Just as there is a mood for a song and a dance and a mood for a cry and a fight, there is one for an artiste and a journalist to engage in a conversion on cinema.
For most artistes, an interview is an occupational hazard they have to go through mechanically. They also have to, during the interview, stay disconnected from the distractions around them. During this process, however, unknown to them, comes a moment when the artists ceases to treat the exercise as a task. He begins to enjoy the thought process for, in all probability, this is the first time that the actor has paused to reflect on his characters and it is cathartic!
This magical moment is, in many ways, similar to what the actor perhaps experience in front of the camera between the commands’ action and ‘cut’.
As audiences we have, over the years, watched our favorite actor transform into diverse characters and wondered how they inhabit roles so contradictory to their persona. We have wondered how these portrayals affect the actors’ psyche and how they endure the suffering for so many years. Is it all as painless as it seems or do the characters affect the artiste’s personal lives? What are the creative and the disconnecting processes and do they even exist?
Talking cinema attempts to capture these magical moments as actors shed their inhibitions and discuss their anxieties as performers. It draws directors to confess their conflicts and vulnerabilities while the making of a film. The book is a testimony of their passion for cinema and, more important, their obsession with their craft.
In the centenary year of cinema, it is the right time for me to recapture milestone with actors and film-makers. I have interacted with for over thirty years. I choose artistes who were then at the crossroads of their careers.
Anil kapoor and Madhuri Dixit, after ruling as a romantic pair in the 1990s, were traveling different landscapes- Kapoor was the angry politician in Nayak and Madhuri was Chandramukhi in Devdas.
When kamal haasan turned director with hey Ram, he was weighed down with the scale and the expectations of directing. Waheeda Rehman anxious about fitting into the business when she returned after a long break in Om jai Jagadish. Rani Mukerji was at a turning point as an actor post Saathiya and Abhishek bachchan was elated when she he broke the jinx with Dhoom.
Tabu spoke about how she lost and found Ashima Ganguly in her First international film, the namesake, with Mira Nair.
Kirron Kher described shooting Khamosh Pani during Troubled times in Pakistan. Guddi jaya bachchan was facing the camera after decades in hazzar Chaurasi Ki Maa and narrated how she identified with her character Sujata.
Shabana Azmi discussed the dividing Line between the actor and the activist, between Indian and international cinema and nobody speaks as passionately about acting as she does. She said Indian cinema would change in the twenty-first century and it has.
Rekha was enacting her first deglamourized role as the midwife and mother in lajja and, even though she was pushing fifty at that time, she was the first choice of film-makers looking for a heroine to be cast in a courtesan’s role in Yatra.
I was privileged to spend quality time with many generations of directors. I interviewed Hrishikesh Mukherjee after Jooth Bole Kauwa kaate and Yash Chopra after Veera-Zaara. I didn’t know at that time that Hu Tu Tu would be the curtain call for Gulzar as a director and a mark a new innings for the lyricist who made his debut in 1960. Gulzar is today the oldest and most successful songwriter of hindi cinema.
The new breed of directors like Karan johar and Sanjay Leela Bhansali were then young and restless. Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for karan and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam for sanjay had raised the bar and both were anxious to live up to the expecations of Producing good cinema after the success of Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gham and Devdas.
The elusive Mani Ratnam was disillusioned by the Hindi film industry after Yuva. He felt disheartened by the critics and , for the first time, let his guard down and spoke from the heart. I interviewed A.R. Rahmaan, the only music composer featured in the book and someone who is forever inaccessible, at the gateway of India, Mumbai , during the music release of Swades. It was a surreal moment and Rahmaan was at his spiritual best.
Amitabh bachchan features as a subject in Anurag kashyap’s story in Bombay Talkies, which celebrates a hundred years of cinema, because it’s difficult to exclude an actor who has been active for forty-four out of those hundred. Yet, in 2000, film-makers were unsure of what roles to cast the fifty-eight-years-old superstar in. he was too charismatic to play ordinary father roles and too loved to be accepted as a villain so it took several trials and errors for the audience and the camera to figure out how he would play his next innings. Some film-makers, surprisingly, still perceived him as a cop even if director Govind nihalani’s Dev in the eponymous film was diametrically different from Rajkumar Santoshi’s Anant Srivastav in Khakee. Sanjay Leela Bhansali conceived him as a teacher for the disabled in Black, a role Bachchan had not played in his Long career.
Amitabh Bachchan analyses his stardom and says the pressures have lessened because the responsibility of how the film fares at the box-office is on the hero and he is in a more comfortable position today. Shah Rukh Khan, after over a decade in films, had launched his production company. He was loved, hated, hounded and attacked by media and turned into a recluse. Khan discussed his roles, friends, perceptions and anxieties as an actor.
These conversions reflect an era and a mindset. This was a phase when the old, leisurely way of doing things was giving way to corporatization of cinema, when promotions did not yet determine content and entertainment was not limited to a marketing exercise. Actors were yet to become brands, the pace of life and work was no longer laid-back yet not quite rushed as it is now, cinema was not yet all about designer looks and Rs 100 crore clubs! This was an era of flux, and many of these conversations probably mirror the uncertainties that mark any period of change from one way of life to another.
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