At first glance, Bhawana Somaaya’s Talking Cinema: Conversations with Actors and Film-makers might seem like a collection of dated interviews compiled together to present a balanced picture of the Indian film industry.
The interviews date back more than a decade as most are from 2000-2005 with the odd exception of a conversation taking place in the early 1990s or the late 2000s.
Look a little deeper, and you realise that what the book does is shed light on the thought process of the people who are, and in most cases have been, an integral part of making celluloid dreams a reality.
The “conversations” cover a wide range of topics with the subjects opening up and displaying their true emotions towards films. It is here that Somaaya’s non-intrusive and non-gossipy style of interviewing comes in handy.
Take the case of Shekhar Kapur, who at the time of releasing Bandit Queen – which was not getting the kind of release he wanted – exhibits his frustrations to the extent that he wants people to watch the film by any method possible. He goes on the say that, “if the film is not going to be released, one might as well see it on the cable, so what if it is a pirated copy?”.
A similar candid interview with Hrishikesh Mukherjee is my favourite. Here, Somaaya makes the classic director talk about being in the industry during the time of a cultural and technological revolution and how cinema is influencing the changing society, and vice-versa.
The magic of the book lies in Somaaya picking up a mixed bunch of actors and directors giving an outlook to the film industry from different perspectives.
While she talks to Vishal Bharadwaj about the trials and tribulations of a first time director, before the release of Makhee, and how hard it is to get a story made, her chat with Rajkumar Santoshi paints an entirely different picture wherein superstars are ready to act in his films without even listening to the story.
It’s the ease with which everyone opens up to Somaaya that gives the reader a transparent window into the personal and professional lives of these stars.
The other aspect of the book, besides the interviews being a decade old, that might irate some readers is that the conversations don’t have a head or a toe. At times they end as abruptly as they start. On the one hand, this keeps the reading focused on the central idea of the conversation, but at the same time, it all seems a little incomplete.
Talking Cinema is an excellent insight into the rise and fall of actors and film-makers from one Friday to the next. The book is in four segments with the author taking to Actors, Characters, Directors, and the Specialists from the world of filmmaking.
The conversations comprising of the character studies (Rekha on Lajja or Tabu on The Namesake) and those on film specialists (Amitabh Bachchan on Cops and Yash Chopra on Love) give the reader a chance to see how cinema perceives its audience and as a result altercates its appearance to satisfy the need of society.
The plus point about the book is that you can always come back to these conversations over time if for nothing else but to see how the perceptions have changed over the years; especially Shah Rukh Khan’s take on friendship in the film industry.
The book is more so for cinephiles that want to understand cinema from the inside and less for individuals looking for a bit of gossip. However, Talking Cinema is perfect as a light and breezy read.
I know you are wondering how a book on Indian Cinema ended up here, in the middle of a travel blog. Last year, around this time, I went off on a tangent and decided to focus on films, via reviews, which captured different aspects of life from across the world.
Similarly, I feel that Indian Cinema is an integral part of who we are here in this country. Most of us breathe movies, love them, and hate them, with equal passion.
Going to the cinema is second nature to Indians. It is a chance for the family to enjoy a “masala blockbuster” together. A way for lovers to hide in the darkness of the theatre for some intimate time. And of course, an opportunity to forget about real life and lose ourselves in the stories on the silver screen for a few hours.
So, this time I decided to feature books based on Indian Cinema that should hopefully give you an insight into what films mean to the people in India and also highlight some individuals who made “Bollywood” what it is – the largest film industry of the world.
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