Tag Archives: Biographies and Autobiographies

Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Family Memoir by Feisal Alkazi

Enter Stage Right by Feisal Alkazi

Title: Enter Stage Right: The Alkazi/Padamsee Memoir
Author: Feisal Alkazi
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
ISBN: 978-9390477029
Genre: Memoir, Biographies and Autobiographies, Nonfiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

My introduction to theatre was at the age of sixteen when I first watched “Tumhari Amrita” and since then I haven’t looked back. Theatre as an art form has always captivated me. The idea of performing live in front of an audience, to get the reaction as you go along, and then to also perhaps improvise quite at that time has fascinated me as time has passed, and as I have watched more plays. So much so, that I did get a chance to work with Alyque Padamsee as a writer for one of the playlets in P. Dialogues, which will always remain a very fond chapter of my life.

“Enter Stage Right” is a very arresting memoir of two theatre families – the Alkazis and the Padamsees, who were first glued to each other by the love of theatre and then a bond formed out of marriage. In all of this Feisal Alkazi (the son of Ebrahim and Roshen Alkazi and nephew of Alyque Padamsee) speaks of his heritage of theatre – of the arts, of Bombay in the 40s, and how the theatre company formed by Sultan Padamsee grew, paving way to one of the biggest alliances in the world of theatre and art in independent India – that of the Alkazis and the Padamsees.

The memoir is not just about the families, the lives lived, the family tree, the anecdotes, etc., but is also about the city, the transformation of art in Bombay, and how the city grew from brick to brick and sometimes its decline as well.

The writing took me back in time and it was worth every turn of the page. It made me see my city differently, and also its art scene. Alkazi talks of how Art Heritage opened in Delhi, about Pearl Padamsee and her contribution to the arts, ultimately rounding it off with what’s the current scenario. Enter Stage Right is a delightful read. I cannot wait to go back to the world of theatre and watch those performances.

Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story by Yasser Usman

Guru Dutt - An Unfinished Story by Yasser Usman

Title: Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story Author: Yasser Usman
Publisher: Simon and Schuster India ISBN: 978-9386797889
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Usman is well-known when it comes to chronicling the life of people from the Hindi film industry. His works are on Rekha, Sanjay Dutt, Rajesh Khanna, and now to join this bandwagon is the tragic life and works of Guru Dutt, who was born Vasanth Kumar Shivashankar Padukone. Usman’s book is a window to the actor, writer, and director’s life in great detail, not hesitating to speak about it all – the loves, the losses, the addiction, the abundantly talented persona, his relationship with his family and wife, and above all the love for his craft, which shone on screen.

To write a biography and that too about such a tortured soul could not have been an easy task. The idea to remove oneself, and look at the text only as an outsider cannot be easy. At the same time, this book is written with such brilliant eye-for-detail, bringing to fore so many details of the man’s life – as a human being, as an artist, and as someone who loved and lost.

The book starts from birth and ends at death, and all of it that took place in-between. From Dutt’s need to make movies that reflected life, and at the same time he also knew how to make commercial hit films. He was of the opinion that for every art-house film he made, he would follow it with a commercial viewing experience. Usman in great details charts every movie that Dutt was associated with in whatever capacity and through those films makes us know the man. Of how he wanted every shot to be perfect – hence the several takes and retakes. Of how portions would be filmed and not used. Of how films got shelved and he incurred losses and jumped right back.

In all of this, what struck me the most was his personal life. The inner turmoil that Usman speaks of so poignantly, and this is where I thought the writing couldn’t be distance from what Usman felt for Dutt. His writing does not ignore the minor or secondary characters. He takes into account every aspect of those films and presents Guru Dutt to the reader – raw and brilliant. The idea of a troubled genius is clearly communicated throughout the book, and what I found most intriguing was how Usman has managed to understand Dutt layer by layer purely through his cinema and silences.

As a reader I didn’t want to take sides. There is no villain here. It is just how life played itself out for the artist, that he couldn’t bear living. I loved the parts of Geeta and Guru Dutt’s life – of how they were so much in love, their pain, anguish, competition, and also how they tried to make things work but could not.

Guru Dutt: An Unfinished Story by Yasser Usman is a very detailed and easily accessible read about a man who went away too soon. He was a tortured soul. He was constantly haunted by life, and that was brought to life most beautifully on screen through his films. Yasser Usman pays the most befitting tribute to a genius, through this book.

The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi

The Emperor Who Never Was - Dara Shukoh in Mughal India by Supriya Gandhi Title: The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India
Author: Supriya Gandhi
Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0674245969
Genre: Biographies and Autobiographies
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

 

I have been afraid of history books. Reads that somehow seem to take a lot of time to process and take a lot from me as a reader. That’s the perception I had for the longest time of history books. Till I read Dalrymple, Thapar, Manu S. Pillai, and now a recent addition, Supriya Gandhi’s, “The Emperor Who Never Was: Dara Shukoh in Mughal India”.

This is a fascinating read. It reads like a novel. It reads easy. It speaks of Shukoh, of whom less is written, much less spoken of. A fascinating look of a family, the succession to the throne, and the politics that happened in its wake. Dara died at the hands of his younger brother Aurangzeb, and that forever changed the course of South Asian History. Let me speak more about the book.

Shukoh was the eldest son of Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor. The Mughals did not practice the concept of primogeniture (the right of succession passed to the firstborn). How did Aurangzeb ascend to the throne and what happened to Dara, and Shahjahan’s other children is what the book is about.

I was enthralled by the writing. Like I said, Gandhi’s writing is very accessible and doesn’t seem heavy at all. There was not a single place in the book that seemed forced or unwanted. Every detail of the family, to what the siblings felt, to Dara’s sense of being, and Aurangzeb’s personality (sometimes misunderstood as well) was perfectly laid out.

Supriya Gandhi almost gets into the skin of Shukoh – the man he was, how he embraced Sufism, and yet he wasn’t without his own flaws. She transports the reader to a land of constant conflict and gives us a biography that is balanced – there is no bias of any kind and she doesn’t take sides. She presents history the way it happened.

We live in times when politicians in India (some of them) are out to erase the history of this nation. The Emperor Who Never Was by Supriya Gandhi reclaims history and gives us a complex, nuanced biography of a man who was not known at all, and also of a family that was different and always at loggerheads with each other. Read the book to know more. Read the book and educate yourself. We live in times, where a good open perspective is always needed.

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom Title: In the Darkroom
Author: Susan Faludi
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 9780805089080
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Biography
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To be honest, I had gone blind into this book. I had not read the synopsis or any review online. Nothing. I knew nothing about the book and just went on an adventure with it. Take me where you will, I had almost said and saw through that to the very end.

Faludi’s book to put it simply is about her father and identity. However, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Susan’s father had left her when she was young. She then set off to investigate him in the summer of 2004 – in the process of discovering and knowing her father, she began understanding her roots and history – Jewish history at that.

Susan found out that her seventy-six year old father – now living in Hungary had undergone sex reassignment surgery. This then led to the questions of identity and gender in the modern world, as seen and observed by her. How could she come to terms with a new parent? A parent who was no longer a man, but a woman? Did it make sense at all? Should it make any sense in this world? At the same time, she had always known her father to be violent. He was a photographer (hence the title and more layers to it which you will figure as you read the book)and the reference to images and the shifting of them is another thing that will leave you spellbound in this book.

The book traverses between the present and past beautifully. Susan’s writing takes you to dark corners of the human heart and soul – when she speaks of politics, she integrates it with the personal and that lends itself so well again to the “question of identity”. Can you escape it? Can you so easily invent another one for yourself? Is it really that simple?

What I also loved is that Susan talked of the trans-gender movement (being a gay man, and it falling under the umbrella of LGBTQIA, I couldn’t help but wonder about it, which led me doing my own research on it) and not only that, the way she speaks of universal father-daughter relationships and how she doesn’t know where she stands in that equation anymore. Through her writing, you can see her struggle to find her father beneath the person he has now become.

“In the Darkroom” is emotional for sure but above all it is a book of such intricate details of relationships – that are strong and fragile and need a voice of their own, which Faludi lends hers to beautifully.

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

avid-reader-by-robert-gottlieb Title: Avid Reader
Author: Robert Gottlieb
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374279929
Genre: Literary memoirs, Biographies and Memoirs
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am a sucker for literary memoirs or biographies. Anything related to books about books, I cannot resist. I mean, I have to go out there and read all of it on this subject. I chanced upon “Avid Reader” by Robert Gottlieb and this was without knowing who he was (once I did, I was in supreme awe and fascination). So who is Gottlieb? Well, he was the editor at Simon and Schuster and Knopf and his career is enviable, given the kind of authors he has worked with. “Avid Reader” is his memoir of his career in publishing (kinda reminded me of Ashok Chopra’s book) full of zest, gusto and life. It is after all a sixty-old career and that cannot be easy to write about.

Like I said, I love reading everything literary – what happened to this book (I mean one off book and many more in this book by Gottlieb), how it came to be, how did Gottlieb edit it and what was the equation with writers involved, and more anecdotes had me begging for more and more from Avid Reader.

At the same time, at some point in the book you feel that it is nothing but a series of dedications by Robert to the people he has worked with. Having said that, the book doesn’t lose its sense of irreverence and gumption. At the same time, I was amazed by Gottlieb’s sense of determination to make it in the world of publishing and from there come all the insights to the mad world – from excessive use of punctuation in books to fighting over authors to how to market books, it is all there in this one.

What makes this book even more important and a must-read is the relationships built by Gottlieb over the years, which he is very candid about. My favourite parts of the book though were his growing-up years. Something about the 30s and the 40s and the way he describes them is utterly charming and quaint.

Robert Gottlieb is of course great at his writing skills (that goes without saying, doesn’t it?). I couldn’t wait to know more about this industry and its workings. Every anecdote was laced with humour and a lot of pathos. “Avid Reader” is the kind of book that will also ring true to most debut writers and also the seasoned ones. The bottom-line of course is all about getting out a good book and Gottlieb has done that consistently for such a long time and chronicled it in this wonderful book. A must read for sure.