Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: First Day First Show - Writings From The Bollywood Trenches

Anupama Chopra's new book 'First Day First Show' is a collection of her works for various publications for over past two decades. I say 'works' and not 'writings' because it even includes transcripts of her weekly show 'Picture This' on NDTV 24x7.

Anupama Chopra
(image courtesy
Chopra is a seasoned writer. Her book "King of Bollywood:Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema" was published by Warner Books featured on the editor’s choice list of The New York Times’ Sunday Book Review. Her first book, "Sholay: the Making of a Classic", published by Penguin India in 2000 won the prestigious National Award (given by the President of India) for the best book on Cinema.

'First Day First Show' (or FDFS) is chronologically arranged and divided in two parts: 1993-1999 and 2000-2010. While the latter has got more variety in terms of content and publications its the former section that makes the book an endearing look in the celluloid world.

Almost all the articles in first segment were written for and originally published in India Today magazine in the said years which also happen to be my growing-up years and hence the memories they rekindle are precious! Till 2001 when I left home for college, we had a subscription of India Today at home and in absence of satellite TV (though Zee TV was launched in 1992 and DD Metro in late 2003, we didn't have cable connection at home) Chopra's columns about cinema became my only source of information about entertainment industry. So when a book talks about 'Chitralok' and 'Superhit Muqabla' it reminds of the simple joys that were then.

Till 1995, when Outlook magazine was launched, India Today was the only English news weekly on stands and whereas vernacular magazines indulged in only yellow journalism (The who-is-seeing-whom sort) when it came to Bollywood, it was India Today which covered cinema in a much more professional manner, and Chopra was at the forefront of this change.

So you will find article-cum-reviews of movies like 'Aankhein', 'Khalnayak', 'Is Raat Ki Subah Nahin' or 'Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa' and profiles of stars like Shahrukh Khan (after 'Darr'), Govinda (who was at the pinnacle of success after his 'No. 1' films) or  Amitabh Bachchan (after his return vehicle 'Mrityudaata' bombed).

But the finesse of Chopra as a film journalist shines through her reports on topics like changing economics and scale of the films, the trends being set and followed, the fear psyhosis among filmdom after murder of Gulshan Kumar, the poor selection of films in IFFI or even increasing usage of mobile phones among the urban elite!

One of the joys of reading these reports is the benefit of retrospection! You read about 'Koyla' boasting a different story line ('mute boy falling in love with a rich girl') and realize how it was all more of the same. You read about 'Kartoos', a big budget entertainer featuring Sanjay Dutt and Jackie Shroff and remember what a colossal flop it was.

The latter half (2000-2010) consists of similar mix of reports, star profiles and (mostly) reviews (few from 'India Today', mostly from 'Picture This'). Towards end of the decade Chopra went global and most of her reports are for New York Times, Vogue and Los Angeles Times. The style of writing and subjects are more international and focus is less on Bollywood. One of the reports,written for the New York Times, covers the mass hysteia caused by Amitabh Bachchan's ill health, which made country skip more than just a beat, from a very detached perspective. Yet another report is about movie industry of Bhutan!

The writing is undoubtedly higher class but the effect that first part has, is just not there.

Not her fault because then this decade was so different from the previous! Satellite TV had invaded our homes and as if 24-hr movie/music/news channels were not enough 24-hr celebrity/lifestyle channels were pushing more and more Bollywood in our homes. The thin veil of inaccessibility that was between our stars and us was gone and that's why none of the profiles give that insight in any personality, hardly any reports give any new information that was unknown. And Chopra herself talks passionately about this and many more dangers of impending Paparazzi-culture in 'Intimate Strangers' written for Vogue.

If this is not enough to persuade you to pick the book, extracts from Chopra's books about Sholay, 'Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaaenge' and Shahrukh Khan are part of the book in form of Prologue, Interlude and Epilogue respectively!

All in all, it's a nice book if you want to go on a journey down the memory lane with the rockstar of Indian film journalism!