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Stars from Another Sky

Courtesy: IndiaFM
Monday, September 04, 2006
A word of caution: This book is definitely not something you expect from your regular film book.

Saadat Hasan Manto is one of the best and most controversial story-tellers of the 20th century and this book is a collection of some of his works which he wrote in Urdu back in the 40's and 50's for newspapers and magazines. The book is translated in English by Khalid Hasan.

The cover page goes as 'The Bombay Film World of the 1940s' and with a picture of Ashok Kumar and Nargis, one would expect this book to be a trip down the studios of Mumbai back in the well... 40s.

But if that is what you anticipate then you are in for a surprise. This book is not about films made back then but about the author's opinions and personal experiences with some of the stars. The stars sexcapades, their flirting, their infidelity, them going to prostitutes form the crux of this book. Disturbing for some, disappointing for some more, read on to know more.

Saadat seemed to be a well informed man and probably had a lot of influence in the industry considering that he wrote about the stars personal life in the account of him seeing it himself. Some of his chapters are even conniving than written by the most notorious film gossip writers of them all. He doesn't hesitate to talk about his drinking habits and the various booze parties and meetings he had with some of the top producers, directors and actors of that time.

The book consists of 13 chapters with each one dedicated to one individual. Some of the remembered celebrities like Ashok Kumar, Nargis, Nur Jehan, and Rafiq Ghaznavi are included and you read a different side of them rather than just going through their filmography.

However, for an era of Indian cinema of which very limited resources are available, this book (unintentionally) gives you some details of movies and celebrities who you didn't know even existed. For instance there was a super-star by the name of Shyam whose career ended when Raj Kapoor was just coming up.

A few black and white pictures take you down the forgotten lane down the alleys of Bollywood. (Check out the one of Ashok Kumar in his heydays with his boxing gloves striking a pose.)

It is difficult to categorize the kind of people this book should be recommended for. First it should be read by people who like some historical gossip. Then come the people who would want to know how the industry operated back then. The studio system, the acting anecdotes and the writers back then do prove to be informative.

For all of you who wanted to increase your knowledge on the film industry, be prepared for something unexpected. Raunchy is one word to describe it, then again Omkara had coarse dialect in it but that brought out the setting of the place. Reading this, one wonders whether the backstage of Bollywood revolved or revolves around sex. If true, then is Saadat justified in talking about someone's personal life? To bring to your notice- Manto was tried 6 times in his life-time for obscenity.

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