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A delightful smorgasbord of cinematic moments!

| Updated on: Jan 01, 2022
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Anupama Chopra’s book A Place in my Heart is a delightful insider’s view of the Indian film industry as a reporter, a family member, a cinema goer and a fan.

After watching the preview show of Sholay , the actor Mac Mohan who played ‘Samba’in the film, requested director Ramesh Sippy to delete his scene since he felt embarrassed about his miniscule role. In the near three-hour long spectacle, Mac Mohan says just a two-word dialogue ‘Pachas Hazaar’ in response to dacoit Gabbar Singh’s question on the amount of inaam set by the government for his head. Sippy assured Mac Mohan that even though it was a small appearance, his character would be immortalised and etched in public memory for a long time. Such was the impact of that film that till he passed away recently, Mac Mohan said people were disappointed if he signed his autograph with his real name rather than as Samba.

It is such anecdotes that sparkle in Anupama Chopra’s wonderful new book about the film industry. Chopra has spent the last 25 years covering Indian cinema and with the unprecedented access she has gained as an insider, she draws insights from the film making trenches and chronicles her experiences in this book. The format seems to be loosely inspired by Awake in the Dark , by Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer Prize winning Hollywood film critic which comprised a brilliant set of film reviews, essays and interviews. Chopra’s book toggles between being a memoir and presenting an analytical overview of the films and the undefined process of their making.

Describing the Indian film industry of the 1980 as resembling the gaudy, breathtakingly chaotic Wild West she says the films of that time were quite forgettable, but the flamboyant, outsized and cheerfully eccentric film stars were not. She confesses that she was besotted by showbiz and the men and the women who created those celluloid dreams and thus began her journey as a reporter from the sidelines of the industry.

How does one review a book on a film by an ace film reviewer? Having seen 33 of the 41 films she has written about in the book, I can state with some amount of conviction that she has a deep understanding of the cinematic craft and has surely enriched my understanding of these films a little more.

Many years back, I had read Chopra’s earlier book, Sholay , the making of a classic, a brief summary of which makes up the first chapter of this book. She opens the narrative with that unforgettable film and grips you right through with her descriptions of some of the major films that have captured her imagination.

Although the book’s cover claims that it’s a listicle, it struggles to be so, as it is selectively alphabetical and selectively driven by the weight of some of its chapters, covering a wide gamut of all things filmy, beginning with Sholay and ending with the Cannes film festival. The book is filled with nostalgia about films, stars and events that have shaped her views on film and her film reporting career.

Chopra has a delightful way with words, which is not surprising considering her mother is a screenplay writer and her brother an acclaimed writer. Her reviews are pithy, but rich with allegory and metaphors.Consider some of her heavily adjective laden phrases that manage to drive home the point deftly. Commenting on Amitabh’s everlasting appeal across film and TV, she attributes it to Amitabh’s amiable manner, impeccable Hindi and sartorial elegance as having lifted not just KBC (Kaun Banega Crorepati) and its channel, but also quality of content on Indian Television as a whole. She goes on to say that Amitabh’s humility is so unshakeable that it is exasperating.

Or take her description of Lunchbox : It is a portrait of loneliness peppered with elegant silences and moments of breath-taking loveliness. Or on Zeenat Aman in Don , she says her imposing height and svelte physique brought in a western sensibility and redefined notions of glamour. Of SimmiGarewal in Karz , she says her malevolence is tempered with insecurity and vulnerability. Or that Super Deluxe makes an eloquent plea for compassion and acceptance. Like life itself, it is both messy and magical.

Adding profound thoughts in her reviews also illuminates the film. Writing about Luck by Chance , she says that showbiz is a difficult, dirty business that inevitably demands a Faustian bargain: your soul in exchange for fame, riches and eternal life on screen!

Quite wonderful prose, if there was any.

I particularly loved her analysis of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi , one of my favorite films from her list. She’s added a layer of new depth of my understanding of that film, so much so that armed with this fresh perspective, I am considering watching it again soon.

Over various films in the book, she compares the film-making styles and storytelling techniques of Yash Chopra, Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra and Sanjay Leela Bhansali even as they tell stories that have similar degrees of opulence, affluence and grandeur.

The book is also peppered with a few personal anecdotes. After watching Dil Chahta Hai at the premiere, she and her husband, acclaimed film maker, Vidhu Vinod Chopra talked about the movie all the way back home and they were so influenced by what they saw that Vidhu called Honey Irani, Farhan Akhtar’s mother at 1 am to congratulate her on what a film her son had made.

Two or three things stand out as missing. First of them, SRK. Anupama reveals that Vidhu Vinod Chopra had once chided her about her obsession with all things Shah Rukh due to her ‘fanscination’ with SRK, so it is surprising to find a book of filmy things that have inspired her in the last 25 years to have no mention of the very star who became such a phenomenon in this period. Neither is there a mention of Aamir Khan, whose films crack the Rs 300 crore mark regularly nor Hrithik whose debut rocked the box office or anything on Bahubali, India’s biggest film.

Also, the regional film industry barely gets a mention with only a few films listed. Most of these are not the mainstream blockbusters like the ones listed from Bollywood, but more the arty kind, which would pass off as parallel cinema earlier.

You also don’t get to know any insider tales of the master of the craft - her husband Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who surely must have shared many remarkable stories with her of the wonderful films he’s made. Perhaps, there’s enough fodder there for another book!

But that aside, it’s a delightful insider’s view of the Indian film industry as a reporter, a family member, a cinema goer and a fan.

Undoubtedly, A Place n my Heart is a smorgasbord of cinematic moments, each of which delights as you read them and pleasantly lingers in your mind long after you’ve put down the book.

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(Naveen Chandra runs a film studio that produces regional language feature films)

Published on January 01, 2022

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