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Why do we love biographies of famous people?

Everyone loves a good biography; the more explosive the better!

brunch Updated: Sep 17, 2016 20:32 IST
Biographies and memoirs indulge our voyeuristic tendencies to know more about famous people
Biographies and memoirs indulge our voyeuristic tendencies to know more about famous people

Biographies of famous people indulge our deepest voyeuristic tendencies, the base need to discover previously unknown vignettes from their lives. TV journalist Yasser Usman’s recent biography, Rekha: An Untold Story does just that, by divulging details of her early beginnings in Bollywood, her troubled marriages and her reclusiveness.

Whether it’s in sports, TV or films, biographies/ memoirs engage like no other, taking readers along through the trials and triumphs of the subjects. The fact that the authors don’t shy from ruffling a few feathers along the way — when there’s candour, there’s bound to be controversies — makes them even more appealing. Here’s looking at our favourite tell-alls in recent times:

The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo (2016), Amy Schumer

This recently released autobiography by the comedienne and actress is a riot – just like her sets. Schumer is candid and intrepid in the essays about sexual assault and consent, gun laws in the US and even her own difficult relationship with her parents (her parents divorced when she was young and her dad suffers from multiple sclerosis). While the book is filled with hilarious nuggets, here’s Schumer on losing her virginity – “We’d gotten to third base, as they say, and I’d tried to jerk him off many times. But it never worked, and it became the cause of major frustration on both our parts. I was getting Michelle Obama arms, but no other good was coming out of it.”

Anusual(2015), Anu Aggarwal

The book was rightly titled Memoir Of A Girl Who Came Back From The Dead, as the former model and actress had disappeared after a brief innings in Bollywood in the ’90s. The original Aashiqui star opens up on her horrific car crash, a month-long coma, and salacious details on the men in her life – an Anglo-Indian jazz musician, an American supermodel and a French restaurateur amongst others. Aggarwal also details her time spent at a yoga ashram in Uttarakhand, where she experienced tantric lovemaking with the head swami. Sample this – “I feel fortunate to not have left a leaf unturned, or a button unhooked, in my exploration of sexuality, sensuality, or just an honest human connect with members of the opposite sex.”

Smita Patil: A Brief Incandescence(2015), Maithili Rao

While the actress became a poster girl for parallel cinema in the ’70s and ’80s, there was an aura of mystery that surrounded Smita Patil’s life. Film critic Maithili Rao’s book, launched on Patil’s 60th birth anniversary, deconstructs her career and also includes nuggets of her off-screen life pieced together through anecdotes from her close friends, family and industry insiders, such as Shyam Benegal, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi. While Rao refrains from speaking about her relationships, including her controversial marriage to Raj Babbar, the book reveals fascinating details like Patil’s fondness for children, bikes and army jongas (Patil and her friend once drove one all the way from Delhi to Bombay).

And Then One Day: A Memoir (2014), Naseeruddin Shah

This memoir, by one of Bollywood’s most illustrious and outspoken characters, did not disappoint. It sees him chronicle his journey from childhood to the beginning of his film innings to his marriage to fellow actor Ratna Pathak Shah. He talks about his hate for the ‘method’ actor tag, smoking pot (he’s quite vocal about it) and not being the best father to Heeba, his first-born - “I slowly began to resent this child who was beginning to come between me and the only woman who had ever given me any attention...”

KP: The Autobiography(2014), Kevin Pietersen

Autobiographies by sportsmen are often scathing and controversial, and aimed at settling scores, and this one by Kevin Pietersen rightly became the cricket book of the season. While the English cricketer penned down his childhood experiences of growing up in South Africa and his career trajectory, his sudden sacking from the England squad in early 2014 features as a prominent grouse. There’s also his agitation for Andy Flower, the former England coach, whom he branded a “mood hoover” and claimed he was bullied by – “Andy Flower. Contagiously sour, Infectiously dour. He could walk into a room and suck all the joy out of it in five seconds.” Ouch.

Not That Kind of Girl(2014), Lena Dunham

This autobiography, by millennials’ favourite feminist, was in the news as much for Lena Dunham’s trademark candour, as it was for the controversies that followed. In an essay, Dunham confessed bribing her younger sister, Grace, with candy to examine her body as a child, which led to allegations of sexual abuse. The notion was rejected by not just Grace and Dunham but many psychologists too. Inspired by Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 best seller, Having It All, Dunham wrote on body image issues, friendships, relationships and even her obsessive compulsive disorder, much like her character on HBO Girls. And the book’s uproariously funny too; here’s Dunham on healthy snacking - “When I was nine, I wrote a vow of celibacy on a piece of paper and ate it.”

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From HT Brunch, September 18, 2016

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