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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



Directors’ Diaries, by Rakesh Anand Bakshi, Book Review: A dozen journeys, a dozen destinations

Directors’ Diaries, by Rakesh Anand Bakshi, Book Review: A dozen journeys, a dozen destinations

Aspiring director and son of India’s renowned film-lyricist, late Anand Bakhshi, Rakesh Bakshi has been aspiring to make his first film for a real long time. In the meanwhile, he has been writing, cycling and doing his bit for the under-privileged of local society. So far, the trail to his big break has proven to be elusive. How elusive? How frustrating? As frustrating as that some of his contemporaries found it to be? Or as elusive as it was to some the modern greats, before they got their breaks? The question marinated in his psyche, and he decided to find the answers first hand: by talking to a dozen acclaimed Hindi film directors about their trials and tribulations, and also their filming style and artistic substance.

Directors’ Diaries: The Road to Their First Film is not a compilation of excerpts from the diaries kept by directors about their first ventures; rather, it is an anthology of biographical interviews, recorded and transcribed in first person, with introductions and filmographies, and, in most cases, a tribute by a member of the technical team of the director. Featured alphabetically, the list comprises Mahesh Bhatt, Govind Nihalani and Subhash Ghai from the 1970s, Prakash Jha from the 80s, Ashutosh Gowariker and Santosh Sivan from the 90s, Anurag Basu, Farah Khan, Imtiaz Ali, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Vishal Bharadwaj and Zoya Akhtar from the 2000s. As many as half of them began their careers in the 2000s, and the reason for the tilt is obvious: Rakesh is in the same age-bracket. All of them are still active in their fields, but for Bhatt, who has stopped directing, and nowadays, only produces films. Rakesh has also included, as the epilogue, an interview with art director/production designer Nitin Desai.

When you pose the same questions to different directors, the answers run the risk of sounding similar, especially when the questions are dual-choice queries, like, “Where do you like to direct from: next to camera or next to the video assist? Do you shoot coverage? How do you decide where to place the camera? Is film-making a journey or a destination?” Others are multiple choice questions, where the answers are, naturally more varied. And finally, there are the very personal memories, which might be the most precious part of the contents. For example, not many would know that Subhash Ghai grew up with parents at logger-heads, that Vishal Bharadwaj played the harmonium and sang at a food fair on Delhi’s most famous exhibition ground, that Ashutosh Gowariker argued with Nitin Desai for three months about the choice of colour for the heroine’s bedroom in Lagaan, that Prakash Jha decided that he wants to make films when he saw the shooting of a B-grade crime drama called Dharma (1973, directed by Chand), that Farah Khan started as an assistant on a TV series in 1986 while her debut film was released in 2004—eighteen years later, and that it took about eight years, after writing the script, for Zoya Akhtar to make Luck By Chance.

Rakesh sent me the book in July, with his autograph and Ramzan Eid Greetings. It has taken me much longer than expected to read it from cover to cover, but there were other previous commitments to meet. Reading the chapter on Imtiaz Ali, I was pleasantly surprised to know that he was a student of the Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai, at a time when I was lecturing there, though I cannot recall having lectured to his class. I have met Rakesh only once, over six years ago, when I went to present him a 5-CD compilation of his father’s songs, by the music company Saregama, called Legends-Anand Bakhshi. I had written the text of the booklet inside the pack, and since the Bakhshi home is a mere 500 metres away from mine, instead of sending it by courier, I thought it would be a good idea to hand it over myself. Bakhshi Saahab had passed away in 2002, aged 72, when I was abroad, and I felt I owed the family a visit. I had interviewed Bakhshi (he preferred this spelling, which is more accurately transliterated from the original Urdu) Saahab twice, once in the late 70s, and again in the early 80s, and it was a real pleasure talking to him. Meeting Rakesh for the first time, I found him warm and courteous, and even complimentary and encouraging, “This write-up is really good. Why have they not given you a by-line?” Interestingly, the by-line started appearing soon afterwards, when I profiled other greats of Indian music/cinema for Saregama’s future releases. We haven’t met since then, and have to thank Facebook for reviving our association.

In his introduction, Rakesh mentions that he was fascinated to learn that legendary British director David Lean (Great Expectations, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago) was a tea-boy (later clapper-boy, at Gaumont Studios), and he puts his faith in writer-actor Salim Khan (co-writer, Zanjeer, Deewar, Sholay)’s definition of a director as one who has “something to say”. Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Meet John Doe, Pocketful of Miracles) did not make any film for five years, 1951-56, at the height of his career, because he had “nothing to say”, Khan told him. Closer home, another director Saeed Mirza gives the same answer when asked why he has not made a film for 20 years, after the lauded Naseem (1995).

Category-wise, the book is hard to slot. It is not a biography, or even biographies, nor is it a self-help/motivational book. Formatted like a documentary film, the 276-page book is not even a bunch of diaries, as the title would suggest. But it does make interesting reading, particularly for Indian cinema-buffs and insiders. Language is simple and footnotes or glossary are neither required nor missed. There is a constant recurrence of the ‘I’ word, but you cannot rally blame the author for that, this being a compendium of very personal experiences and memories. Editing has overlooked some repetitious constructions, or, perhaps, deliberately retained them for that informal effect.

Trained in acting, writing and film-making abroad, Rakesh has worked with a large production house in Mumbai, and assisted Subhash Ghai. One of the book’s two forewords has been written by Mehgna Ghai-Puri, Subhash’s daughter and President of his film school, Whistling Woods. The other comes from the pen of Prof. Karl Bardosh, Associate Arts Professor, New York University (Tisch). It has a cover price of Rs. 350, $5.30 at current exchange rates.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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