Book Review: Women in Indian Film

By Joginder Tuteja Bollywood Hungama News Network

'Women in Indian Film' is an experiment if one looks at the entire reading experience when it comes to books on cinema. That's because first and foremost, this is not really a book in the offering. In fact it's a series that encapsulates the life and work of 10 women who either made a difference to Indian cinema or at least made their presence felt amongst the masses. It's the presentation of this series which makes a difference because instead of the story of these ten women being presented as a part of one single book, there are 10 different mini books (or say, booklets) which are bundled in one common packaging.

It is this presentation which grabs one's attention because these booklets are the kind that can be carried in one's pocket. So, if one wants to read about one particular actress/film maker/technician on the way to office, it can be comfortably carried along. Moreover, the booklets are light weight as well with each of them lasting barely 20 odd pages. With an average read lasting close to 20 minutes each, this entire series can be wrapped up in less than four hours.

Coming to the series in itself, it's an experimentation of sorts. Ask anyone from the age group of 15 to 60 for women who made a difference to Indian cinema and the usual suspects would be Madhubala, Waheeda Rehman, Kajol, Rekha, Hema Malini, Sridevi, Meena Kumari etc. However, this is not the case as the team of women writers behind this series choose to pick some unconventional names. So we have Kaveree Bamzai (Saira Banu, Madhuri Dixit), Rajashri Dasgupta (Aparna Sen), Charu Gargi (Aarti Bajaj), Udita Jhunjhunwala (Jaya Bachchan, Zeenat Aman), Namrata Joshi (Nutan, Mumtaz), Nandini Ramnath (Smita Patil) and Nasreen Munni Kabir (Farah Khan) create an unconventional list of artists and write about them.

This unconventional approach actually brings in the reader's attention to the series because if one talks about the usual suspects (as highlighted earlier), most of them have been dissected and bisected by dozens of authors in the past. However, with an exception of a few names, not many have been written or talked about earlier. So with good expectations of reading something short, crisp and exciting in these 20 page booklet, one picks up his/her favorite artist and kick starts the exploration.

However, as it turns out, beyond the idea and the packaging, the series doesn't hold your attention in the manner you were expecting. Agreed that in the shortest space possible, an author had to cover the three perspectives - life, work and industry contribution - but while doing so, there is a sense of void that is left once a booklet is through. You are left asking for more when there was an opportunity to pack so much in the little space available.

What also turns out to be sort of disappointing in this series is its entire 'essay' approach. One feels like reading through a text book material when more anecdotes and behind-the-scenes sneak peak would have made the booklets more engaging. Also, majority of quotes in the series are picked from the interviews and features of these women in the past years or decades, hence giving the booklet a 'short paper' look and feel.

The booklets succeed though in lending a cue for a reader to explore something more on his/her own after going through the quick write-up. Also, they give an idea to other writers to get into details of the life and work of these artists and come up with further elaborate write-ups on them. Moreover, despite being true-to-the-subject approach that the series follows, there are some interesting facts presented that have been mainly unknown to many a readers.

Some of these are:

- Farah Khan believes that Bachpan [1963] was the world's worst movie ever made and the heroine there was terrible. Not many are aware though that the heroine was none other than her mother (Menka).
- After shooting for Aaj Rapat Jaaye [Namak Halaal], Smita Patil was traumatized and asked herself the question - 'Why am I doing this'?
- Dilip Kumar never spoke to Smita Patil during the shoot of Shakti since she had commented that she wasn't afraid of working with him
- Shashi Kapoor had refused to work with Mumtaz in her early years since she was considered to be a mere stunt heroine. However, at the peak of her career, she became his leading lady in Chor Machaye Shor
- Aarti Bajaj fell in love with Anurag Kashyap when she saw him first at Lover's Point, Delhi University, strolling alone in a white short, blue jeans and chappals.
- For the bathroom song 'Unse Mile' [Jhuk Gaya Asmaan], Saira Bano insisted that she herself face the camera rather than a body double who was offered
- When Farah brought a Counselor home to help her father get rid of drinking, the duo got involved in a drinking session pronto
- It was the entry of Mumtaz in the leading lady bracket that blurred the gap between black and white. Also, it was only post Mumtaz era that any women who was seen as being sexual ceased to be a vamp.
- Dev Anand met Zeenat Aman at a party and chose her for Hare Rama Hare Krishna based on the way she whipped out a cigarette
- There was a time when Aarti Bajaj had to live on one meal in order to ensure that her child was well fed
- Jaya Bachchan had huge problems with exposing and was always ill at ease wearing backless cholis, spaghetti strap blouses, exaggerated eye-liner and heavy make up
- In her early days in the industry, Madhuri Dixit was told by Boney Kapoor that her arms were too thin. Promptly she joined fitness classes to get into shape. Also, when some close-up shots of Ram Lakhan revealed her pimples, she went to US for skin treatment.
- Barjatyas were unwilling to cast Mohnish Behl as the villain in Main Pyar Kiya because as Nutan's son, his onscreen image too was expected to be all noble and goody. Promptly, Nutan called them and said - 'Don't punish Mohnish for being my son'
- During talks of Dilip Kumar's second marriage in 1980, Saira Bano declared that she won't stand for any other woman being called Mrs. Dilip Kumar

Overall, 'Women in Indian Film' is an attempt at bringing in something different and unique deserves to be appreciated as seldom have authors earlier on thought of bringing out a series in such a fashion. In this regard, it is nice to see women like Zeenat Aman, Mumtaz, Farah Khan and the newer entrant Aarti Bajaj being acknowledged for their contribution to cinema. So even as the effort of Jaya Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Nutan and Smita Patil has been hailed in the past in quite a few write-ups, the remaining names do make for a good inclusion in the series. Now if only the overall content too was exciting as the names, the series may have turned out to be a much better read!

Price: Rs. 595/=

Rating: **1/2

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