February 27, 2020
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A View From Within

A well-signposted trip through various aspects of movie-making in Bollywood

A View From Within
Bollywood—The Indian Cinema Story
By Nasreen Munni Kabir
Channel Four Books Pages: 224; Special Indian Price: £4.95
Reading this book is like eavesdropping. Of being there, behind the door, while the author, a self-confessed addict of popular Hindi cinema, chats up Bollywood dramatis personae. Kabir serves up large chunks of their conversations, imbibing both the sense of immediacy and intimacy of a TV chat show alongside more considered, and often perceptive reflections, on Indian cinema and what goes into its making.

Bollywood is a byproduct of How to Make a Bollywood Movie, a TV series she recently made for Channel 4 in the UK. Kabir has honed her art of interviewing to the extent of becoming invisible—she lets her subjects talk, doesn’t cut them midstream. This precludes pedantic gobbledygook that comprises most Indian books on Hindi cinema.

Hers is a view of Bollywood from within. She comes at it from all angles: from the classical past right up to films of 2001 such as Lagaan. The book’s a well-signposted trip through various aspects of movie-making: romance, song-and-dance, heroes-heroines, villains-vamps, mythologicals and how directors conceived certain shots. For instance, Manmohan Desai used low-angle shots for Amitabh Bachchan’s first appearance in his films like Coolie and Mard to make him appear larger than life, a desi superman.

Fortunately, there are no hierarchies in her choice of the people interviewed: dress designers, actors, stuntmen, choreographers, art historians and psychotherapists. Amitabh Bachchan or Jaaved Jaaferi, both are given an equal ear. In fact, some of the more perceptive insights come from unexpected sources. Like Archana Puran Singh: "The difference between a vamp and a courtesan is that the vamp has choices. The courtesan is someone who had no choice.... There is always a sad story behind her. Indians are very sympathetic to people... given a raw deal by fate and destiny."

Bollywood at times does get too simplistic, a bit too talky. But then it’s pitched at the growing international audience of Hindi cinema, now pogo-leaping into top 10 charts in the UK.

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