Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bollywood's Top 20 by Bhaichand Patel

Title: Bollywood’s Top 20 Superstars of Indian Cinema
Author: Bhaichand Patel (Editor))
Publisher: Penguin Viking
Pages: 279
Price: Rs 599
Genre: Non Fiction / Film
Rating: 7/10

If you ask me, my expectations with ‘Bollywood’s Top 20’ were to first find out who all made it to the Top 20, and then discover new facets of their personalities, growth as performers and their cinematic journeys. There are no issues with the essays per se but personally I felt that they were quite on the surface and do not succeed in presenting the superstars intimately.

Most of the stars who make it to the selected top 20 are expected. So you have the tragedy king Dilip Kumar to the evergreen Dev Anand to frighteningly popular Rajesh Khanna, there’s the angry young man Amitabh Bachchan, the quintessential lover boy Shahrukh Khan, the perfectionist Amir Khan alongwith the self-effacing K.L.Sehgal, charismatic Devika Rani, showman Raj Kapoor, Indian earthy beauty Madhuri Dixit and a few more. Frankly, for me - with all due respects to these actors – Shammi Kapoor, Kajol and Kareena Kapoor don’t quite make the cut. If we are talking about “the” Top 20 Superstars of all time, then, no. But as Mr Patel clarifies in the ‘Introduction’, these superstars have been picked up from different decades. In which case, the title should have suggested something to that effect.

The cover page is befitting and celebratory. It is reminiscent of the time when bollywood posters were hand painted and therefore stood out. The cover page captures the Bollywood kitsch in all its glory.

The ‘Introduction’ by the editor Bhaichand Patel establishes his credentials well, explains why these 20 have been picked up for this book and introduces the contributors.

This book is no classic and no must-have for a film buff, yet I enjoyed reading it. There seems to be a basic flow to each of the essays. The focus is on cinematic journeys and most of them stay away from gossip or scandals associated with the star or have been handled diplomatically. Every chapter ends with five favourite films of the actor / actress.

I liked reading about yesteryear actors and actresses like K.L. Sehgal, Devika Rani and Ashok Kumar. In a way, this book also captures the evolution of Indian cinema through these superstars. It is interesting to note that in the beginning there were studios which used to churn out films with the actors and actresses on their payroll. There was no such thing as freelancing. There are many such insights, which were fascinating for me as a reader and as a film buff.

The book also comes with a free CD of 50 memorable songs (picked by the editor).

Film enthusiasts will love spending their Sunday afternoon, reading about these popular superstars.

P.S. My mum was disappointed to read the piece on her favourite Hema Malini because according to her there was nothing new about the 'dream girl' which she did not know already; while my dad appreciated the little nuggets on his favourite stars like Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. So, keep your expectations low and you will enjoy it J

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hot Tea Across India by Rishad Saam Mehta

Title: Hot Tea Across India
Publisher: Tranquebar
Pages: 191
Price: Rs 195
Genre: Non Fiction / Travel
Rating: 7.5/10

‘Hot Tea Across India’ is a collection of experiences put together by travel writer Rishad Saam Mehta, from his many road trips across India. The stories are not in any particular order or about any one particular journey. The chapters – some really entertaining, some interesting while a few inconsequential - are independent of each other. ‘Tea’ acts as the common element in all these stories, as the writer reminisces about various cups of tea he had - of all tastes and compositions!

I have a thing for travel stories from India. I am particularly fond of stories from road trips or small, little known places; which provide opportunities to discover many more facets of India that I am oblivious of and also to smile fondly at Indian idiosyncrasies and stereotypes. I believe India is a dream for any traveler, in terms of what she has to offer. Go to any place; its flavour, its culture and its people are unique.

I am particularly fascinated by forts and palaces. It is exciting to walk on the same path which had been frequented by completely different kind of people, centuries ago. The author also puts it across very well when he says: “….I consider any ancient monument a time cell, a little module that has frozen an era within its walls for eternity. Life may go on at frenzied pace all around its periphery, but within its ramparts or its carved walls, history looks you in the face as you stare at a legacy of talent, art and architectural science left behind from centuries ago.”

When I saw ‘Hot Tea Across India’, it offered 2 things I love - Indian travel stories and tea. I am addicted to Tea.

The title of the book is interesting and very catchy but the focus on ‘tea’ in the title could be misleading because the book is less about tea and more about experiences. The cover page is quite apt and fetching. It beautifully captures the essence of various stories narrated by the author. I did not like the font used on the back cover though. It was difficult to decipher.

Author Rishad Saam Mehta is among those lucky few who have converted their passion into profession. He is passionate about traveling and has been writing travel features for several publications. His travel stories in this book are diverse - from hitching a ride on a truck from Mumbai to Delhi, to almost losing his beloved bike in Kargil, from negotiating his way alone through some of the most dangerous terrains to experiencing unexpected kindness of government officials in getting back his misplaced bike. Unexpected turn of events and interesting people, are the two things which make every travel story interesting, and the author has packed in enough of those in this book.

‘Hot Tea Across India’ is an easy read. I was particularly impressed by the author’s effortless writing style – witty and articulate. Sample these:

 “… They were three foreign tourists riding hired Enfield Bullets: one of them was shirtless, another was shoeless, all three seemed clueless about the consternation they had caused by jumping barriers. They rode towards the policemen exuberantly calling out, ‘ Juley, juley’ – Ladakh’s happy word for hello – not realising that Ladakh was a few hundred kilometres behind and a very sticky situation lay ahead.”

“…He, of course, thought his voice was as smooth as silk and could carry the same strain of sorrow that Mukesh was so good at – when in fact it had the abrasiveness of heavy-duty factory grade sand paper.”

 “…Zubair, unaccustomed to transportation that moved so fast and turned so rapidly within such a small radius, was fighting to keep his morning tea within the confines of his stomach and was going green in the process.”

The piece where he recounts his Maruti Van’s story in its voice (chapter ‘Automotive Love’) is quite funny, while the chapter ‘Unbiased Bullet’ was another laugh-out-loud part of this book.

This book is not so much about information about places mentioned but interesting experiences of a traveler. Over all, the book will appeal to anyone who loves reading travel stories or travelogues. The only thing which I felt missing was a few pictures, perhaps!   

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