Frozen TV dinners

Reading about cinema and the people who inhabit this seemingly magical world is usually a fascinating experience. And when the interviewees are big names, both from within the country as well as from overseas, you know that you are on fairly safe ground.

The people who have agreed to be interviewed also want to give their best, and have their own reasons for having the conversation. After all, who wants to cut a sorry figure in today’s media savvy world? So one can be sure of several interesting moments, and some insights that went into the thinking of certain films and characters. And so it is with Anupama Chopra’s latest book, Freeze Frame.

This is a collection of her work as a journalist between 2007 and 2011, and consists of three parts: transcripts of her television interviews for her show Picture This that ran on NDTV 24/7; interviews that had appeared in Vogue India; and articles that had been published in Open magazine.

At first glance, it would seem to be an easy way of getting a book published, but to be fair, these kinds of interactions need to be archived in a readily retrievable form, especially in a country like India that has a poor track record of documentation.

It has a foreword by filmmaker Karan Johar, that to me, personally, resonated on just one point: the loss of archival material and how good it would have been to read articles from the past: such as what Guru Dutt was going through when he decided to stop taking credit for his work after Kagaz Ke Phool, or Raj Kapoor’s reported meltdown after Mera Naam Joker, and the contrast after the same man tasted phenomenal success with Bobby.

The television interviews are frozen in time, since they were all done in the period I mentioned earlier, and explain the title of the book. So it is rather fascinating to read the views of an actor or a filmmaker on specific issues at that point in time years ago, and compare them with what has now become a part of history.

There are many such instances throughout the book, but what comes to mind immediately are Amitabh Bachchan’s views on playing Gabbar in Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag, which was a box-office disaster; Sanjay Leela Bansali’s confidence about Saawariya (which was a huge flop); or Dev Anand talking about going on and on as a filmmaker, ‘…learning all the time,’ in 2008. “I have made 36 motion pictures. My company started in 1949 and is still making pictures,” he says to Chopra.

There are 39 interviews in this book, so it would be difficult to pick just a few or talk about them all. There are more than one persons being interviewed sometimes, such as Rishi and Neetu Kapoor, or Javed, Zoya and Farhan Akhtar, to name just two. While the interview with the Akhtar clan works, there is also the-one-followed-by-another TV interview with Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan.

Unless you’re a hardcore movie buff, there is no clue as to which film DiCaprio is talking about, till the very end! And it is only when Christopher Nolan’s interview begins does Chopra reveal to her book audience what we are all reading about.

The film being discussed was Inception. TV interviews usually have a poster of the film being talked about). A simple tagline to that interview (and many others) would have helped put them in the proper perspective and period.

When Chopra writes pieces, as opposed to presenting question and answer transcriptions of TV interviews, she does well, like in the section of extracts from the Open magazine. The words flow effortlessly across the pages in a chapter devoted to Good Ol’ Hands, where she talks of indefatigable icons: our very own Dev Anand (who had no box-office hit since Des Pardes), but who went on and on.

This piece also includes other greats who have endured the passage of time effortlessly: actor Clint Eastwood (84), who has also been directing films since 1971 (‘…at some point someone might have said, “Ah, we don’t need him…we’ll move on.” So, instead of them moving on from me, I just moved on from them…’) and Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, who, at 102 years, was the oldest active film professional in the world in 2010.

There are other articles in this section that will hold your interest, like the loss of grace or culture (tehzeeb in Urdu) from Hindi films and songs. She quotes Javed Akhtar in 2011 as saying, “Maaf karna, lekin tehzeeb thodi kum ho gayi hai hamare gaano mein” (Pardon me for saying this, but today our songs lack grace).

Given her background as a print journalist, I could not help feeling that her TV interviews could have had more depth and homework, rather than superficial questions like ‘I heard somewhere’ or ‘I read in a magazine that…’ And the transcripts ending with the traditional ‘thank you very much’ or the interviewee saying ‘my pleasure’ made one wince. But that little bit of nit-picking apart, this book could be a part of a film buff’s library — perhaps not as a serious textbook — but certainly as a record of cinema and its quirky personalities.

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