Mumbai Mirror, Sunday, December 2, 2007
The Talk Show
Can we expect our filmwallahs to talk about anything except themselves? Even if the occasion is the discussion of a book
The kitschy purple book-cover with a groomed Shahrukh Khan holding his favourite intense expression tries ardently to lure you with its promise of pure fluff – but deceptively, Anupama Chopra’s King Of Bollywood is also a layered exploration of the shifts in the Hindi film industry and the Indian cultural and economic landscape post independence. Shahrukh Khan has been plugged in apparently to put it all into context. A recent discussion of the book by Prasoon Joshi and Nikhil Advani said a lot about the book ironically without saying much about it at all. Most of the discussion was centered around the future of Bollywood and what is wrong with it today ignoring its influence or otherwise on the macro Indian picture. But then if you expect filmwallahs to talk about anything but themselves you must promptly go back to your own galaxy. The discussion took off from the current favourite cliché of ‘arrival’ of Bollywood in the international arena. Joshi spoke of thought leadership over a leadership of numbers and the complacency with which the industry refuses to seek out writers and other talent from deeper within the country. There was a lot of talk on the dearth of ideas, wrong people taking decisions and unfair distribution of returns and resources but when it came to elucidating with examples the panelists played it safe. So all we heard was Aditya Chopra-is-great-because and Vidhu-Vinod-Chopra-is-great -because etc. Joshi and Advani’s analysis might have gone a step ahead of the book by challenging the ‘arrival’ myth but curiously they too seemed so focused on how much or how little we are wanted abroad that one began to wonder if there is any other parameter for our success at all. They were both trying hard to convince a cynical audience that not just NRI’s, ever foreigners watch our films. Is it not enough that we have forever produced and consumed only our own entertainment undaunted by the threats of giants like Hollywood or that one single industry has by and large united the imagination of a country torn apart by innumerable identities?
The panelists also had little to say about the star of the book beyond a token pandering mention of how he exemplifies the modern Indian’s fantasy man and is mobbed everywhere. Perhaps, Joshi was not just kidding when he said that Khan’s picture has merely been put on the cover to sell it.
By itself too, the biography has little merit, for this is not Chopra’s portrait of Khan but Khan’s portrait of Khan – the Khan who we love because while glibly declaring that he is an employee of the Shah Rukh Khan myth, he charms us into buying it. While most brands create and exploit the human ego’s desire for exclusivity and worth, Khan’s brand thrives on propounding the myth that he is really the characters he plays- a mourning son, a lonely over achiever, a dutiful father, a passionate husband. Chopra’s book presents him as a role model from a humble background who struggled against all odds to reach the highest peak. The truth is he is a role model only because he can sell it all. But who cares about this subtle difference as long as the sympathetic portrait of a brand as a young man is poised to sell another good product.