viking) gave me a copy, I agreed to dip into it and give my  reactions.

First I read Pavan Verma on Meena Kumari and learnt what I had not known about her background. Then Vikram Sampath on the singer-actor KL Saigal. I could have added a few juicy details about him as his daughter Neena Merchant lived in the neighbouring block in Bombay and we saw quite a lot of each other.
I also met Dev Anand who was a couple of years junior to me in college and Amitabh Bachchan who was gracious enough to preside over the launch of one of my novels. I disagree with people who say he was a flop as a member of Parliament. I heard him speak at a meeting of sub-committee of MPs. I was most impressed.
I can vouch for the quality of writing in this anthology of film stars and commend it for those who are
interested in Hindi films.

The Great Poll Drama
We are again at the hustings;
the great poll drama is unfolding.

First, idealism, dug out, dusted,
put in a cover artfully printed,
is pledged to arouse cynical masses.

Then, slogans, banners, scripted afresh,
pitch attuned, visual focused on,
serve as a ploy to attract attention.

Promises galore are showered next,
they spring from an alluring text
for swing on caste and religious lines

The campaigns, peaking up, declines
into acrimony, mud-slinging;
masks falling off, nexus emerging.

Doubts hover, gripping the air.
Is anti-graft an issue that matters?
What will ultimately secure votes:
jingle of bottles, shirr of notes
or choice of voters, undeterred;
and the watchdog standing guard?
(Contributed by AK Das)

The views expressed by the author are personal


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