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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. 



Hachette’s The Bollywood Pocket Book Series, A 4-in-1 Set, by Diptakirti Chauduri: Get set

Hachette’s The Bollywood Pocket Book Series, A 4-in-1 Set, by Diptakirti Chauduri: Get set

Yes, it’s a pun. I mean you should get the set, buy the book, or rather, books. They look deceptively thin when ensconced in the hardcover box, but provide a substantial reading once you pull them out. Book one is about Iconic Dates, with Raj Kapoor and Nargis on the cover, under an umbrella. The author reminds us about the calendar of events that begin with Raja Harishchandra’s release and ended with Gulabo Sitabo. Between the two dates, the span is a good 154 pages. Yes, the pages are smaller than the pocket book size, but not by much. As you go through, you discover that Master Vithal, the hero of India’s first talkie film, Alam Ara, was contracted to another studio when producer-director Ardeshir Irani approached him to play the lead. It took the legal acumen of no less a barrister than Mohammed Ali Jinnah to free Vithal from the contract.

Come 1952, and Binaca Geetmala (BGM) was born, as the book announces on page 30. But he gets Ameen Sayani’s signature phrase wrong. Chaudhuri remembers it as ‘Bhaiyo aur Beheno’, whereas in reality, it has always been “Behno aur Bhaiyo.” Again, the Listeners’ Clubs were called ‘Shrota Sanghs’, not ‘Shrota Sanghatans’. All India Radio started Vividh Bharati in 1967, “and Binaca moved there” is incorrect. BGM came on Vividh Bharati some two decades later. In the meanwhile, it continued on Radio Ceylon. Singers who featured in BGM are listed, and, amazingly, the list does not include Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Manna De, Hemant Kumar, Asha Bhosle or Geeta Dutt. One cannot imagine Binaca Geetmala without these titans. On to a quote, from Sharmila Tagore, on doing the swimsuit scenes in An Evening in Paris. Asked the beaten to death question, “How did you feel doing that scene?” she replied calmly, “Oh! Like a pioneer.” The date: 19 August 1966. The medium? The cover of Filmfare magazine. The picture? La Tagore in a bikini.

Dates move on to Places. Chaudhuri lists 50 places, and it is mix of the predictable and the personal. He begins with Watson’s Hotel and ends with Dharavi, as portrayed in the 2019 film, Gully Boy, all in a matter of 154 pages. Yes, that number again. It is good to see the inclusion of Prabhat Studios, which is now the Film and Television Institute of India. Did you know that Matunga’s R.P. Masani Lane was known as Hollywood Lane, due to its celebrity residents, in the 1940s. No, you could not have possibly guessed this one: Jhumri Talaiya, in present-day Jharkhand, once part of the undivided Bihar state. That is where most of the requests for film songs came to radio stations, on the humble post-card. There were a few more, but who remembers any other village/small town besides Jhumri Talaiya?

Villain Shakaal’s island was 300 miles away from Mumbai, and the right to ask questions there was only his. Kulbhushan Kharbanda, modelled after the Bond villain Donald Pleasance, with a bald head, failed to score anywhere near the 007 baddie in Shaan, but Shakaal’s island captured the imagination of Chaudhuri, as an Iconic place. The author says that the film was made at a cost of Rs. 6 crore, twice the budget of Sholay, and managed to earn Rs. 12 crore. That would classify it as a medium hit or a semi-hit. I am not convinced, though, that Shaan managed those kind of earnings. The buzz all around was that it was a “flop.” I live in Bandra, Mumbai, and the most popular addresses that visitors from other parts of the city or from outside it seek are the residences of Salman Khan and ShahRukh Khan. If you compare the two, Salman’s humble abode will fade out immediately, in front of the imposing multi-storeyed Mannat, which is inhabited by ShahRukh Khan. When I used to interact with him in the late 80s and early 90s, he would often ask me if I knew of a nice flat or bungalow in Bandra that was up for sale. He was in love with the sub-urbs prima, the municipal ward where Mumbai town ends and the suburbs begin, and was desperately looking for accommodation here.

If dates and places have a place in the compendium, can Characters and Things be far behind? Let’s begin with the characters, and you only have to look-up the index at No. 36 to find Crime Master Gogo. And yet, Chaudhuri begins with a female character, but one who cracked the whip at a horde of male villains. You guessed it, Fearless Nadia! Looking for another iconic villain? Mogambo is No. 29. Three more iconic villains make the cut: Gabbar Singh at No. 20, Maharani at 34 and Alauddin Khilji as the closing caller, at No. 50. A major typo creeps in on page 37, where Bhookh is spelt Fookh, with the drop letter F adding a flourish. The reference is to a dialogue from the film Satyakam, which qualifies as Idealistic Nation Builder icon, jointly with Aadmi Aur Insaan. Dharmendra played that idealistic man in this Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, a role that is often rated as among his best ever performances. It was Dharmendra again in Aadmi Aur Insaan, a B.R. Chopra production, directed by Yash Chopra. The idealist fails in both cases, perhaps paving the way for the Angry Young Man.

He was called Vijay Verma in Deewar. Chaudhuri describes him as “…the amalgam of several characters, and yet, he was nothing like any of them.” His dock worker’s badge had the number 786 on it., considered most auspicious by Muslims. Vijay had a cold fury about him, a measured drawl and pithy lines. And this was the Amitabh Bachchan who had come to stay. A taste of things to come was served in Zanjeer, which preceded Deewar, and consolidated in Deewar. Vijay Verma was nothing if not iconic. Maharani was a eunuch played by Paresh Rawal in Sadak, where he was the “Jism key bazaar ka Maharaja, Maharani”, a brothel-keeper, cunning, powerful, ruthless. Malik Mohammed Jayasi’s epic poem, Padmaavat, is about futile Rajput valour in the face of a Muslim invader’s onslaught. It was considered a tour de force when Sanjay Leela Bhansali got Ranveer Singh to play the marauder, Ala-ud-din Khilji, with homosexual undertones. And the Character graph ends here, on page number… I’ll give you three guesses.

The thing is…that the fourth book in this collection is about iconic things. If we take a look at the covers, The Bollywood Book of Iconic Places and The Bollywood Book of Iconic Things do not offer much in terms of known faces or clear imagery. The Book of Characters has Amitabh on the cover, and the Book of Dates features RK and Nargis. Moving beyond the cover, you see that once again, Diptakirti Chaudhuri has begun at the beginning, with Baburao Painter’s camera. This one is an oddball mix for sure. Shakaal (Ajeet, not Kulbhushan Kharbanda)  features courtesy his shoes (Yaadon Ki Baaraat), and Billa (badge) number 786 (Deewar) gets a second outing, while there is one thing that you would least expect: Vicky Donor’s sperm. If you are a film buff, chances are that you would have caught Tirangaa some time or the other Did you guffaw when the villain, imaginatively named Pralaynath Gendaswamy, started lighting up what he called “Nuclear Missile Ka Fuse Conductor?” Here’s your chance to take a second, long look at the climactic hilarity.

Who did white shoes and trousers belong to? And which heroine made an orange saree the talk of the town? Do you recall the FRiEND cap? All this and much more will be at hand once you get your hands on Bollywood Books of…Described in the blurb as a marketer by day and a writer by night, Diptakirti Chaudhuri has written two other books on cinema, one on the history of Bollywood and another on the writer-duo Salim-Javed. He divides his time between Pune and Bengaluru. The set is published by Hachete. The listed price is Rs. 299 for each book and Rs. 999 for the set. You might just get it on Amazon for Rs. 751.

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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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