Bollywood: the book, loaded with terrific facts, memorable trivia

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NEW YORK – ‘Bollywood – The Films! The Songs! The Stars!’ (DK; hardcover; 352 pages; $40), a comprehensive illustrated guide and coffee table book is a tribute to India’s tinsel town, filled with trivia and facts about some of the most beloved actors, films, and songs – replete with riveting background history – that Bollywood industry has produced since its inception in 1913.

The title of the book itself is controversial, with Bollywood for most encapsulating only the world of Hindi commercial films, not India’s massive film industry which includes regional cinema.

Actor Amitabh Bachchan, who’s given the foreword to the dazzling book, makes no qualms about saying so.

“I abhor the title of this book,” Bachchan, arguably India’s greatest thespian for over five decades now, begins with, in his foreword. “The Indian Film Industry is what I shall always refer to as Cinema in India. We are an independent creative industry and not a derivative; any attempt to imply otherwise, shall not find favor with me.”

Bachchan, while lamenting the absence of film documentation of the Indian film industry, which he terms as a “malaise”, gives a couple of interesting anecdotes that cleaves open the intrinsic value of Bollywood for fans.

Bachchan recounts what a Russian man said after being asked what it was that attracted him to Hindi cinema. The man said, “When I come out of the theater after watching a Hindi film, I have a smile on my face and a dry tear on my cheek.’ Bachchan’s father, the poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan gave a more introspective answer to what it meant to him: “I get to see poetic justice in three hours! You and me shall not see this in a lifetime…perhaps several lifetimes!”

The book is also great for those who may take new meaning in that Russian gentleman’s words, recounted by Bachchan, especially if they come out of the theater after watching one of the sub-par Hindi films being churned out nowadays, and realize that the smile on their face is more a smirk, out of ridicule over a mediocre film; the tear on the cheek is for anguish at lost time and money wasted.

This book may provide relief and succor to those who sigh over the sunset of the golden age of Bollywood, given way now to mostly crass films laden with hideous humor and abominable scripts – sink into a plush sofa, delve back into time, revive the power of memorable Hindi films, which once came out in a gush.

A feature of ‘Bollywood’ is that the book details superbly almost all popular films and stars, in chronological order. The timeline of Bollywood is in itself a revelation, clubbing both prominent actors and film in a specific time frame. The last chapter of the book, titled, ‘The Age of Big Money – 2000 Present’, begin with the films ‘Kaho Naa…Pyaar hai’ and ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ to ‘Bajirao Mastani’ and ‘Dangal’. The chapter also delves into the advent of the Filmfare awards and the rise of the concept of the small town in films, including the setting of gangster noir films like ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’.

Here’s one trivia which I picked out randomly from the book, from one of my favorite films: ‘Ijaazat’ by Gulzar, who also wrote the script and the lyrics, including for the hauntingly beautiful song ‘Mera Kuch Saaman (Some of my Possessions): When Gulzar gave composer R. D. Burman the unusual, blank verse lyrics, the latter exclaimed, “Next, you’ll ask me to compose music for the headline of The Times of India!”

The song went on to win the National Award for Best Lyricist and Singer.

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