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Book Review: There is nothing frivolous about Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s Bioscope

Packing anecdotes, gossip, and plenty of insight about the mainstream film industry in a non-linear narrative, Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s Bioscope: A Frivolous History of Bollywood in Ten Chapters is a light, but informative read for Bollywood lovers.

books Updated: Apr 10, 2018 18:16 IST
Cover of Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s Bioscope.
Cover of Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s Bioscope.

What do you expect from a book that claims to document, even if lightly, close to eight decades of breathless filmmaking, in just over 200 pages? Diptakirti Chaudhuri’s Bioscope, just like its quirky cover (a die-cut top layer that part-reveals, part-conceals a priceless poster of the 1958 movie Devta), is an endearing attempt at giving the reader a peek into the show-business that is Bollywood.

The book debunks conventional linearity in favour of a narrative that takes up themes that have been concurrent nearly at all times in the history of Bollywood. However, the individual chapters deal with these themes chronologically, starting from the 40s or the 50s, and culminating in the present day.

From how our favourite songs got made, how the audience’s fashion sense and that of filmstars have informed each other, to how the industry’s most memorable expats were often reduced to stereotypical characters, and how films have identified not only the audience’s pleasure points but its nerve — this book has it all. How Zeishan Quadri, emboldened by his watching of the Brazilian crime drama City of God (2003), pitched his desi crime story set in the hinterland of modern-day Jharkhand, to Anurag Kashyap, who liked it and came up with his legendary magnum opus in two parts, Gangs of Wasseypur (2012). How artisans and dressmakers were flown in from Old Delhi for the grandiloquent Mughal-e-Azam (1958), so that absolute historical authenticity could be achieved in terms of the way the characters looked. Or how Bhiku Mhatre, the character Manoj Bajpayee played in Satya, was named after an attendant that would bring chai for Ramgopal Varma.

Chaudhuri suitably peppers the narrative with forgotten films and landmark art-house attempts, and garnishes with lots of humour and familiarity. This helps to achieve readability even with chapters that some readers could find journalistic and more thoughtful than others, like the opening one that discusses box-office collections, or the concluding chapter that succinctly furnishes a sharp, concise history of modern Bollywood, right from the bloody partition that followed our Independence, the Sino-Indian war, constant acts of cross-border terrorism, the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid, and the orgasmic moment India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup. This chapter makes for a beautiful antithesis to the otherwise lighthearted tone of the book.

That the book is ‘opinionated and emotional’ helps it avoid turning into a bland collection of trivia on a film industry. It is evident that Chaudhuri knows film industries and ways of filmmaking cannot be subjected to the same measuring scale, and this helps him to appreciate the Hindi mainstream industry benevolently, and with greater nuance. He unearths lost gems like Haqeeqat (1964), and separates the wheat from the chaff in gloriously bad attempts. No wonder another writer on Bollywood, Amborish Roychoudhury, credits Chaudhuri with sparking debates, in the afterword of his In A Cult of His Own: Bollywood Beyond the Box Office.

The language is lucid, and there is never a dull moment in the book, which is an asset when you’re dealing with a small page count. He has done it earlier it in his Cricket! All You Wanted to Know, a book about cricket World Cups, the slightly-longer, but insightful Written by Salim-Javed and Kitnay Aadmi Thay. Anyway, Bioscope is one for the cinephiles, and not just the frivolous ones.

Highlights
  • Title: Bioscope: A Frivolous History of Bollywood in Ten Chapters
  • Author: Diptakirti Chaudhuri
  • Publisher: Hachette India
  • Price: ₹399