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Book Review: The Essential Guide to Bollywood by Subhash K Jha

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2006, 15:54 [IST]

Courtesy: IndiaFM

Thursday, April 20, 2006

One wonders what should one's expectations be when one of India's leading film journalist Subhash K. Jha comes out with a book on Bollywood.

The Essential Guide to Bollywood speaks about some landmark films from the late 40's to a more recent 2000. Jha, a very recognized figure in the world of film journalism ends up giving up his personal favorite list of Bollywood films. Of course a book like this is bound to be subjective without doubt. The list in quite interesting, though most of the movies included would be on any movie lover's favorite list!

The layout of the book is quite interesting with three movies every second page and a timeline of mentionable films and event. The book is uniquely classified into different genres which include drama, comedy, war drama, family drama, thrillers and mysteries, romance, historical, action and parallel cinema. In each section, the movies appear in order of their release starting from the early 50's.

Subhash K Jha is a good writer and his writing style truly deserves applause. However one wishes his take on the movie would have been more elaborate rather than just three sentences. Indian cinema is known for its melodrama and the drama section constitutes of almost half the book which at one point of time just gets to you. The films in this section no doubt are carefully selected but the list could have been a little short.

A book like this definitely requires a certain amount of research of which Jha has done justice to, but factual errors still do occur. For instance, Jha mentions that it was Prakash Arora's Boot Polish that brought the neo-realism of Vittorio de Sica into mainstream Hindi cinema. The fact of the matter lies that it was actually Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zameen which introduced de Sica's genius, a year before the release of Boot Polish. Funny thing is that both the movies feature on the same page and next to each other.

And now you can call this worth ignoring but we couldn't help sharing something that caught our keen eyes. In the cast of Baghban, none of Amitabh's children are mentioned nor is his daughter-in-law Mahima Choudhary. Rather actor Nakul Vaid's (who just had two scenes in the film) name is somehow present.

Now for some really good fun
At the bottom of every page you find a section titled as 'films and landmark events', where Jha goes out to list some events (that no doubt are landmark) but the film listing somehow has us confused. What are Jha's intentions behind the film names that he has listed in this section cannot be perceived. We wonder if he intended to list the prominent releases of the year in this section because many of the movies appearing here surely cannot be termed as landmark in any way.

And if Jha just intended to name prominent releases of the year, then again the purpose isn't solved as some of the movies here are so pathetic that they do not even need a mention anywhere in a book that talks about the best in Bollywood. Forget best, this isn't even close to good.

How else would you expect B-graders starring Mithun Chakravarthy (like Yamraaj, Devta, Do Numbri) and Dharmendra (like Zulm-O-Sitam, Sher Khan, Kali Charan, Gunda, etc) even finding a mention in this book. Then there are unreleased films like Love You Hamesha and tele-films like Chehra also on the list. If that wasn't enough many movies are accredited to wrong year of release like Salaam Bombay, Koyla and Fire in 1996, Hum in 1992, Insaaniyat in 1994 and so on.

Now we all have a right to our own opinion. But somehow, how can someone in their right minds justify these films as landmark films?

Jha clearly shows his favoritism towards Sanjay Leela Bhansali by mentioning all of his films with great reviews. Some of his writings said that a movie like Black cannot be categorized (however Jha himself chose to categorize it in the 'drama' genre).

The book surely doesn't excel in the imagery department. The collector's item tag surely gets away when wrong images appear of stars in accordance with the movie (see page 158)

One positive point about the book is that unlike other collector's item on Bollywood, this one doesn't burn a hole in you pocket. Priced fairly at Rs. 395, one might call it a mini-steal.

The book review can be summed up with either of the following two conclusions. Either Jha has wrongly titled the book as 'An Essential Guide to Bollywood' and if that isn't the case then the book surely doesn't live up to its name. If you pick up this book with expectations that it will guide you through the new and old lanes of Bollywood, you will certainly be disappointed. This one just turns out to be personal favorite listing by an individual. 

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