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[Interview by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Anupama Chopra is India's leading film journalist. She writes for India Today and The New York Times. She recently talked to The Delhi Walla on her biography of superstar Shah Rukh Khan - King of Bollywood – Shahrukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema. The book is reviewed here.
Mrs. Anupama Chopra, welcome to The Delhi Walla. How is your book King of Bollywood – Shahrukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema being received in India, UK and USA?
The book has been received very well. It's already sold over 10,000 copies in India where it also got rave reviews in media such as India Today, Outlook, Verve, and Hindustan Times. I don't have sales figures for the US yet but it has got rave reviews in mainstream American media such as Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews and Forbes.
What was the idea behind the purple cover of the book?
That was designed by the artists at Warner Books. I assume it was done so the cover looked nice and colorful to reflect popular Hindi cinema.
How did you convince Shah Rukh Khan to assist you in writing his biography although he himself is penning his autobiography? How did he also agree to write a blurb for the book?
You'll have to check with him about what exactly convinced him but I told him that I believe that a very good book could be done. A book that spoke about not only his life but also Bollywood and the evolution in India. He said if you are convinced then go ahead. As for the blurb, I just asked him and he agreed.
You are one of the few film critics who treat Bollywood with the respect it deserves. There is no patronizing tone in your reviews. What do you think of Bollywood journalism as it is practiced today? You started your career with the Movie magazine during the 80s. How has the Bollywood journalism evolved since then? Which film magazines you read regularly?
I love Bollywood. I wouldn't spend my life writing about something that I consider inferior, which is probably why you don't find a patronizing tone in my writing. Bollywood journalism has evolved hugely in the last 15-17 years. When I first started, most mainstream Indian media did not cover Bollywood. It was only done by the fanazines. Today, every channel, newspaper and magazine expend reams of space on Hindi film stars and films. So it is occupying much more mindspace but my concern is that much of it is very tabloid-ish and gossipy. I don't look down on that --I enjoy the dirt as much as the next guy but I worry that it is so prominent that it edges out all other types. But there are several writers who do write informative and entertaining stuff on Bollywood. I try to catch Filmfare magazine but don't manage to see it every month. The magazines I read to learn the craft is The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
Your mother is an eminent Hindi screenplay writer. Your bother is an eminent English novelist. How much they inspired and encouraged you to pursue this career in film journalism and film writing?
Honestly, my mother wasn't too thrilled that I wanted to write about cinema. I did a Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University and then returned to India. People didn't come back then and especially not to do film journalism. So every one was a little shocked. But over the years, she's seen the work I do and I think, she's finally proud of me :) My brother is of course my first reader and editor. To have Vikram Chandra as your editor is the best encouragement that anyone can ask for.
In the book, you did mention Amrita Singh and Juhi Chawla in your sources. But no Rani Mukherjee? Not even Kajol, Shah Rukh's most popular screen partner? Why did not you talk to them?
Only because I felt the book was complete as it was. I spoke more of his romantic personna rather than his most successful pairings so I felt that I would only be wasting their time.
What were the bigger challenges you faced while writing the book? What were the easy parts?
The biggest challenge was structuring the book. I wanted it to trace the evolution of a superstar, a film industry and a country. It also had to speak to both American readers and Indian readers. So I was constantly struggling to figure out the best structure for inter-weaving three threads.
Your research was impressive. How did you trace Shah Rukh's cousin, and his phone number, in Peshawar?
I wrote to several political journalists I know and asked them to connect me to people in Peshawar and those people in turn connected me with Mansoor Khan.
Shah Rukh's stint as the host of Kaun Banega Crorepati is considered an important milestone in his career. You do not think so? Why was it not mentioned in the book?
I think I finished what I had to say by the time he did KBC. I couldn't keep going otherwise the book would never be done.
You must have spent hours listening to Shah Rukh reminiscence on his hometown Delhi. Now his base is, of course, Bombay. How does he look back upon Delhi, a city where he had difficult times? Besides, his parents died there. What does he feel for the city?
I think he has a lot of affection for Delhi. His family from Gauri's side live there. As do many of his friends from his St. Columba days. Gauri and him are in touch with Raman and Vivek who I interviewed for the book. So I'm sure Delhi is as much home as Bombay is.
Perhaps it is too early to ask what your next book would be. Could it be on a film, individual or something else? Won't you be writing a book on Munna Bhai?
I have no thoughts yet on another book but it won't be Munnabhai. Munnabhai is my husband Vidhu Vinod Chopra's film. I think it's a conflict of interest if you write about your own family. You lose credibility.
Your first book, on the making of Sholay, received a National award. Your second book on DDLJ inspired you to write Shah Rukh's biography. Which of these is the favorite of your filmmaker husband?
I think he likes the Shah Rukh book best!
Sholay had moments, like Jai's death scene, which we wish could be changed. What are the moments in Shah Rukh's life you wish to be changed?
Actually I don't think Sholay would be the film it is if Jai had not died. In the same way, I can't imagine that Shah Rukh's life would have turned out the way it has if he hadn't suffered in the way he did. His parents' death was shattering but it also made him the man and star he is today.
You are hosting a show for NDTV. Please tell us more about it.
I script and host a show called Picture This for NDTV. It's a weekly film review show. At first, I was very nervous but now I'm really having fun with it. After waiting to see a final product for four years with this book, the immediacy of television is fabulous. And of course the reach. People have seen the show in China and New York and even Bhutan. It's really thrilling.
Thanks for talking, Mrs. Chopra.