Thursday, November 19, 2015

Review Of 'Written By Salim-Javed'

This is Diptakirti's 4th book in 5 years, and 3rd on Bollywood (the first, and only non-Bollywood book was on cricket). His previous two Bollywood outings, Kitnay Aadmi Thay and Bollybook were out and out Bollywood masala trivia blockbusters. That is, Satyajit Ray level of research and Karan Johar style of easy entertainment. I have been a fan for a while now and also a friend, so there goes the disclaimer.

Slightly young to have missed the magic of these four words - 'Written by Salim-Javed' on the big screen, but old enough to get excited when they showed up during the Doordarshan movies on Friday and Saturday evenings, this book is as much dipped in nostalgia for our generation as gulab jamuns in sugar syrup. However, in spite of being fairly versed with the might of the duo on Bollywood during the 70s and early 80s, WBSJ is an eye opener in terms of how these two young men changed the entire profession of script writing and story in Bollywood by making it mainstream, glamorous, and most importantly respectable and well paying. The chutzpah displayed by them from their early struggling days is straight out of a Salim-Javed movie (trivia and quizzes at the end of the post). WBSJ is divided into five neat Parts: 1. Flashback (background till where S & J start the partnership), 2. The Partnership (basically the book itself, a deep dive into each movie they wrote together), 3. Split Wide Open (as the name suggests, the split), 4. Themes and Messages ( like an extended Guidebook for (2)) and 5. Impact & Legacy (self explanatory).

If there's one thing you can expect from a Salim-Javed script, it is drama. The equivalent in a Diptakirti book is painstaking research. As you cherish every nugget of Bollywood gold dust thrown at you, you feel like giving the author a hug for the hours he must have spent at elevated attention levels noting down tidbits for us. It is also quite obvious that the author is a fan, and the strain of reverence is explicit throughout, sometimes slightly embarrassingly like calling Javed Akhtar's daughter's 'Dil Dhadakne Do' a commercially and critically acclaimed venture. This is a man paying homage to two men who provided him with the object of his obsession - Bollywood in the 1970s and 1980s. He also conducted some first hand interviews with the protagonists of the book, but primarily relied extensively on old issues of trade magazines and other like minded contemporaries (e.g. Sriram Raghavan, film director) who associated themselves with the world of movies. These publications and individuals (film critic Sukanya Verma making regular appearances) come back again and again through the pages.

The book is really Parts (1) and (2), and through some fresh anecdotes, some of the most well known Bollywood stories, and simple yet clear language Diptakirti takes us through a journey of all S-J's 19 unforgettable movies. The chapters include a brief recap to refresh the memory or to aid you to follow along in case you missed one or two of these (you really shouldn't though!). Sholay, Deewar, Zanjeer, Trishul, Don, Shaan, and Shakti make the most appearances. It helps that the author, like the subject of the book, is an unabashed fan of Big B, and S-J and Big B wouldn't be what they are without each other.

Now for the 'critical' part of the review. If this was a movie I think he's made a 3.5 hours biopic which could have been easily wrapped up in 2 hours flat. The entire chapter (4) felt like the author took a hammer and was ensuring that nothing from Part (2) left our heads, ever. Too many lines were repeated almost verbatim, also some of the recaps. It felt like how many scriptwriters treat their audiences - babies that need to be fed with a large spoon, lest things fall off! The other bone I have to pick with Diptakirti is that while the previous two books were an edge of your seat thriller in a fact based, trivia filled way, this could have been a more leisurely, relaxed read. However, his style remained almost the same in both, more journalistic and narrative, and very little flair. Which would be fine for most authors writing non-fiction, but I have read his blogs for many years now and he can definitely add much more to the stories than telling the facts, absolutey mind-blowing ones, in a linear, almost dry approach. It is disappointing that S-J refused to share any real information about the split, which obviously will be a big reason for many to read the book, but can't fault the author for that.

While the family shops...
In spite of the previous paragraph I am certain I will be going back to this book every now and then as I do to KAT and Bollybook. Some smaller things that stand out are, a separate section for all the translated dialogues, rather than next to the italicized ones in Hindi, as that could be very distracting. Attention to detail throughout. Sticking to the premise of Salim-Javed for the majority of the book, and not spending too much time on the rest of their and their families careers. This would have been very tempting to do as they split almost 30 years back and Javed Akhtar in particular has attained as much, if not more, success as a lyricist as the pair did during their heydays as Salim-Javed.

Final rating: 4/5 (caveat: You MUST be a Bollywood fan to even pick this up)

Top 10 Trivia:

1. Salim Khan's father was in the police, and while growing up he heard stories of various criminals. Many of the more interesting ones stuck. There was a particularly cruel story about a legendary dacoit who cut off the ears and noses of all the policemen he caught. What was his name?

2. Salim was quite the writer in college, and earned a name for himself by writing love letters for his less articulate friends. Two of his close friends _____ Singh Rao Kalevar and ______ Singh were later immortalized by him. Fill in the blanks.

3. When Javed Akhtar was born, his father - Poet Jan Nisar Akhtar - a member of the Communist Party, went to the hospital with some friends. Instead of the tradition of reading the Azaan in the newborn's ears, what book, that he was carrying with him, did he read from?

4. Javed Akhtar during his struggling days would stay in a storeroom at Kamlistan, Amrohi's studio, and one night found three Filmfare Award trophies in a cabinet. He recalls holding the trophies reverently every night and pretending that he was receiving the award himself, rehearsing speeches even. Which legendary actress' trophies were these?

5. One of Javed Akhtar's drinking buddies offered to share a flat with him but Javed turned him down as he was not sure he would be able to pay the monthly rent. S-J later went on write some memorable roles for him, particularly one where he was pitted against Amitabh Bachchan. Who?

6. In Shakti, as well as the lesser known Akhri Daao (starring Jeetendra), the hero displays exemplary confidence during a job interview by replying to the same question - 'aap is kaam ko nahin jaante' - with the same words - what?

7. In a 1977 movie, Maha Badmash, a mysterious kingpin remained hidden in the shadows and instructed his minions in a booming voice. What was the name of this villain, later immortalized by S-J in a different movie?

8. In Yaadon Ki Baraat, a painter sees the killer Shakaal (Ajit) fleeing from the scene of the murder. He is seen wearing short kurtas and dark framed spectacles. This is much like a real-life legend of Bollywood, and the painter's name was also the same as this wordsmith. Who/what?

9. In which movie did they put their foot down against Amitabh Bachchan changing costumes throughout the second half as they said it would take away from the continuity and the thrill of the long scene?

10. What was Javed Akhtar's first outing as the script and story writer, after a long hiatus, in 2003 for his ex-wife Honey Irani's directorial debut?

Answers to Trivia:
1. Gabbar Singh
2. Jai and Virender
3. Communist Manifesto
4. Meena Kumari
5. Shatrughan Sinha (Kala Pathar)
6. 'Aur aap hume nahin jante'
7. Mogambo
8. Gulzar
9. Don
10. Armaan

Buy Now:

In India: Physical (Amazon, Flipkart), Kindle (Amazon)
In USA: Unavailable as of Nov-20-2015
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