Reading ‘Baat niklegi to phir’ is an inward journey strewn with melancholy

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I was never a Jagjit Singh fan. Even in the entire album of Mirza Ghalib, it was Gulzar saab who was my hero. Having read all the books by Sathya Saran, right from ’10 years with Guru Dutt – Abrar Alvi’s journey’, ‘Sun mere bandhu re – The musical world of SD Burman, I was intrigued by ‘Baat niklegi to phir’, but the very thought of reading a ghazal singer’s journey to fame, losing his son and then moving on with life didn’t stimulate the film buff in me.

Pyar ka pehla khat likhne mein waqt to lagta hai,
Naye parindon ko uddne mein waqt to lagta hai…

Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho was more of a reminder to revisit Mahesh Bhatt’s brilliant, ‘Arth’. ‘Yeh tera ghar yeh mera ghar’ never failed to reach out for that DVD of ‘Saath Saath’ and marvel at the simplicity of Faroque Shaikh and Deepti Naval. ‘Hoshwalon ko khabar kya’ was more of an Aamir Khan nostalgia when he was an effortless actor sans tag of perfectionist.

The only song that connected me to Jagjit Singh was ‘Koi yeh kaise bataaye’. Never before was an acoustic guitar used to such perfection in a ghazal. Like Jagjit Singh’s legendary talent, this book, too, remained unnoticed since its launch. Until an opportunity to interact with the author fuelled my curiosity and I finally ‘experienced’ this wonderful journey.

Woh pal ke jis mein mohabbat jawaan hoti hain,
Us ek pal ka tujhe intezaar hai ke naheen…

The best part about ‘Baat niklegi to phir’ is the blossoming of love between young Jagjit and the young married-with-kid Chitra. The ‘I will wait’ line defines the entire personality of the singer, who patiently waits for Chitra to be separated from her ex-husband Debu Dutta and supports her all throughout, even mentoring her as a ‘senior’ singer.

Hamaare hauslon ka ghar,
Hamaari himmaton ka ghar…

This endearing love story makes one wonder how simple people used to be back then. With passage of time, we seem to have lost that innocence and simplicity. We are living in times when a slightest provocation can spell doom for relationships, where we believe in ‘replacing’ things rather than ‘repairing’ them. The Jagjit-Chitra love story is about braving through troubled times, enduring each other’s idiosyncrasies, diverse cultural background, ways of dealing with loss, rather than giving up on each other.

Kabhi yun bhi to ho, dariyaa ka saahil ho,
Poore chaand ki raat ho…aur tum aao…

Their struggle is surely akin to any other talent seeking opportunity in Indian film industry, but the difference here is the genre of their art. They created their own platform for an ‘unusual’ genre of ghazals, which went on to become the signature ‘Jagjit Singh’ style. Lata Mangeshkar, in a way seems like a metaphor for Indian film industry here – a dream that remains elusive for a very long time and when it does come true, the maestro had entrenched his name in non-film sector as the ‘King of ghazals’.

Har waqt yehi hai gham,
Us waqt kahan thhe hum, kahan tum chale gaye…

Sathya Saran knows her readers very well. She knows they are anticipating the demise of Vivek aka Baboo, but she keeps building up the bond the father-son shared, to such extent that as reader, you end up relating with their story. Jagjit-Chitra’s loss is no longer their loss. By now, it becomes the reader’s loss. You no longer empathize with the couple, you start introspecting on your own life, asking yourself how many things we take for granted in our day-to-day lives. What if our world comes crashing down at the most unexpected moment? How well can we prepare ourselves to lose someone we love dearly? The answer, I guess, is – never.

Jaate jaate vo mujhe achchhi nishaani de gayaa,
Umr bhar dohraaoongaa aisi kahaani de gaya…

The bonding shared between Jagjit Singh and his musicians, sound recording artists, lyricists like Javed Akhtar and Gulzar saab have been well-documented and narrated in an engaging style. Sample this excerpt that describes the Jagjit-Gulzar collaboration for the classic television series, Mirza Ghalib, where Gulzar saab states:

The singing had to be straightforward. Ghalib was a poet, not a singer, so there was no place for complicated music taans. He would have recited the poetry, so I kept the music simple with a few varations. I never felt that this is Jagjit Singh composing for Mirza Ghalib, so I must display my musical virtuosity. No, it should be Ghalib. Jagjit Singh should become Ghalib and sing, only then will the poetry come forth. The result of this introspection on Jagjit’s part was that Gulzar went on record saying in high praise that, Mirza Ghalib is Jagjit beyond Jagjit.

The chapter goes on to narrate the bonding the duo shared:

The two creative men shared a deep understanding of each other’s work and genius. According to the poet, ‘Jagjit was younger, but he would scold me. He’d say, “Give me a sher that will touch my heart,” and I would respond with, “I try hard, but it does not reach your heart. Nishaana chook jaata hai.” The link between them remained strong.

Woh umr kar raha tha meri,
Mein saal apne badhaa raha tha…

The demise of Jagjit Singh precedes with one more death that comes as a rude shock for the reader, which I’d better leave for you to discover. The transformation of Jagjit after his son passes away in a way prepares ground for his own immortality. The generous nature of Jagjit, right from his struggling days makes him remain alive in the memories of people close to him and few strangers who barely knew him.

The biography chronicles not only the strengths of the singer, but also his weaknesses with utmost honesty, thanks to Chitra Singh, who doesn’t mince her words even while sharing their story. It’s the noble deeds and an illustrious career that spans decades of singing, composing and reinventing ghazals that keep Jagjit Singh alive – converting ‘non-Jagjit’ fans like me into devout Jagjit worshipper. Thanks Sathya Saran for writing and recommending this wonderful journey.

Having said that, I must admit that reading this biography wasn’t easy as it leaves you with a melancholy that lingers over the mind for days after reading it. Well, I could go on sharing nuggets from it but I’d better stop here because…

Baat niklegi to phir door talak jaaeygi,
Log be-wajah udaasi ka sabab poochenge…

 

 

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‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ introduces to us the real Shashi Kapoor

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“Hum toh samjhe the ki Sanjeev Kumar ke ghar mein hum akele bachchan paida hui paye hain, par aaj pata chala hum toh Shashi Kapoor hain, Bachchan toh koi aur hai,” states the character of Faizal played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur-2. Though one of the most brilliant moments of the film, this scene hints at India’s clichéd perception of the ace actor Shashi Kapoor – as a second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan. And author Aseem Chhabra’s book, ‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ compels its reader to see the actor in a completely different light, as householder, as well as star.

The book, ‘Shashi Kapoor – The householder, the star’ chronicles the journey of Shashi Kapoor. At first glance, you might anticipate a dichotomy between the ‘householder’ and the ‘star’, which thankfully isn’t the case here.

As a reader, you’re richly rewarded by discovering a Shashi Kapoor, who’s a blend of both ‘householder’ and ‘star’. In hindsight, one feels the book should have been titled as ‘Shashi Kapoor – The star, the producer. There’s a reason why.

Shashi Kapoor, the star was in fact, Shashi Kapoor the householder. He took up many Hindi potboilers (Brilliantly described in the chapter, ‘The Taxi’) purely to support his family, which eventually made him a ‘star’. An excerpt from the book, which explains this aspect of his life:

Sanjna, on catching her father in these films, says, ‘I remember asking my mother, “How could he work in such crap?” Really, I am not a great feminist, but there is a whole period of Hindi cinema which upsets me so much — not only the violence, but also the way women are treated.’ Then, Jennifer Kendal Kapoor explained to Sanjna that her father would have continued being a stage actor if it were financially viable. ‘But he had a family and the family expanded. With that, the lifestyle changed and got cushier. If you decide to go to London every summer, and maintain a house in Goa, you have to earn a certain amount of money. You are sucked into this cycle and you can’t get out.’

But the ‘producer’ Shashi Kapoor was a completely different man. He was an artist who valued his inner voice and instinct of giving parallel cinema the platform it deserves. Junoon (1978), Kalyug (1980), 36 Chowringhee Lane (1981), and Vijeta (1982) are the classic examples of this luminary’s vision. Further, the kind of support that he extended to a newbie like Ramesh Sharma for his film, New Delhi Times and his first meeting at a plush hotel is one of the indelible memories that the book leaves you with.

An actor who was never insecure, Shashi Kapoor not only promoted filmmakers of parallel cinema, but also actors like Amitabh Bachchan, who wrote in his blog:

Shashiji had always been a great support. I would visit him on set when I was looking for a job, he already being an established star by then, and he would introduce me to all his directors. He never worked on Sundays and would spend the day with his two sons and daughter by the swimming pool, at the newly opened Sun n Sand Hotel in Juhu, then the only Hotel in the region. We, knowing of this activity of his would land up via the beach near the Hotel to see him, going in by the main entrance was impossible for us, and waited anxiously for him to notice us so we could spend some time with him.”

Ismail Merchant, the producer called us one fine day and said there some small parts which we could do and that he would pay us Rs 500 for it. I needed the money so desperately to feed myself, I readily agreed. When Shashiji saw what we had been asked to do, he walked up to me in the crowd of mourners where I was standing as a junior artist, or the ‘extra’ and asked me to move. ‘Don’t do these bit parts’ he advised, ‘you are made for better things’ and then spoke to the director to delete those portions of mine from the film.”

The book, as one could already predict, ends on a grim note, almost sounding like eulogy. The author surely couldn’t have thought of doing it any other way, owing to the fact that Shashi Kapoor of today has indeed become a shadow of Shashi Kapoor of yore. The last chapter, ‘Things fall apart’ is sure to leave a lump in your throat, making you feel as if you’ve time-travelled with a householder, a star called Shashi Kapoor.

Thank you Aseem Chhabra sir for this wonderful book. A visit to Prithvi Theatre will no longer remain the same, nor will be Shashi Kapoor be perceived as the second fiddle to Amitabh Bachchan, which can be summed up with yet another poignant excerpt, where Amitabh Bachchan states:

“If Shashi had to play that role (in Deewaar) and be sincere to it, he had to underplay it… However, if he had tried to stand out as a performer and give the kind of performance that gives you stardom, he would not have done justice to the role…. He did it right.”

…Later, at the premiere of Deewaar, Amitabh sat next to Shashi. Amitabh recalls: “We never said a word. But (at) the ‘Mere pass maa hai’ moment, I felt a gentle hand on mine. It was Shashiji’s. He never spoke, but the way he held my hand said everything.”

“It was reassurance, it was affection, it was acknowledgement, it was complimentary, it was appreciation, it was everything that a struggling actor that had once played an extra in a film that starred this gentleman sitting next to him (in James Ivory’s Bombay Talkie) had never ever dreamt would happen.”

 

Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is a symphony of 26 notes

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“I wouldn’t like a film to be made on my life. Parts of me have already been projected in some of my films. Satyakam reflects my idealism, Chupke Chupke my humour and Alaap my pessimism, while Bawarchi was about my father…” This quote by Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the book, ‘Talking Cinema’ kind of sums up this remarkable book by Jai Arjun Singh.

In fact, the author has created a world within 300 odd paper sheets neatly bound between cardboard papers. So, calling ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ a book would be indeed unfair. Book sounds tad ordinary, making it belong to either the highest Rushdish echelons or lowest Bhagatish levels.

So book just happens to be a medium here. It might as well be termed a film in alphabets, symphony in 26 notes, or perhaps a time travel machine. Anything is fine, as long as it’s not being compared to any literature. Ask any Hrishi da fan and you’ll know what I mean. And while we’re at it, who doesn’t love Hrishikesh Mukherjee? (Precisely what the book’s cover reads: The filmmaker everyone loves).

Call it a romanticist’s musing or a fanboy’s indulgence, but Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is a book that will evoke such extremes and compel you to grab the DVD of those films that become almost a character in this ‘world’ of simplicity and treasure trove of stories.

The chapter, ‘Yeh raha mera makaan’ takes you through the homes of Hrishikesh Mukherjee films. These homes, right from Hrishi da’s films surely seem familiar. We’ve been there over a cup of tea (how can a Hrishi da films be complete without chaai?), a game of chess (His favourite), a game of ‘kaafiya’ where words rhyme with the beats of one’s heart, ‘naatak’ being played out as pranks or perhaps discussing Botany and English literature by the idyllic ‘corolla’-filled lawn.

Jai Arjun Singh makes the reader stay there for a while before moving on to the other aspects of Hrishi-da films – his personal favourite, ‘Satyakam’, the ‘commercial’ films like ‘Anari’, ‘Asli Naqli’, ‘Chupke Chupke’ and ‘Golmaal’, real life inspirations from ‘Bawarchi’, ‘Anupama’, ‘Anuradha’, pessimistic musings like  ‘Alaap’ and a perfect tribute to our film industry like ‘Guddi’ (The only contemporary film that can perhaps come close to it is Zoya Akhtar’s ‘Luck by chance’).

Apart from these gems, the author doesn’t shy away from criticizing his failures like Achha Bura, Kotwal Saab, Sabse Bada Sukh, Aashiq, to name a few. Well, even these chapters are richly rewarding to the reader. Sample this:

“And here is Deven Varma in real life (Hrishi-da’s interview to Lata Khubchandani in Encyclopedia of Hindi Cinema):

Deven (Varma) once asked me (Hrishi-da), ‘Why does somebody always die in your films?’ I asked him, ‘Who died in ‘Sabse Bada Sukh?’ Deven replied, ‘The distributor!’ (pp. 492-94)”

The ‘deliberate faults’ in basic grammar of filmmaking like beginning ‘Anand’ with a flashback of Dr. Bhaskar (Amitabh Bachchan) musing about his patient, Anand (Rajesh Khanna) and ending the film with Anand’s death instead of going back where the film begins (I bet you never realized this ‘mistake’ before reading this and you must thank Hrishi-da’s filmmaking skills for it), to the genius in capturing camaraderie in films like ‘Satyakam’ (Sanjeev Kumar-Dharmendra), ‘Anand’, ‘Namak Haraam’ (Amitabh Bachchan-Rajesh Khanna), to delving into the labyrinthine lanes of marriage and ego in ‘Abhimaan’, each aspect of Hrishikesh Mukherjee films greet you with a glee of a childhood friend.

Last, but as the cliché goes, not the least, the best thing about Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’ is its unusual structure. Unlike other authors penning ‘autobiographies’ or ‘analytical musings’ of a film director, lyricist or musician, Jai Arjun Singh doesn’t treat Hrishikesh Mukherjee films like chapters of his book.

For instance, he doesn’t begin with ‘Musafir’ and end with ‘Jhooth Bole Kauva Kaate’. The films keep revisiting you as and when the need arises. If he’s talking about ‘chaai’ in Hrishi-da films, ‘Khoobsurat’ obliges with an encore, just like ‘Bawarchi’ might show up while discussing classical music in the same breath as ‘Alaap’. At first, this structure might make you wonder, ‘Why isn’t the author yet done with ‘Mili’ and ‘Abhimaan’?’ By the time you reach the final pages, you’ll appreciate the craft.

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“I’ve made 40 films, I’m exhausted and burnt out. In retrospect I feel I should have been more choosy. But then, I’m not a very courageous man. I never had the nerve to break away from the commercial structure. So how can I be proud of my work? Today’s TV serials are like the films I make myself: skin-deep, shallow, only meant to entertain.”

This Hrishi-da quote from Times of India (March 1985), followed by “I was fortunate to be in an industry where one is lionized even if one is average or a little above average.” From Times of India (September 1995) leaves one marveling at the modesty of this man who remains an idol for millions and shall always remain so. We are yet to find a Hrishikesh Mukherjee in our times.

Till then, all we can do is watch his films while flipping through the pages of Jai Arjun Singh’s ‘The world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee’. Reading it leaves one wishing to have a conversation with the author over a cup of ‘chaai’ and indulging in some Hrishikesh Mukherjee anecdotes that he might have omitted or perhaps reserved for the Hrishi-da fan in him. Now when was the last time reams of papers made you feel that way? Dare you call this a book! It’s a world – the world of Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

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Guns & Thighs is about cinematic highs

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Okay you hate Ram Gopal Varma. He is the ‘culprit’ who dared to ‘soil’ our ‘Sholay’ with that awful ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’. He is the one who made silly films like ‘Agyaat’, ‘Phoonk 2’, ‘Satya 2’, Department (Yup, such films do exist, Wikipedia yourself). He is a filmmaker who has ‘lost it’ and doesn’t deserve to be in ‘our’ film industry. Done with the ranting? Now can we begin?

‘Guns & Thights’, penned by ‘Khud Gabbar’, i.e. Ram Gopal Varma, chronicles the story of a good-for-nothing video cassette library owner, who tricked his way up to direct a Telugu film starring Nagarjuna and make his debut in the Hindi film industry (dare you say Bollywood!) with the phenomenal ‘Shiva’. The rest, as they say, is history, albeit gone astray for a while.

Well, there are two extremes about Ram Gopal Varma – He can either make a great film or a worst film, he’s no in-betweener – the tribe he ably describes in his chapter, ‘The inbetweenists’. He talks straight, without mincing his words. He won’t lick the boots to pave his way to success. He is an avowed atheist to the core. He would prefer celebrating achievements than a mere date when one ‘happens’ to be born, so he hates celebrating birthdays. The book, ‘Guns & Thighs’ make no bones about reiterating these well-known facts about the filmmaker who changed the way our cinematographers placed their cameras.

“We live the life of others when we read their thoughts” The book begins with this Ayn Rand quote, which kind of sums up what’s in store for the reader. A director’s biography need not be about incidents, but his thoughts and ideas. The incidents here merely happen to be the backdrop that stimulate his thought process, including rejection, politics within the industry, chance meeting of talented musicians and technicians, and even the demise of his father – each incident eventually finding its way to his films. This is precisely how a filmmaker’s biography deserves to be written.

The key highpoint of the book is ‘My gods’ – where reams of pages are solely dedicated to Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi, and AR Rahman. The ‘You’re only as good as your last film’ narrates an incident of the legendry filmmaker Basu Chatterjee, ‘the biggest flop of my life’, and the filmmaker’s divorce and words to his daughter are sure to leave a lump in your throat. The insights on cinema and an interesting lust-laden chapter on ‘Rifle’, a construction worker, ‘My marriage to the underworld’ make for an interesting read.

It doesn’t matter whether you like Ram Gopal Varma or you loathe at his films, the fact remains that his biography is as honest as, at the risk of sounding blasphemous, Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘My experiments with truth’. The filmmaker who gave us gems like ‘Shiva’, ‘Satya’, ‘Company’, ‘Kaun, ‘Rangeela’, ‘Bhoot’, ‘Sarkar’, ‘Mast’, ‘Nishabd’, ‘The attacks of 26/11’ and Rakta Charitra series (Yup, they’re equally brilliant films), surely deserves a brownie point for writing an honest biography. Well, to sum it up, ‘Guns & Thighs’ is about cinematic highs.

PS: The pic has been taken by yours truly, as a lame tribute to the famous/infamous ‘RGV angle’

 

Pandeymonium – Piyush Pandey on advertising: Rediscover the storyteller in you

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A colleague once asked me, “What do you aspire to become?” To acquaint you with the background – We both are copywriters and this query was about my ‘big dream’, owing to my leaning towards making short film, writing short stories and poetry. My instant reply was: ‘A storyteller’.

This confident response to a causal query stems from the realization one had while reading the final chapter of Piyush Pandey’s ‘unputdownable’ book, ‘Pandeymonium’. The chapter in question is called, ‘the future of advertising: Boom time for storytellers’.

Pandeymonium made me realize that being a copywriter and a storyteller means the same. So there isn’t actually an elusive ‘big dream’ one needs to pursue. Advertising has always been about telling stories, and in the same breath, selling concepts.

The last chapter of Pandeymonium is so inspiring that I wished the author had begun the book with it. But then, it wouldn’t have made sense because each chapter eventually leads to this nirvana. “Engaging audience through great stories, albeit with the use of new technologies” writes Piyush Pandey, cuing about the new media world i.e. digital platform, where duration is history.

The book’s chapter titles in themselves are worth pinning up on the soft-board of your office. Sample these: ‘Don’t forget the child in you’, ‘Select your sounding boards’, ‘A captain is only as good as the team’, ‘Don’t forget where you came from’, ‘Look back at life, there are stories hidden there’, ‘Failure isn’t really a bad thing’, to list a (phew!)

The book chronicles an inspiring journey of a tea taster to the executive chairman and creative director for Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia, winner of over 800 awards for advertising, and the only Indian to get the Lifetime Achievement Award at the CLIO Awards, New York.

Despite such achievements, Piyush Pandey comes across as a down to earth man from Rajasthan, with no air of ‘Look I have done it’ or whiff of chopping down the rest. Instead, he goes on to credit every person who made this journey possible, at the risk of making the book sound like some mandatory obligation of the company. As a reader and an advertising professional, you’re more than willing to oversee them and pick up the nuggets hidden between those 244 pages.

A digression here.

I used to work at Barista before becoming a copywriter. During my training, the Store Manager used to repeat one line that always stayed with me: “We’re not here to sell coffee, but a concept.”

Years later, after being copywriter for almost a decade, the same line still makes sense while writing copy: We’re not writing to sell product, but a concept. Having read Piyush Pandey’s book, it has now evolved into: We’re not writing to sell product, but tell a story. Thank you Mr. Piyush Pandey for helping a copywriter rediscover the ‘storyteller’ in him.

Book Review: ‘Sahir Ludhianvi – The people’s poet’ explores a poet’s mind


 

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“Thukra raha tha mujhko badi der se jahaan, main aaj sab jahaan ko thukra ke pii gaya”
(The world has ignored me far too long. Today, having spurned the world, I drown myself in liquor).

Writing an unbiased biography isn’t a cakewalk, especially when it’s on someone like Sahir Ludhianvi who is known to have ruffled feathers with the stalwarts of the Indian Film Industry, including SD Burman and OP Naiyyar, to name a few. The book, ‘Sahir Ludhianvi – The People’s Poet’ by Akshay Manwani chronicles the poet and lyricist’s journey in documentary film-like style.

Unlike other biographies, Akshay Manwani deliberately avoids the route of banal trivia and anecdotes glorifying him. Instead, the author shares an unbiased account of Sahir and leaves on the reader to interpret him.

“Tumhaare ahad-e-wafaa ko main ahad kya samjhoon? Mujhe khud apni mohabbat ka aitbaar nahin”
(How do I believe your promises of fidelity? When my own ability to love remains in doubt)

The love story of Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam or relationship with Sudha Malhotra never reached fairytale endings and were eventually aborted midway by the poet and lyricist. Like he wrote in the song from ‘Gumraah’: ‘Woh afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, usey ek khoobsurat mod dekar chhodna acha’ (The story which cannot be brought to a happy ending, it is better to give it a beautiful turn and leave it).

Sahir, though, explained his bachelor status as: “I am not against the institution of marriage, but as far as I am concerned, I have never felt the real need to get married. In my opinion, the relationship between a man and a woman may not necessarily be confined to a relation between husband and wife.”

“Maana ke is jahaan ko gulzaar na kar sakey, kaantey kuch kum hi kar gaye, guzrey jidhar se hum.”

(I agree, I could not change this world entirely, but hopefully, I made it a better place to live)

An active member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Sahir Ludhianvi had a knack for infusing his philosophy in his lyrics and resonated with people’s conscience. His songs like ‘Jinhe naaz hai Hind par’ from Pyaasa, ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawaano ka’ from Naya Daur and ‘Jaagega insaan zamaana dekhege’ from ‘Aadmi aur Insaan’ reaffirm this fact underlined by author Akshay Manwani.

Sahir, in his own words writes:
“Films are the most effective medium of our age. If they are used to bring about constructive and positive change, people’s thought processes and social progress can be influenced greatly and very rapidly.”

In the book, Gulzar states, “Sahir Ludhianvi merged his poetry and social conscience in all his songs, but he totally refused to learn the film medium, and wrote only what he wanted. He is the only poet whom the industry accepted as he is, with his language, his vocabulary and his imagery.”

Javed Akhtar muses, “Majrooh Sultanpuri was more lyrical than Sahir, but, if I may say so, not as responsible as Sahir. He has written much more than Sahir. But he made compromises.”

“Kal aur ayenge nagmon ki khilti kaliyan chunnewale,
Mujhse behtar kahnewale tumse behtar sunnewale,
Kal koi mujhko yaad kare, kyun koi mujhko yaad kare,
Masroof zamana mere liye, kyun waqt apna barbaad kare?”

(Tomorrow, other lyricists will come, adding beauty to every song. There will be better writers than me, better listeners than you. Who will remember me tomorrow, why should I be remembered tomorrow? The busy inhabitants of this world, why should they waste their time for me?).

On a parting note, I would like to share this gem of an anecdote from ‘Sahir- The people’s poet’:
Sahir ludhianvi and Amrita Pritam had met at an Asian writer’s conference. Their identity batch had been interchanged by mistake and when someone pointed this out, Sahir laughed. He said the organizers made a mistake and they i.e. Amrita and Sahir chose not to correct it. Many years later, when Amrita came to know about Sahir’s sudden death at midnight, she thought: death had wanted to knock on my door but went to his instead, since the badge carrying my name was attached to his coat.

 

Baker’s Dozen: The journey so far…

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SOME DREAMS DO COME TRUE

Even after being released across the nation, my book, ‘Baker’s Dozen – a brew of 13 short stories’ never made it at Crossword Vadodara. Over a decade ago, I used to work at Crossword Barista (It’s now been replaced by CCD). There was this rack of Indian Fiction section which I used to stare at, imagining my book on it someday, but that never happened, until few days ago. I walked into the Crossword Vadodara store and was pleasantly surprised to find my book, right at the very spot I used to visualize it. Enthralled at this unexpected sight, I looked around, wishing to approach each person in the store and announce, “Hey, that’s my book, why don’t you check it out? It’s no bestseller, but can be a quite interesting to read.” Well, I resisted the temptation and reserved it for Social Networking sites, where I am pestering readers like you with daily posts on this feat.

THE GENESIS

The journey of Baker’s Dozen finds its roots in 2002 when I used to work at Barista, Vadodara. There was a book launch organized at Crossword. I don’t recall the author’s name but he was a middle-aged bearded author-like man who was being interviewed at Crossword Barista (He ordered Decaff Cappuccino with Tiramisu). Just the sight of an author being interviewed made me resolve to become an author someday and be interviewed this way.

I have been writing poems and short stories since the age of ten but never thought of getting them published. I was quite content with the fame that ‘Wee Wonder’ feature in Indian Express earned me (I still cherish my reviews being published in Filmfare magazine and prizes from CNN IBN). But this single incident changed everything and infused enough courage in me to dream of becoming an author.

Later, I was shifted to the Race Course Barista and I vividly remember it was a rush hour where everyone was asking for a cappuccino – the newfound nectar that the Vadodarians stumbled upon and were hopelessly addicted to, gleefully asking for a Caapuchino. There was a picture of a middle-aged man on the wall of Barista and while making the ‘Caapuchinos’, a few verses started haunting my mind. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of scribbling them on endless paper napkins and stashing them inside my pocket while operating the espresso machine.

The next day, I compiled all those verses into a poem called, ‘A sip of life’ and showed it to the Store Manager of Barista. He liked it so much that he got it framed and gave it the pride of place right next to the picture it was inspired from, with a byline ‘Prakash Gowda’. A journalist happened to read it and she offered me to write an article for their upcoming feature on Uttarayan. I was taken aback by the offer and said that I wrote poems and short stories as hobby and writing articles wasn’t my cup of tea or rather coffee. Nevertheless, I gave it a shot and this eventually opened up new avenues of foraying into professional writing.

THE INSPIRATIONS

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It was this time when I started compiling my short stories, with the first ones being ‘Vande Matram’  and ‘Anonymous’, which I had written for a short story competition but could never muster up the courage to post the entry as I thought the stories weren’t ‘ripe’ yet.

In fact, Baker’s Dozen was never meant to be my first book. The first book I had written was ‘In search of God’, a fiction on religions. I had to do an extensive research to write it, which meant reading Bhagwad Gita, Bible and Qur’an. The book was supposed to be published by a Kolkata-based publication house but they suggested changing the end and tone down the violence in it – something I out rightly refused and dropped the idea of ever publishing it. I am still not sure whether I want to publish it or not (it’s not ripe yet).

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The book had a character called Noorie Saiyeda. With each page, her character became so powerful that she overshadowed the protagonist of ‘In search of God’. As a last resort, I had to remove her from the book and give a separate identity in the short story, ‘The Veil’, which was eventually published in Baker’s Dozen.

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‘I love you* conditions apply’ was loosely based on my experiences of dating girls during my ‘Barista days’. I am not sure if it’s still true these days, but when Barista was launched, girls used to find Barista guys cool, and guys like me weren’t complaining either.

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After joining advertising agency as a Copywriter, I penned more short stories like, ‘Three desires, one destiny’ which was based on actual incidents I read about in vernacular newspapers.

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‘The End’ was a story I wanted to write as a film script and even made a promo film for it, naively seeking producers and financers to back it. (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDsFTjjhtvA)

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The next to follow was ‘Neer’. This story is based on a dream that my sister had about a girl surviving without consuming a single drop of water. The dream evoked many a questions on my mind like- what if she is about to die? Will the doctors be able to inject medicines/glucose inside her? How will the society react? These questions eventually transformed into ‘Neer’ – one of my most ambitious stories that I wish to adapt as a film someday.

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‘Big B & Me’ was a story I wanted to share with the actual Big B, Amitabh Bachchan, as an ardent fan. It was based on the Coolie accident and I wondered, ‘What if a person shares the same destiny with the superstar? Will he survive? Will people pray for him like they did for Amitabh Bachchan?’ This thought led to the story, ‘Big B & Me’.

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While working with a leading advertising agency, I had an opportunity to travel across UP, including Delhi, Barabanki (native place of Naseeruddin Shah) and Allahabad (native place of Amitabh Bachchan). It was during this trip that I met a union leader. I was in awe of his demeanor, the dash of confidence while speaking, the way he smoke his bidi and read newspaper, on his haunches. This was when ‘Lallan Leader’ was born and I started scribbling the short story in my diary, the moment I reached the guest house.

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‘The Altruist’ is the story of a smuggler who hires a journalist to become a ghostwriter and pen down his biography so that people would come to know how he has benefited the society. This was again a film script, which I dreamed of making someday and eventually found pride of place in the book.

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‘Punching Bags’ was a story I wrote in the middle of the night after watching the movie, ‘The Fight Club’. The film had such great impact on me that I wanted to write my version of it, the accusation of plagiarism notwithstanding. Hence the dialogue in the story mentions the film, ‘The Fight Club’ and I ensured that I create my own story and let the film be a mere inspiration and not a copy.

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‘Sickle & Sprouts’ was the result of working on Corporate Sustainability Report, as well as an article in the Times of India about the need of being self-reliant in an agrarian nation like ours.

Honestly, all these stories were never written as what they are, but in single lines, scribbled somewhere in my diary in illegible handwriting. I am this lazy writer who seldom fleshes out any of my stories and jot down the basic plot-line. It was only when I decided of sending five short story samples to Penguin that I actually started writing them.

A friend of mine, Mr. Achal Rangaswamy happened to read them and offered me to send it across to a ‘small’ publishing house that he knows. I agreed and he later revealed that this ‘small’ publishing house is owned by his wife, Mrs. Sapna Rangaswamy. They liked the concept and asked me to finish all the stories in 2-3 months. It was a 12-story collection back then and I thought it would be erroneous to compile 12 stories in an anthology called Baker’s Dozen, hence we decided to add one more story to make it 13.

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This last story eventually became the opening story, which was written only to complete the 13 stories. Hence I chose to call it ‘The Devil’s Share’. It was inspired while watching the DVD of Satyajit Ray’s film, Kachenjunga. In fact, the story isn’t remotely connected with the film except the location.

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SPREADING THE WORD

I barely knew Rani Dharker. The only interaction I ever had with her was during a Kids Fashion Show where she was a Chief Guest and I had been asked to pick her up. I was driving after a long time and drove in the most reckless manner and ended up putting her off with my driving skills. After writing Baker’s Dozen, I approached Rani Dharker via Facebook messenger, by sending a request that I would like her to write a foreword for the soon-to-be-launched book and even reminded her of the ‘driving incident’. She clearly declined – something I expected.

Few days later, she asked me to send a concept note if she liked it, she’ll go ahead but she warned me of not expecting a ‘yes’. I sent her a synopsis of my book. She later asked for a story. I did so. Later she asked for few more stories, which I promptly emailed, and she ended up reading all the stories and liked them so much that she agreed to promote it and become the Chief Guest during the launch event.

THE COVERAGE

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To begin with, I would like to thank Rani Dharker for being a constant support, be it for the book launch event or the short play version of the stories. Thanks to Uttara Jagannath, Devika Jagannath, and Krishnamurthi Kumar for narrating the stories. Thanks Jay Merchant, Jyoti Arora (Splatter Studio) and Paritosh Goswami for organizing the promotional event where we staged the short stories.

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Interestingly, I was asked to pick her up for the event, hence coming full circle in life. I am really grateful to Rani Ma’am for everything she has done for me and shall always be indebted to her.

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The Narmad Library at Surat invited me to speak on Baker’s Dozen, which was quite a memorable experience, thanks to Niket Shastri for organizing it. Last but surely not the least, thanks to Achal Rangaswamy and Sapna Rangaswamy to publish my work through Maitreya Publication, and Ravikiran Rangaswamy for those wonderful photographs on the cover.

Press coverage by The Times of India of the book launch event on 25th May’12 at Landmark Vadodara:

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/Vadodara-sees-launch-of-a-new-book/articleshow/13560740.cms

THE FEEDBACK

“Prakash Gowda’s fertile imagination produces stories that engross and startle.”

– Rani Dharker, Author, Theatre Person, Academician

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“Your Baker’s Dozen is extremely brilliant.  Continue your career as a writer passionately. May God bless you dear.”

– Irrfan Khan, Actor

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“Few books that you cherish for it been gifted by the author. Thanks Prakash Gowda. A wonderful compilation of short stories that you relate to. Worth a read. I was reading your story, ‘Three Desires One Destiny’ and I actually got a nightmare that night!”
– Vidya Janakira Manan
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“Prakash Gowda’s Baker’s Dozen is a wonderfully penned book that touches you deep within. Each story holds a different India into it, making you feel a part of each story from Start to End. We are in the centenary year of Film Industry and we are either Ripping off Hollywood Movies or Remaking Films from South Just for the mere intention of money making, unaware of the fact that we have wonderful writers like Prakash Gowda whose ‘Dozen stories at a Price of One Movie Ticket’ make you a part of experience that films worth crores of budget can’t give you… “Baker’s Dozen” is a book that needs to be a part of every passionate reader’s shelf!
– Geet Sharma, Editor, Filmmaker (winner of Chalchitra 2012)

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“The only predictable thing about Prakash Gowda’s stories is that they are unpredictable. Three Desires, One Destiny gave me nightmares. Big B & Me brought tears, ‘The Veil’ shocked me. Each story was different and remarkable.”

– Uttara Jagannath

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“Loved your book. Started reading it last night and finished today. Loved ‘Three Desires, One Destiny’,  and ‘The End’. But I connected most with ‘I love you* Conditions apply’. Hoping to read another book by you soon.”

– Khyati Gulati

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“Loved reading your book. So when are you writing the next? You give your readers reasons to wait for the next.”

– Lubhita Shekhawat

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“Haven’t read it yet, but my dad happened to read Baker’s Dozen and he has sent a message for you that it’s a brilliantly written book!”

– Karishma Bhaya

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“Finaly read ur whole buk…must say brilliant job..hats off! Actually i’ve bcum a fan of ur imagination n humour..You’ll soon get 2 more fans coz mom n dad both r readin it”

– Devika Jagannath

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“The book was amazing…it grows as u read…i really liked the start (The devil’s share), cause it grips u to go on reading till the book is not done…overall wonderfully written… waiting for ur second book Prakash :)”

– Niriksha Nik

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” I feel as if i watched 13 films for a price of a multiplex ticket”

– Paul Rozario

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THE MUSINGS

So, that was Baker’s Dozen for you. These 13 stories and their characters have been an integral part of me since a decade, but never gained an identity of their own. Thankfully, this book has breathed life into these characters. Lallan Leader, Noorie Saiyeda, Vishveshwar Sahay, Meera Sharma and Iqbaal tea vendor often come and meet me over a cup of coffee and hint at a sequel. Something’s brewing for sure. 3 stories are ready to serve, 10 more to brew. Cheers!

Promo film of Baker’s Dozen (Thanks Devashree Desai for making it possible):