Kiss, kiss, no tell

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By Manjula Sen delves between the covers and discovers that the trickle of books on film stars is threatening to become a deluge
  • Published 23.09.07

Vyjayanthimala didn’t, but will Dev Anand kiss and tell? Will the Nargis-Raj Kapoor relationship be out in black and white? And will Leela Naidu talk about her troubled marital relationship with poet Dom Moraes?

The market waits. Next week, the 84-year-old director of the epic film Guide, the spurned beau of songstress Suraiya and Svengali to Zeenat Aman, Tina Munim and Tabu will tell his story. Romancing with Life is Dev Anand’s memoirs published by Penguin. And that’s not all, for Penguin has 10 other Bollywood-related titles in the pipeline.

Other publishing houses are not lagging behind either. Nargis by Kishwar Ahluwalia from HarperCollins will follow next month. By September end, Roli Books will roll out Mr and Mrs Dutt, Memories of our Parents, co-authored by the three children of Sunil and Nargis Dutt.

Bollywood, so long derided for its disdain for bound scripts, is having the last laugh. The Hindi film industry is being read between the covers like never before and seems to have the publishing industry in its thrall. Earlier this year, bookstores received King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema, Bonding… A Memory (actor-danseuse Vyjayanthimala Bali’s autobiography), Bollywood: A History, Hema Malini: The Authorised Biography, Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief (on the making of Omkara), Bollywood: Behind the Scenes, Beyond the Stars, Memories Come Alive: An Autobiography (by Manna Dey), translated from Bengali and Filming the Gods: Religion and Indian Cinema (with Hindi cinema featuring prominently). This list is by no means exhaustive. Next year’s catalogue promises to be even longer.

“The trend of publishing books on Bollywood has steadily grown over the past few years. Of course, many belong to what is known in the trade as ‘vanity publishing’ and are often distributed privately in undisclosed numbers. But the growing number of titles on Bollywood reflects a large potential market,” says Udayan Mitra, senior commissioning editor, Penguin.

No one is quite sure why there has been this sudden spurt in books on Hindi films but industry sources believe that a part of it has to do with globalisation and growing markets for the unique brand of Bollywood’s song and dance fare. India’s booming economy has attracted, among others, a host of publishing houses, helped further by outsourcing of low-cost printing and even editing services in the country. Publishing houses are also now more willing to feed the curiosity in Bollywood affairs, resulting in the gush of related books.

While Hindi film-related titles have been published for years, what is new is the frequency with which these books appear. “The audience for Bollywood books is fairly big. Our books on the making of a movie and biographies appeal to the slightly discerning older audience,” says HarperCollins CEO P.M. Sukumar.

Also, the canvas is broader now. The formats have widened from academic deconstructs and glossy pictorials to biographies, film publicity books and what Mitra calls “viewer response studies,” such as his imprint’s Helen: The Making of an H-Bomb, authored by Jerry Pinto last year.

Publishers hold that in-depth books and biographies have a longer shelf life than books that are brought out to coincide with the release of a film. “The backlist of such titles would continue,” says Sukumar. Sage, Routledge, Seagull, Rupa, Stellar and OUP are among those that have a regular catalogue of film titles.

Of the various segments, however, biographies tend to have an instant connect, with some unauthorised versions doing quite well. “As long as the personality is big enough the unauthorised book could have a wider resonance and appeal. Besides, there is the fear that the authorised versions may veer towards hagiography,” says Sukumar.

There are hagiographies like Aamir Khan: Actor with a Difference and AB: The Legend. A Photographer’s Tribute and there are tributes such as Pinto’s Helen where the author never got to meet his subject. Happily for Pinto, his next subject, actress Leela Naidu, has met with him every week for the past two years as they work on her autobiography, which is slated for next year.

“Leela Naidu’s autobiography, which I am ghost-writing, is a completely different project. Helen worked on a thousand films, Leela Naidu worked on less than 10 and yet both are assured their place in cinematic history,” says Pinto. Naidu’s book has her describing how she learnt to act with Jean Renoir, talked to pygmies in Africa and how a pilot proposed marriage to her in a cockpit.

The twin books on Nargis have evoked some interest, too. “Both these books are meant to be complementary to each other,” says Ahluwalia, who in writing Nargis put the final shape to an idea conceived by her husband, the economist, Meghnad Lord Desai. “He thought of writing about Nargis when Sunil Dutt was still alive.” After Dutt’s death, Ahluwalia and her husband met the offspring. “We spent 10 days with the family. There were so many beautiful photographs and letters that one book could not possibly have done justice to her.”

While the strength of a book lies in its content, the unsaid, too, seemingly adds to its allure. Vyjayanthimala Bali’s biography, for instance, has kicked up a dust in the media with her denial of her affair with Raj Kapoor. And Hema Malini’s biography delicately sidesteps the grittier issues of her personal life. While the octogenarian will have enough to offer readers interested in the turning points of Indian history, such as Partition and the Emergency, would Dev Anand be as forthcoming about his romances? “He talks very frankly and in detail about each and every relationship he’s ever had,” Mitra replies stoutly.

Meanwhile, Ahluwalia is working on her next book, also for HarperCollins. “It’s not a biography. It’s going to be much bigger.” But oh yes, it’s also going to be about Bollywood.

2007 releases

King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema by Anupama Chopra
Romancing With Life (Autobiography of Dev Anand)
Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief by Stephen Alter
Nargis by Kishwar Ahluwalia
Bonding... A Memory (Autobiography of Vyjayanthimala)
Mr and Mrs Dutt, Memories of our Parents co-authored by the three children of Sunil and Nargis Dutt