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Author Bhawana Somaaya: As long as I live, I want to write

The newest book from the film journalist and critic is a comprehensive guide to the history and legacy of Indian cinema.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

On Tuesday (17 January), actor Amitabh Bachchan launched the book, Once Upon a Time in India: A Century Of Indian Cinema. Labelled as a film companion for film fans, the book written by journalist Bhawana Somaaya charts the journey of Indian cinema from the silent era to present day. The ring-bound book and journal contains interesting bits of trivia and milestones of cinema (from the key personalities to the significant film releases of each year). The book is peppered with illustrations from classic films and famous dialogues from iconic characters across Hindi cinema.

When Amitabh Bachchan thought Manmohan Desai was crazy for making Amar Akbar Anthony

Somaaya began her career as a reporter in 1978 and became an editor of a leading magazine in 1989. Over the years, she has contributed several pieces of Indian cinema to publications across the country. A former member of the Advisory Panel for the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Somaaya has published 13 books in 18 years and currently co-hosts a radio show on cinema for 92.7 Big FM. Cinestaan.com got in touch with Somaaya for her latest book.

Once Upon a Time in India is your 13th book on cinema, what keeps you going?
Super question, everybody asks me that, my friends say, ‘Don’t you get tired?’ My answer is No. As long as I live, I want to write, it can be books, plays or films. What keeps me going is the passion for writing. All my books have been accomplished along with a regular job. I aim for a book a year and by the time it is released, I am so exhausted that I say no more! But a few months of normal routine and I feel the vacuum of something missing and before I know I have an idea and I have started on a new book.

What is the kind of research that went in the book? Did you have access to any archives?
Research is tough for any kind of book writing and to find material relevant to the silent era and early talkies was an ordeal. I have some books, some cuttings I have maintained and visited a few libraries. Let me tell you something, most of the time writers don’t attempt documentation because we are afraid of inaccuracies. I am not. I believe that I will give my best shot and in case I make a mistake and it is pointed out, I will rectify them but I will not stop writing the book I want to.

How long did it take to put it together? Did you have any help?
Over the decades whichever magazine I have edited I have done special features of milestones in cinema, but no matter what you have collected or what help you get from Google or the archives, you have to structure the book, find a rhythm and a mood, it is a long journey and extremely lonely too.

You've said that you've made this book for the younger generation to update themselves on Indian cinema. Why do you think they need to be made aware of the history of Hindi film?
I am surprised you say this because it is our duty to inform our children about the history of Indian cinema. We have a rich culture and a cinematic history that has travelled a century. If we don’t tell them about how cinema was born in 1913, how it learnt to talk in 1931, who is going to tell them? So much has changed over the decades — our stories, trends, technology, they must know about our struggle and our passion. Just in the way freedom for the country was not given on a platter, similarly, our cinema too had to struggle and find its identity. Today we are the largest industry in the world after Hollywood, but we make more films than them.

Shammi Kapoor and Asha Parekh in Teesri Manzil (1966)

Out of the 100 years of cinema is there that one film which you can watch over and over again?
It is a question impossible to answer because that one favourite film keeps changing every decade. Long time ago, I would watch Mughal-E-Azam (1960) and Gunga Jamna (1961) again and again, then it was Teesri Manzil (1966), it was a favourite matinee show in college days as years passed by. [Then] VCR came and I adored watching Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) and Mr Natwarlal (1979). In recent times, I can watch Jab We Met (2007) and Piku (2015) again and again. The beauty of cinema is that it keeps changing because people who make cinema are changing and they change because life is changing, isn’t that interesting?