Friday, October 26, 2007

"King of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan and the seductive world of Indian cinema"

The first thing you need to know about this book "King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the seductive world of Indian cinema" is that its author, Anupama Chopra is probably India's most interesting and well known film critic. She writes about Bollywood for many local and international magazines and also presents a very popular film review show on NDTV, one of India's leading news channels.

Now, coming to the book, anyone who knows anything about Bollywood will have heard of Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) , the reigning King of Bollywood. When SRK was in Toronto last year for the premier of the movie "Kabhi Alvida Na Kehana", he had large crowds come out to greet him, volumes that the local police had never dealt with before, not even when Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise visited. I know, I was there! ;)

Chopra's book delves into SRK's family background (his father was from Peshawar, his mother from Bangalore), his childhood in Delhi, the struggling years, the love of his life Gauri, and, finally, his phenomenal rise to fame.

Chopra, after hours and hours of interviews with SRK, tells his story in a lively and engaging manner. She smartly sprinkles the pages of his autobiography with a lot of information on the Indian film industry, Bollywood in particular. She tells us about the big film houses like Yash Raj films, Rajshri films, Sanjay Leela Bhansali of "Black" and "Devdas" fame and Karan Johar of Dharma Productions who she believes was a big player in the construction of Shah Rukh Khan as a global icon. All this is very helpful because what she is doing in fact is analyzing the evolution of the Bollywood film industry through the lens of Shah Rukh Khan. She also touches briefly on the dark side of Bollywood...its underworld financiers and how many stars are victims of extortion by the mafia. "An industry joke went that movie budgets would now have to include the mafia payments. Armed bodyguards became a favored fashion industry"

Anupama writes about her subject with a lot of affection and you can tell that she is genuinely fond of him, but her writing is at its strongest not when talking about SRK but when reviewing seminal Indian films like "Mother India", "Devdas" and "Dilwale Dulhaniya Leh Jayenge". She does such a great job of examining these films that I want to view each one of them again.

(SRK and Madhuri Dixit in "Devdas". Devdas is based on Sarat Chandra Chatterjee's novel of the same name published in 1917. According to Chopra, it was written in 1901 but Chatterjee at that time dismissed it as a work written when his mind "was completely befuddled by drink"

Dilwaale Dulhaniya Leh Jaayenge or DDLJ has become a Bollywood landmark. It articulated a value system that is so attractive to Indian viewers: that the extended family is sacrosanct and individual desires must be sacrificed at the altar of greater social good.

So what made this very ordinary boy from a middle class home in Delhi, one who has a limited range of expressions and has never even kissed a girl on screen such a heart throb, such a star...the King of Bollywood? Chopra doesn't come out and tell us directly what SRK's magic formula is but you sense he has a certain charisma, a work ethic, a penchant for taking risks with his movies and an intense energy that simply lights up the screen and peoples' hearts.

In closing, I would say this is a very useful book if you enjoy Bollywood and if you're curious about one of its leading actors, Shah Rukh Khan. It is not a work of great literary genius, but it's not fodder for the tabloids either. Check out Deepika Shetty's excellent review
(it was the one that prompted me to read the book). Taryn of "I Read Too Much" has reviewed the book as well and I really appreciated reading it from her perspective.

Further Reading:

Charles Taylor's review in the New York Times

Savitha Gautam's review for The Hindu

I am planning on putting together a list of books on Indian cinema, fiction and non-fiction. Would appreciate your input, thank you!

Some other books on Indian cinema:

Sholay : The Making of a Classic/Anupama Chopra. New Delhi, Penguin Books, 2000,

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: The Making of a Blockbuster by Anupama Chopra

Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief: Inside the World of Indian Moviemaking by Stephen Alter

Lights Camera Masala : Making Movies in Mumbai/Sheena Sippy. Mumbai, India Book House, 2006

Helen : The Life and Times of an H-Bomb/Jerry Pinto. New Delhi, Penguin, 2006

Filming the Gods : Religion and Indian Cinema/Rachel Dwyer. New Delhi, Routledge, 2007

The Spirit of Lagaan: The Extraordinary Story of the Creators of a Classic by Satyajit Bhatkal

Bombay Cinema; Ranjani Mazumdar

Bollywood: A History by Mihir Bose Lotus Collection Roli Books

Filming by Tabish Khair (fiction)

Hero: A Fable by I. Allan Sealy. Viking, New Delhi. (fiction)

Show Business by Shashi Tharoor (fiction)


Beenzzz said...

I like Sharukh. My Mom loves him!:) I'm very curious to see what the author had to say about "Mother India." I saw it for the first time two weeks ago. I thought it was very progressive for its time, but I'm not educated in the film industry. Perhaps, this is a book I should read and pass on to my Mom as well. Thanks for the review!

Hollydolly said...


Thank you for the wonderful review of this book. I have it waiting to be read. I just adore SRK, good or bad, I will watch all of his movies and enjoy them. I very rarely watch Hollywood movies, the extreme violence and bad language just put me off. All Give me Bollywood any time. The vibrant colors, the dancing, just transport me to another world.So many of their movies have good family values, this I find to be so warming. All I want to do now is have a nice cup of chai, pick up my SRK book,and "just be".......Thanks again for this lovely post, beautiful way to start the week-end.

On another note, I am attending the Dalai Lama teaching this weekend in Ottawa, I am so excited.

Asha said...

I used to like SRK a lot when he used to act in TV serials and in his earlier movies. He was a great actor without all the dramatic kooky acting he does in his latest movies these days. I saw a snippet of Om Shanti Om on B4U, he just looks strange!;p
I must say he is a great family man from what I have heard, takes care of them very well.Good for him.
I had read in the magazines that he was born in Pakistan and he is not in touch with his uncles there anymore.
Anyway, would I read this book? Nah!!:D

Sanjay said...

Hey there Lotus! A very informative and a fun post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. For some reason I did not think of you as being an ardent enough fan of Bollywood movies but I guess you going to the premiere says otherwise? Did you catch a glimpse of SRK? :-)

I haven’t seen a Hindi movie in a long time and can’t remember what the last movie that I saw that starred SRK. I do remember him from the Television soap “Humlog” which first brought him in to the limelight. And you distilled his mystique perfectly when you said “an intense energy that simply lights up the screen and peoples hearts.”

I knew a bit about his background but now know a whole lot more thanks to your review.

I guess Indian cinema (its merits aside) is being noticed, for this book was also reviewed in the New York Times Book Review by Charles Taylor. link here. And Taylor loved the book and seems to have a fondness for Bollywood and provides some interesting contrasts with Hollywood in his review.

Re Chopra's observation.. : that the extended family is sacrosanct and individual desires must be sacrificed at the altar of greater social good.

I think that is true to a large extent, but this adage is changing these days no? As the economy grows, a lot of migration is happening within India and families are no longer together like they used to be. Again that family thing is a noble sentiment, but isn’t it also true that Bollywood while reflecting those values also provides a fantasy version of things? As an example, the casting of different religious characters while reflecting the rich diversity of India also serves up tired stereotypes? The escapist entertainment they often provide is great but not always an entirely true representation no? I am not denying that for most of India the extended family is indeed sacrosanct.

If you haven't seen Mother India and Devdas (old version), I so hope you can catch them. Mother India and Devdas were what they called movies with a “social message” perhaps relevant to those times, though their message still holds true to some extent. I am sure the anthropologist in you would surely love watching them. Oh and I haven’t seen DDLJ or the new Devdas. :-)

I will look for your readers (and your) suggestions for books about Indian cinema.

Thank you for a most enjoyable read and have a great weekend ahead.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Beenzzz!

If your mom likes SRK this is definitely the book for her! I remember seeing "Mother India" ages ago ( I might have been a preteen then) but even then I could sense I was viewing a masterpiece. According to Chopra, "Mother India" gave Hindi cinema some of its most enduring themes: the mother as an iconic moral center, the rebel son and the importance of honor and sacrifice.

Did you know it had been nominated for the Oscars in 1958? It lost (by one vote) to Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria".

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sylvia!

Yes, I read that you were going to see the Dalai Lama when I visited your blog earlier this morning. I envy you! Please share what you learned, ok?

I so agree with you about Bollywood movies, they are pure entertainment with some wonderful social messages thrown in. I never have to worry about showing my kids a movie from Bollywood, but when it comes to any other movie, I have to make sure I have the remote control close at hand!

Hope you get the chance to read this book soon, I'd love to know your thoughts.

Parth said...

You should also read her book on the movie 'Sholay'. You'll finish it a few hours and come away entertained at how such a classic came about, and the stories behind the story that we never heard.

Nix said...

Well I was wondering just how long it would take for someone to get to his biography! I MUST get this book for a Canadian friend. She feel head-over-heels in love with him when we were on holiday in India in 04. Pics of SRK are all over her house!

re books on Bollywood: try Stephen Alter's "Fantasies of a Bollywood Love Thief". He is the actor Tom Alter's cousin!

ML said...

Not being one to follow anything Bollywood, I admit I know VERY little of the stars or the movies. However, what an interesting book. I would probably read this just from your review.

Lotus Reads said...

@Asha ~ Your comment made me smile! You're right, SRK, with his 6-pack, long hair etc. seems to have hit a mid-life crisis of sorts, hopefully he'll get over it! :)

@Parth ~ When I was looking up Anupama Chopra's bibiliography, I came across "Sholay" and from what I could see it does appear to be a wonderful effort. Now that you have confirmed the same, I am definitely going to have to get my hands on it, thanks!

@Nix ~ hi!!! Yes, it is amazing to me how many fans Shahrukh Khan has in Europe and even North America. You must give your friend this book, she will love you forever! Thank you for always coming through for me with book suggestions...I remember Tom Alter so well and I will definitely look up his brother's book, thanks! Did you get to go to the International Festival of Authors this year?

@ml ~ You say the nicest things, thank you! If you ever develop an interest in Bollywood, this book might be a nice place to start.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanj!

I am most definitely a huge fan of Bollywood and yes, I have seen SRK up close and personal, he is ever so charming and likable!

You know, before I read this book I didn't even know that SRK had started his career on the idiot box. I think "Fauji" was the serial that got him recognized by Bollywood. It's funny how I don't remember "Fauji" and "Hum Log" but I remember "Buniyaad" and "Nukkad" which were made around the same time.

You are right, Bollywood can be a bundle of contradictions, but by and large the audiences lap up movies with a strong moral sense...where the hero plays knight in shining armor and the heroine stays virtuous no matter the temptation. An Indian audience isn't comfortable with themes like divorce, adultery, filial deception or anything that tarnishes the image of family. But I'm guessing it's only a matter of time before Bollywood films change to reflect real life. Infact, the change has started already with movies like "Kabhie Alvida Na Kehana" etc.

I have seen "Mother India" and Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Devdas" both of which I enjoyed. I know you don't particularly care for Bollywood Sanj, but there are a couple of movies I would recommend, like "Khamoshi", "Parineeta" (I'll have to set up a list!)

Thank you for pointing me to Charles Taylor's review, it's good, I should link to it.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sanjay said...

Hey again Lotus! Thank you for your response. I am glad to hear that SRK was free of airs. :)

And I must admit to a mistake. SRK was never in Humlog, I confused him with another actor. You are right, "Fauji" was the one that gave him his break. I stand corrected, clearly my remaining gray cells seem to function even worse on a Friday, sorry about that!

I agree Bollywood is full of contradictions, but I am glad to see some change. I must have been spoiled by all the indie cinema that I saw back then, which then sort of never seem to regain the glory days.

I will add your recommendations to my netflix Q, thank you so very much my friend!

BTW is Parineeta a remake of the old one? Although this Khamoshi is different than the old Khamoshi which was directed by Asit Sen.

Have a great Friday evening too!

Anupama Chopra said...

Hi Lotus,

I was thrilled that you enjoyed my book. Book writing is a long and lonely business and all we can hope for is that at the end of it all, our words connect.

Thanks for spreading the word on King of Bollywood.

All best, Anu

Happy Reader said...

Aw, finally!! I was looking fwd to this post of yours :) I am a huge fan of SRK and I love watching his movies! DDLJ was one of my favorite movies and I won't mind watching it over and over again... This book is a must read for me :) Thank you for a wonderful review!!

hellomelissa said...

i am a new bollywood watcher (thanks to you, of course) and have seen srk in a couple of things. if those kinds of crowds appeared for him in toronto, i can only imagine how rabid the fans must be in india!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi again Sanj

The "Parineeta" I am recommending was made in 2005, it's a must-see. And again, the "Khamoshi" I like was made by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. I hope you are able to find them on netflix!

@Chitts ~ Hi! Actually I finished reading this book (and several others too) a while back but I haven't been on the ball about writing my thoughts down. I have made lots of little notes in the margins of this book, something I am not prone to do unless I like it enough to add the book to my permenant collection, so that should tell you how much I enjoyed this one. Are you watching "Chak De" this weekend? :)

@Melissa~ Finally!!!!! I am so glad to see you and thank you for your e-mail. I will respond asap. I wish you lived closer we could have treated ourselves to "Om Shanti Om" which is SRK's next big release!

Lotus Reads said...

@Anu ~ How wonderful of you to stop by and thank you so much for leaving me a comment! I am often asked by friends this side of the world what makes SRK so special...instead of the lengthy answer I usually give them,all I need to do now is to present them with a copy of your book! :) I also hope to be able to pick up your books on "Sholay" and "DDLJ". I absolutely love your film reviews!

Susan in Italy said...

Wow Lotus! The author Anupama Chopra is a reader of yours. You've come a long way, I must say, kudos! Your review makes me want to get into Bollywood and rent a film, maybe when I'm back in the States over the holidays, thanks.

Brown Paper said...

I'm not much of a SRK watcher, but I think I'm going to check this one out!

Some books about Indian cinema that might interest you:
I. Allan Sealy: Hero
Shashi Tharoor: Show Business
Tabish Khair: Filming
Suketu Mehta's Maximum City and Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games both deal in passing with Bollywood.

Hope this helps your list!

Lotus Reads said...

@Susan~ Hi! Welcome back from China...I can't wait to hear about your adventures there! Yes, it's always so nice when an author stops by to say "hello", I appreciate that so much. When you're ready to rent a Hindi film let me know and I'll make you some suggestions!

@Niranjana ~ Thank you so much! Your book suggestions are much appreciated, I'm going to add them to my list right away. I love the sound of "Hero", I'm going to have to get myself a copy.

neda said...

Hi lotus! this reminded me of the comment my male colleagues used to pass jokingly (or seriously!) on SRK "all married women in India are in love with him!"

In the years i spent in India, i used to seriously think so much about what you mentioned in this post"...what made this very ordinary boy from a middle class home...the King of Bollywood?" and above all, It amazed me so much, the way Bollywood was part of people's lives in India. Later on I found it simply wonderful, when i started practicing bollywood-oholism!

would like to read the book if you tell me that it gives something more than what is available on SRK biography and movie reviews.

Happy Reader said...

Wish I could read your little notes! It should make it much more interesting :) Haven't watched "Chak De" yet. You know how it goes with a baby. *Sigh* But, I'll surely watch it sometime. Thanks for compiling the list of books on Indian Cinema. Which of these have you read before? And what would you recommend?

Nanditha Prabhu said...

your beautiful review makes me want to read this book. when we are away from india , we want to learn and relate to it more...especially through movies and books!

Bellezza said...

Lotus, totally off the point, but...we had a missionary speak today, Huldah Butain, who has been working in Calcutta since 1954. She was a friend of Mother Theresa's, in fact, a hospital she had developed served Mother Theresa in her dying days. I just want to say how it breaks my heart that people have such suffering there, and that America is filled with such greed. I don't want to disparage America, because it's got many wonderful things, but the bad part is that for too many people there's never enough. They should live in India for just one day, I think. I'll never forget reading City of Joy about twenty years ago...have you read that?

Radha said...

Personally, I dont like him; but I guess he does have an eye for good movie-makers & lands with really great roles. I really liked him in Chak De & Swades.

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starry nights said...

OMG Lotus I am a big fan of SRK I think he does have charisma and I like that naughty smile of his.I have to read this book.thanks.

Lotus Reads said...

@Neda ~ Hello! Lovely to see you here, how is Singapore treating you? :) Yes, you're so right, Bollywood can definitely get under your skin when you live in India. I grew up in Bombay (Juhu-Santacruz) and not a day would pass when we didn't see a film shooting or an actor or come into contact with Bollywood in some form or another. I am guessing this is why it is so much a part of me.

Yes, this book does deliver the goods on SRK... you will enjoy it.

@Chitts ~ Awww, I know how it can be with a baby, your time is not your own. I haven't read any of the books on that list...I chose them based on recommendations by some of my bloggy friends and others I chose based on reviews I read. If I were to chose, I would read "Filming" by Tabish Khair, "DDLJ" by Anupama Chopra , "Hero" by I Allan Sealy and "Fantasies of Bollywood Love Thief" by Stephen Alter. Hope this helps!

@Nanditha ~ Ahhh, you're so right. India feels much closer to me now than it ever did. Being so far away has made me appreciate it like I never could when I actually lived there.

Lotus Reads said...

@Bellezza ~ How nice to see you! Yes, I have read "City of Joy" and I remember being so touched and saddened by it. Calcutta is a great city and has so much going for it but it also does have a lot of poor and destitute people. Your comment has prompted me to go look for the DVD "City of Joy" starring Patrick Swazye (sp?) I would like to see it, maybe you would too?

@Radha ~ Haven't seen "Swades", but yes, he was great in "Chak De"

@Starry ~ Yes, he does have a mischievous smile, I love it too! I also love how he goes around saying he's too handsome for politics, too handsome for this, that and the other. Reminds me of that very popular song from the '80's, "I'm too Sexy for my Shirt" by Right Said Fred. :)

Prixie said...

i found a SRK and Hrithik Roshan doll in the toy shop last week...i was shocked. :)

Lotus Reads said...

lol, now, if it were a life-sized doll of Hrithik i would have bought it! ;)

Olivia said...

I love Devdas. It's not the usual Bollywood, but very classical and now I see why (published 1917).

As for SRK, I have always been puzzled as to why he's such hot stuff. Along with his limited range of expressions, he's certainly not the best-looking Indian actor out there. But maybe the "look" is what the ladies like...
And if he has a good work ethic I guess studios will be happier to hire him.

Lotus Reads said...

@Olivia ~ You might like "Parineeta" too, it's another movie adapted from a book written by the "Devdas" author.

SRK's not handsome, but there is something very impish and mischievous about him, making him seem really cute. Or maybe it's the dimples? :)

Read@Peace said...

Glad you enjoyed the book. It's my Diwali gift to everyone in my orbit. Thanks also for the kind words about the blog. Haven't had much time to write anything on it of late, have been rolling out a series on Indian entertainment, in time for Diwali. Have had uber-cool conversations with Zayed Khan, Maddy, Priyanka Chopra and Ram Kapoor. Each of them, in their own special way, make me proud of the quality of Indian entertainment. They've all been forthright, willing to share and talking about how things don't always come easily, even if you happen to be from a family of stars. Hope to get down to writing about it all, at some point.

Re-reading 'Tokyo Cancelled' and enjoying it as much as I did the first time. Rana is in town on 3rd and have put together a reading for him. Wish you were here.

sushilsingh said...

Dear, Friend
King Khaan of The Bollywood
Sharukh Khan, the NO 1 hero and actor in the Bollywood today,
was born on 2 Nov 1965 in New Delhi. He did his schooling in "ST.
Columbia High School" - New Delhi, graduated from "Hansraj College" and then did his Post Graduation in
"Mass Communications" from "Jamiya Miliya Islamiya" - Delhi.
Please visit for More Detail

iselldreams said...

Well although it is a bit late to comment about this part, when i saw SRK here, i couldnt stop myself from saying a few words. I, myself, a big SRK fan and a strict follower of mumbai film industry,aka bollywood. I saw almost all of his movies with a great pleasure and got great tips about life.

This book is not available in Turkey yet. But i have some other books about india and bolywood as i m trying to make a small archive for myself.

For some people indian movies are just lame, stupid stuff without any sense but i believe their hearts are blind to see the emphized sense underlying the scripts.

Thank you for sharing it with us:)
and i should state tht i really enjoy reading your blogs...

Have a nice day!