Book Review - Chetan Anand - The Poetics of Film


By Joginder Tuteja, Bollywood Hungama News Network

Written in two parts by Chetan Anand's former wife Uma Anand and his elder son Ketan Anand, Chetan Anand - The Poetics of Film is a study in contrast. How exactly? Well, while Part I of the book goes into the nth detail of people Chetan interacted with, his study of cinema and his desire to make movies which not exactly walked the commercial route, Part II appears to be a clear instance of a hurried job where the text comes to an end before one starts warming up to the subject.

In short, while most of Part I turns out to be boring study of history, Part II leaves a lot to be desired!

What also surprises/to an extent disappoints is a clear case of using Chetan Anand - The Poetics of Film as a forum to pitch Chetan Anand's 1945 release Neecha Nagar to today's world. The 145 page hard bound book goes on an overdrive to tell the world that how the film had won Grand Prix at Cannes in 1946 at the first International Film Festival held after World War II. A film about the freedom struggle of the Gandhian Satyagraha movement, it couldn't see a theatrical release due to its theme. Later when it did find buyers, it was a commercial disaster.

First and foremost, one wonders if readers today would really be overtly interested in getting the lowest level detail of what happened 50 years back. Secondly, one isn't clear about the exact purpose behind this story being told. Now if at all it was just one of the many stories in the book, it may still have been understandable but the authors go all out in not just telling the tale as it happened but also publish the exact letters which were exchanged between Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund (which woke up to the film in 1988) and Chetan Anand!

On holding the book in hand for the first time, one is quite impressed with its structure, layout and paper quality. The publishers do a great job in giving the book an attractive look. However, the moment one starts turning the pages, interest starts fading away 15 minutes down the line. History, history and lot of history is revealed in names - whether national or international, family or non-family, belonging to intellectual or the world of arts/cinema - which start finding a mention one after another.

In fact, Uma Anand goes all out to ensure that not a single name or location is missed out. Now for someone close to the director, it may have been a sort of tribute or homage but for an average reader, it is sheer disinterest which creeps in. Her language and style too is suited for that (select) set of readers who wish to see some serious writing rather than anything which entertains.

The only portions which do turn out to be marginally interesting are those where the film's plot and synopsis are revealed along with the challenges that came in the way of getting the film to the completion line and it's release. In this context, Neecha Nagar does make for an engaging read along with Taxi Driver which was the production house's first commercial success. Most interesting though is to read about Dev Anand 'Funtoosh' which boasted of an excellent storyline. The subject is so contemporary that if remade today, it is bound to find an audience.

A couple of interesting facts are unveiled about the way films were perceived even way back in the 40s and the 50s. Since Neecha Nagar was experimental cinema with no songs, no dances and no matka-jhatka - as described by the author - audiences were completely dissatisfied and demanded their money back. This was not all as they even smashed the seats. In fact, so unsure were the financers about the commercial prospects of the film that they even demanded an item song and dance to be added to the film. To think of it, this happened more than half a century back and here we blame the audience of today!

What's also good is that none of the authors try to hide fact about the box office fate of the films. One realizes that in the initial years of his film making career, Chetan Anand had number of flops one after another. However, this is gracefully accepted by Uma Anand who doesn't even get into an excuse around why the films failed.

In the book, one would have liked to know more about what Chetan was as a person and how he actually coped with failure. Also, he did have a family life with brothers like Dev Anand and Vijay Anand and his sons. But to one's surprise, there are hardly any stories covered in both the aspects, hence resulting in the book turning to be an unsatisfactory read.

Everyone knows that Dharmendra starrer Haqeeqat is the most defining movie of Chetan Anand's career. Thankfully a reader is taken through the details around the making of the film. In fact what impresses most is the entire story being told through dozens of pictures from the film. Same happens in case of Heer Ranjha and Hanste Zakham too, first of the two color films of Chetan Anand.

However, from this point on, Ketan Anand suddenly seems to be loosing interest in writing the book as he hurriedly takes a reader through rest of the pages with just a few sentences each dedicated to many more films and TV serial (Paramvir Chakra) that the director made. What is particularly shocking is the complete omission of Haathon Ki Lakeerein (starring Jackie Shroff, Zeenat Aman, Sanjeev Kumar, Priya Rajvansh) which was the last film that filmmaker had made in 1986!

Though Filmography towards the book's end does mention about it in brief with cast and credit details, Ketan Anand chooses to completely skip the film while describing his father's journey as a filmmaker. Moreover, despite the fact that Chetan Anand directed TV serial 'Paramvir Chakra' with actors like Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Sheikh, Puneet Issar and Gurdas Mann, the event just gets a one page mention followed by a few pictures.

Ok, so what exactly was the purpose of this book? One doesn't get an answer right till the end! Chetan Anand - The Poetics of Film turns out to be such a half baked attempt at telling the story of the late filmmaker that one wonders if the authors were really enthusiastic about the whole affair? A sore disappointment!

Rating: *1/2