At first glance, Bhawana Somaaya’s Talking Cinema: Conversations with Actors and Film-makers might seem like a collection of dated interviews compiled together to present a balanced picture of the Indian film industry from a decade back since most interviews are from 2000-2005 with the odd exception of an interview being from the early 1990s and late 2000s. Look a little deeper and you realize that what the book does is actually shed light on the thought process of the people who are, and in most cases have been, an integral part of making celluloid dreams a reality.
The “conversations” cover a wide range of topics with the various subjects opening up and displaying their true emotions about films. It is here that Somaaya’s non-intrusive and non-gossipy style of interviewing comes in handy. Take the case of Shekhar Kapur, who at the time of the release of Bandit Queen exhibits his frustrations to the extent that he simply wants people to watch the film by any method possible going on to say, “if the film is not going to be released, one might as well see it on the cable, so what if it is a pirated copy?”. A similar candid interview with Hrishikesh Mukherjeee is my favourite of the lot. Here Somaaya makes the classic director talk about being in the industry during the time of a cultural and technological revolution and how the changing society is being influenced by cinema, and vice-versa.
The magic of the book lies in Somaaya picking up a mixed bunch of actors and directors giving an outlook to the film industry from different perspectives. While she talks to Vishal Bharajwaj about the trials and tribulations of a first time director, before the release of Makhee, and how hard it is to get a story made, her chat with Rajkumar Santoshi paints a completely different picture wherein superstars are ready to act in his films without even listening to the story. It’s the ease with which everyone opens up to Somaaya that gives the reader a clear window into the personal and professional lives of these stars.
The other aspect of the book, besides the interviews being from a decade ago and as a result my wife not enjoying them much, that might irate some readers is that these conversations don’t have a head or a toe, being part of just the body, so they at times end as abruptly as they start. On the one hand this keeps the reading focused, to the main heart of the conversations, but at the same time there not being a start and an end, they seem incomplete.
Talking Cinema is a great insight into the rise and fall of actors and film-makers from one Friday to the next. The book is divided into four segments taking to Actors, Characters, Directors, and the Specialists from the world of film making. The conversations comprising of the character studies (Rekha on Lajja or Tabu on The Namesake) and those on film specialists (Amitabh Bachchan on Cops and Yash Chopra on Love) give the reader a chance to see how cinema perceives its audience and as a result altercates its appearance to satisfy the need of society.
The plus point about the book is that you can always come back to these conversations over time if for nothing else but to see how the perceptions of the various people interviewed have changed over the years; especially that of Shahrukh Khan’s take on friendship in the film industry.
Recommendation: This book is more for cinephiles that want to understand cinema from the inside and less for individuals looking for a bit of gossip. Talking Cinema is perfect for some light and breezy reading.
Special thanks to Harper Collins India for sending the book for review.