14 December, 2014

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman (Book Review)

One of the major reasons any biography or a tell-all tale of a celebrity achieves good book sales is gossip and big revelations. When reading about famous individuals from any field of life, we the readers, mostly due to general human nature, are always eager to know the secrets that they might be hiding or better yet the concealed facts they might be privy to of others in their field. If that is what you want or so desire, then this is certainly not a book for you.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman brings together two celebrated figures from the Indian film industry;  Nasreen Munni Kabir is a journalist avant-garde who has covered different aspects of Bollywood over many decades in the form of books, TV series, and documentaries. The other has to be the most admired film actress ever to have worked in Hindi films, Waheeda Rehman.

Right from the start it is evident that neither the interviewer nor the one being interviewed is using this opportunity to boost sales. The conversations that take place are personal and subdued, and there is a bold line drawn between what is right and what is gossip. Instead, what we get is a better understanding of the woman that is Waheeda Rehman; her childhood and the events that led her to enter the Indian film industry along with great insight into the world that exists just behind what we see on the silver-screen.

Waheeda Rehman, in accordance with her character that we have seen many times on screen and otherwise in public events, comes across as extremely humble and down to earth. There’s a very motherly feel to the way she talks about herself and the people and industry that has been an integral part of her life. It is these personal anecdotes, the moments that defined her life, the photographs from her private collection that she shares, and the openness with which she converses that are both charming and nostalgic at the same time.

While the conversations between Nasreen Munni Kabir and Waheeda Rehman follow a rough timeline, it does jump around from decade to decade and this allows a much needed comparison between the way films were made in the 1950-70s and the way they are made now. Something equally surprising is the knowledge that Ms. Rehman has of the various aspects of film making. At times she is quite descriptive about lighting, music, direction, and of course dance and acting.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman is a book that celebrates cinema though one of its leading ladies. Ms. Rehman manages to showcase films as an art form and not just a medium for entertainment. In doing so, she also expands on a much needed insider’s viewpoint on her co-actors and her life outside of films especially now when not having acted in one for a while she has become an epitome of grace amongst the stars of yesteryears.

Early on in the book Nasreen Munni Kabir states how she convinced Waheeda Rehman to do the book, and that keeping her initial concerns in mind this format of questions and answers would work better than an autobiography. Having read the book, I agree with this and believe that sometimes a back and forth conversation between two learned individuals can tell a lot more than a just book that might end up being one-sided.

Conversations with Waheeda Rehman is a brilliant read for any individual remotely interested in primarily the actress, but also for anyone who wants to get a glimpse into the films being made during a time period that is often termed as Indian cinema’s “Golden Period”. 


  1. Thanks for reminding about the book. She is my all time favourite actress. Looks like I will order this book once I am back from my travel.