Nenu Mee Bramhanandam: A Breezy Read For Both His Fans And Movie Buffs In General

The inner workings of the industry are kept to a bare minimum which is surprising given that he has a career span of almost four decades.

Comedy is a difficult art to master. Apart from timing spontaneous reactions to situations are also necessary. Bramhanandam has enthralled the audiences of different generations and has managed to stay relevant. The relevancy of Bramhanandam is easily visible in how his expressions are used as emojis in different situations of everyday life. Naturally there is lot of curiosity and excitement surrounding his autobiography. It recently came out both in Telugu and English as ‘Nenu mee brahmanandam’ and ‘Me Brahmanandam’ respectively.

Brahmanandam presenting his autobiography to Chiranjeevi

We all know that a comedian’s life need not be full of humour. It is never so. Nenu Mee Bramhanandam is no exception. The book covers different stages of Bramhanandam’s personal and professional life starting off from his life in poverty as a young child.

A significant incident in Bramhanandam’s childhood concerns the festival of Diwali. His father Nagalingachary could not afford to buy crackers for his children. But on one occasion when Bramhanandam was persistent about them his father took him along to borrow money from the local landlord. The observant child that he is he noticed his father’s hesitancy while asking for money. This incident made the young child understand the real meaning of poverty along with how to value money.

Bramhanandam’s bonding with his mother Lakshminarasamma also comes out strongly in the way the actor describes her. In one of the pages she gives an important advice to her son about how it is all right even if he doesn’t achieve anything significant in life; but don’t get into the wrong path, don’t get addicted to cigarettes and alcohol. He promised her never to touch them in life and kept it to this day. We are reminded of Gandhi’s mother here. Maybe most mothers give their sons the same advice but not all sons keep their word.

The other engaging chapters in the book are about the time of his studies and his period as lecturer. He recounts how different people helped him at different junctures and doesn’t forget to acknowledge them. Before becoming an actor Bramhanandam had participated in many mimicry shows. There was constant juggling that took a toll on his professional life as his fellow lecturers weren’t very understanding.

Coming to the acting career the chapters that particularly stand out are the ones related to the shooting of Kshana Kshanam and Money. He gives a good description about how the late Sridevi couldn’t control her laughter while shooting with him.

In the comedy thriller Money, Bramhanadam talks about how he was not very sure about playing Khan Dada in the film but still went ahead with it. Apparently the first copy of Money did not receive an encouraging response but the film went on to do big business along with immense appreciation.

Bramhanadam’s special love for late Jandhyala and EVV Satyanarayana can be seen on more than one occasion in the way he remembers them.

As for the disappointments –

One expected more insights into the treatment of comedy in Telugu Cinema. He could have shared his views on the use of slapstick comedy that often tilted towards the vulgar side. The inner workings of the industry are kept to a bare minimum which is surprising given that he has a career span of almost four decades.

Even about his latest film Rangamarthanda which brought him many accolades he touches about it only very briefly. After acting as a comedian in 1200 films he was doing a serious role for almost the first time. He himself said many people are referring his career now as before and after Rangamarthanda. Still he did not elaborate much on such an important shift in his career.  

His belief in God was expressed in almost every sentence. Of course belief in god is an individual choice but to attribute every incident to the almighty was a little overdoing. A crisper edit would have made the book more readable. 

Ready To Fire: More Compelling Than The Movie

Ready to Fire co-written by Nambi Narayan himself is a book that leaves you with many thoughts much like the movie Rocketry which was released earlier this year. It makes us think about the heavy price that Nambi Narayan had to pay, because of his hefty dreams. It also makes us angry towards those who framed him as a traitor, and built up a false case against him. However, there is one major difference between the movie and the book. There is no denying that Madhavan’s directorial was a touching account of the brilliant scientist, but the book is definitely crisper. The book has two aspects. One is his scientific journey, and the other is the trials and tribulations he faced both professionally and personally. The chapters involving his wife are less but they still move you. Also there is less of technical jargon compared to the movie Rocketry.

In a nutshell, Ready to Fire covers the various aspects of ISRO spy case, Narayan’s development as a scientist and the passion that he had for his pet project Vikas among other things. This project Vikas played a major role in the PSLV and GSLV success later on. The book also touches upon the power struggle between Left v/s Congress in a subtle but impactful way.

The book is 350 pages but we don’t feel the length much. Ready to Fire is interesting for those who are not so much into science as well, because beneath the science it is a moving human story. Don’t know who has written more pages but the writing style of both Nambi Narayan and also Arun Ram keeps you engrossed.

One of my favourite chapters in the book is regarding the evolution of ISRO. The journey of ISRO from the inception to its present is filled with many interesting details. These anecdotes give a different dimension to the book. They are both hilarious and stunning.

The chapters involving the police investigation is painful to read, but there is also a fair amount of sarcasm in the way Nambi Narayan writes about the obvious loopholes in the case registered against him. You can clearly tell that police were under a great deal of pressure to prove that Nambi Narayan was indeed a traitor.

As said earlier the chapters involving his wife are less, but you are not likely to forget her. Her animal like cry on seeing her husband after a long time is easily one of the most disturbing parts in the book. She suffers a severe psychological condition leading to depression also. Finally she comes out of it with the help of her husband.

There is a part in the book where Nambi and his wife step out after a long time to attend a reception. During lunch Nambi gets a call that he has been declared innocent by the Supreme Court of India. At last justice is done. We feel immensely happy.

Lastly the bond of Nambi Narayan with Vikram Sarabhai and Abdul Kalaam also makes an interesting read.

Ready to Fire is a story of human spirit that one shouldn’t miss reading. Both the book and the movie should definitely be on your bucket list.

Two Intimate ‘Memoirs’

Recently I read two books in the genre of memoirs. One is Ravi Sastri’s ‘Star Gazing’ (The players in my life). The other is ‘Actually… I Met Them’ by Gulzar.  The structure of both books is very similar. Both have an episodic feel to them as they focus on the various prominent personalities they came to know in their respective fields. While Ravi Sastri’s narration has an intimate touch Gulzar’s style is more measured. Both of them do not hesitate to discuss the good and bad of the persons concerned but not harshly, never judgmentally.

 ‘Star Grazing’

Ravi Sastri touches upon many cricketers through the book. The cricketers are of various nationalities and also belong to different age groups. For example he begins off with the likes of Allan Border, Malcolm Marshall, Sunil Gavaskar etc. Later he goes on to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson among others.

There is a lot to enjoy in ‘Star Gazing’ particularly if you are a cricket buff. The book has many anecdotes which are highly interesting. A good example of that is the one on Javed Miandad. On one hand he talks about the street smartness and never say die attitude of Javed Miandad and on the other hand he also reveals the eccentric side of the Pakistani batsman.

One of my favorite chapters in the book though is about Kevin Peterson. He titles it as ‘Great career interrupted’. Kevin Peterson is described as one of the most dangerous batsman ever seen at the batting crease. He was someone who could knock the wind out of any bowling team, spin or fast but his career was cut short because of the unfortunate incidents involving his teammates and also the English Wales board. After that his career was cut short at its peak. Without blaming anyone Ravi Sastri bemoans the loss of an indomitable cricketing talent to the world. He feels all the parties involved could have resolved the situation. There is a comparison to Australia’s Ricky Ponting who was also a bit volatile at the start of his career but later on transformed into a run machine.

The chapters on the likes of Kapil Dev, Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham etc are also engaging but at the same time it is a bit of a mystery why he left out someone like Shaun Pollock since Shaun was also a great all rounder.

Other chapters worth mentioning are the ones on Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara. He lays out the techniques and temperaments of both these batsman which distinguish them from each other. The best thing about these chapters is that he never goes into the zone of clichéd comparisons. Instead he explains the merits and demerits of each and leaves it to the audience’s judgment. ‘Star Gazing’ is worth a read not just for cricket buffs but others will also enjoy it because of Ravi Sastri’s narration.

‘Actually…I Met Them’

Gulzar’s book was a little disappointing in the beginning. I even thought his memories were not as enchanting as his lyrics. That is because his style is not racy, a bit dry I must say. It looked as though he measured every word ten times before putting it on paper. But all that was reserved for his mentors/elders like Bimal Roy, Salil Chowdhury, Satyajit Ray, Utham Kumar etc. His memories of them had more of respect and less of interaction. From Kishore Kumar onwards he warms up. Since Kishore, Pancham (R.D.Burman), Sanjeev Kumar and Basu Bhattacharya are his close friends he could give us a real intimate peep into their personalities.

While talking (by the way these are oral narrations, not written pieces; first published in Bengali and later translated into English) about Kishore Kumar he says “Even in his madness he remained hundred percent aware. For him each love affair was pure while it lasted.”

Gulzar is called ‘Gullu’ by all his friends. When Pancham died he said “A large part of me departed with him; the Gulzar that remains now is but half complete.” He shares many memories of Pancham very fondly.

Sanjeev Kumar is another dear friend close to his heart. He recounts many incidents where Sanjeev was appreciated by senior actors, co actors etc. He ends the essay with ‘What sort of a person was I that I could make films even after he was no more?’ He mourns the death of Basu Bhattacharya similarly with the words – “A hungry silence seemed to descend upon me.”

In total he wrote about 18 people. All of them well known film personalities, mostly from Bengal; maybe because this column was written for a Bengali newspaper. In the context of Ritwik Ghatak his observation is worth quoting. “The artistic landscape is made up of diversity of talents. There will always be those who are nomads, radiant with talent and transient like comets. We must learn to accept such people on their own terms”.

Lady Doctors: Stories Of Unsung Women

‘Lady Doctors’ written by Kavita Rao is much more than just a book about six lady doctors. Above everything else she brings how these women had to struggle to carve out their careers irrespective of where they came from. Upper or lower caste doesn’t really matter. This particularly comes out in the case of Kadambini Ganguly, who is a Bengali Brahmin. In spite of decent support from husband and society she still had her fair share of struggles.

‘Lady Doctors’ begins off with the story of Anandibai Joshi. She is also a Bramhin who became the first Indian woman to cross the seas and travel to Philadelphia to study medicine. Her life was cut short by illness, malnutrition and lack of adequate health care. Her life ended before she could practice medicine but Anandibai still remains an inspiration.

Some of the other important women include Rukhmabai Raut. Rukhmabai is born in a Suthar (viswakarma community) caste in Bombay. She was the first to try and legally break her marriage. In her lifetime Rukhmabai smashed every rule of Hindu society. She also faced the wrath of activists like Bala Gangadhar Tilak. In spite of him being a freedom fighter he was not able to accept women’s equality.

The stories of the other women also make for a fascinating read. These are Muthulakshmi Reddy and Mary Poonen Lukose. Muthulakshmi Reddy is an important personality for many reasons. Chief most reason being that she was the first member of the women’s Indian association. Muthulakshmi was a doctor and a feminist who battled against caste-based misogyny. Her mother was a devadasi called Chandrammal. Her father was ostracized from the family for marrying a devadasi. In her childhood she developed a close bond with the maternal side of her family. That closeness made her aware about the Devadasi community and their issues.

Mary Poonen Lukose is also an important personality as she was the first surgeon general of Tranvancore. The most admirable thing about her is the fact that she wanted to make a difference to the womenfolk of her land. After finishing medical education she decided to come to Travancore rather than pursuing a career in England.

A major highlight of the book is how Kavita Rao intertwines the politics of their times along with the stories of the women. For example in the introduction of Kadambini Ganguly there is a telling sentence. “In 1891, the conservative Bangabasi paper departed from its usual subjects to call Kadambini Ganguly – a matronly lady doctor- a whore.”

Out of the six stories some are taken from the briefest material available, others are backed by personal accounts. Out of the personal accounts the most heart rendering one is that of Haimabati Sen. This can be seen in the following words. “During the day, she and her husband’s daughters would play with dolls. At night, she would make excuses to avoid her husband’s advances. Haimabati would lie on the bed, silent and stiff as a piece of wood. When she fell asleep, someone would remove her clothes; she would wake up and wrap herself in a blanket.”

Kavita Rao also does a good job in binding all these stories together. Her excellence can be seen in the way that she places them in a context. Because of this you are able to appreciate the force of their will to succeed in their goals. In spite of the different backgrounds and methods the commonality is their desire to snip the patriarchal practices.

In a nutshell ‘Lady Doctors’ gives an important message about how the future generations should remember the efforts of our predecessors.

Gangs Of Banglore: An Universe With Its Own Force And Laws

There is no denying that Agni Sridhar has led a fascinating life. He had studied law in Bangalore and was keen on entering The Indian Civil service but circumstances took such a turn that he had to join crime. Starting from early 1980’s he found himself stuck in middle of a gang war that shaped modern Bangalore. Later on he also turned into a journalist apart from becoming a filmmaker.

Gangs of Bangalore is much more than just a tale of murder and blood, it is also about a system that runs parallel to the world that ordinary people inhabit. It is an universe with its own force and laws. It is a difficult to pen down such a detailed life and strain of it shows more than once. Gangs of Bangalore is very much readable but at the same time it is exhausting too given the number of details. It is like the author had assumed that everyone is familiar with the names. The book could have done with some serious editing.

The thing which I liked most about the book was his observations on the underworld and how this parallel system ran. He gives some nice insights into his associates, police officers and others. Although we have seen in films like Satya and Shiva about the connection of politicians and the underworld it still makes for an interesting read as this is an firsthand account of someone who has been in that place.

There are references to how the politicians pampered the underworld, the reason being they were of use during the elections. How the police are used by the politicians has also been vividly presented.

Towards the end of his time in the underworld Sridhar had a brush with Bombay dons and their boys. There is an interesting comment that he makes about the difference between the Bangalore and Bombay criminals. He says that people in Bombay do not fight for personal revenge like they do in Bangalore. These kinds of reflections elevate the book.

Another thing which I liked was how Agni Sridhar didn’t hide his faults and presented an objective picture of himself. At no point does he glorify what he is doing.

The biggest drawback of the book is the number of characters and their inter-relationships. While Sridhar’s memory in remembering the episodes is truly remarkable but at the same time it is exhausting for the readers too. For those who are familiar with 80’s Bangalore may have an easier time but for others it is going to be an arduous task.

Read Gangs of Bangalore if you are in the mood for some history but also be prepared to have some patience.

Rani Padmini – The Heroine Of Chittor: ‘She Is Real, Not An Imaginary Queen’

Rani Padmini (The Heroine of Chittor) by B.K.Karkra

Rani Padmini is someone who needs no introduction thanks to the various works that have been written about her and also Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavaat released in 2018. B.K.Karkra in this latest book attempts to clear all the doubts regarding her existence. It is written with a clear purpose of stating that she isn’t a figment of someone’s imagination. How much you believe the writer is debatable but there is no denying that the book makes for a good read particularly for those who are into history.

The book is divided into seventeen chapters. It starts off with the various things that people have written about her. This includes the most popular of the lot ‘Padmaavat’ written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. After this we move to the Queens who were contemporaries of Queen Padmini along with various other facets of her period. There are also long chapters on Alauddin Khilji and Padmini’s husband Rana Rawal Ratan Singh.  Karkra also brings in the perspectives of poets and other people.

One of the most engaging chapters in this book is about the politics of her times along with the dangers and the humiliations that the Queens had to face particularly during the wars. It is a well known fact that women were the worst sufferers of wars but the details make you feel emotional. There is a detailed chapter on this where he talks about the conditions of women of that period.

Through this chapter we come to know about how the practice of Sati, Jauhar etc germinated in our society.

The chapters on Alauddin Khilji and Rawal Ratan Singh also make for a fascinating read. Talking about Alauddin Khilji, Karkra says that he was someone who had genuine respect for brave people irrespective of which side of the fence they were on. He takes the example of Hamir Dev Chauhan who was an adversery to Alauddin Khilji. We also get to know that he placed high value on loyalty.

Regarding Alauddin Khilji’s behavior towards women the writer says that he is believed to have behaved well with women in his harem. How much of that is true is something which cannot be ascertained.

The chapter on the practice of Jauhar before and after Padmavati is another engaging chapter. In this chapter Karkra talks about how majority of Jauhars are connected with the defeat of Hindus at the hands of the Muslim rulers. He adds that no Jauhars took place when Hindus won over Hindus or for that matter in wars related to the Britishers.

In the final tally, Rani Padmini makes an interesting read irrespective of how much you agree with B.K Karkra.

Sach Kahoon Toh: An Insightful Account Of Neena Gupta’s Life

Released on 14th June 2021

Neena Gupta’s Sach Kahoon Toh is an autobiography which makes for an interesting read at many levels. Most of all it is a book which is filled with honesty. This honesty is visible from the foreword itself. The foreword begins with her saying that “I know many readers are waiting to get the juicy bits of my life. Don’t lie. I know there’s a part of you that only picked up the book to read about my relationships and controversies that have been part of my media image for decades now.” Through the book Neena Gupta challenges the assumptions that people have about her.

Sach Kahoon Toh is divided into five parts. The five parts are her growing years in Delhi, life in Bombay, giving birth to Masaba, the downside of her career and the eventual resurgence starting with the superhit Badhaai Ho which was a major turning point in her career. In the last section she writes about her family members and these include mother, father, brother, daughter and her husband Vivek. There is also the chapter on Vivian Richards and her affair with him which resulted in the birth of Masaba, however the details are kept to a bare minimum. But that chapter has also got interesting anecdotes as she gives the background of how their paths met in Jaipur.

For any autobiography to work it is important that you bare your soul out which includes talking about your flaws and Neena does that for most part. There are times in the book where she comes across as someone who lacked faith in herself and her talent apart from being easy to manipulate at times. This comes out particularly when she talks about her early boyfriend who cheats her multiple times but she still gives him chances. Candid confessions like these make the book an interesting read.

Her friendships with Soni Razdan and Satish Kaushik comes across vividly and these portions are very heart-warming. An interesting detail has to be mentioned here regarding Satish Kaushik. He once told Neena to tell people that he is the father of Masaba if people ask who the father is. The reason being the color of Masaba and Satish matches. It is a small incident but it tells you a lot about the friendship between him and Neena Gupta.

Neena Gupta, daughter Masaba

Another good thing about the book is Neena Gupta doesn’t go overboard with details about Vivian Richards. She treats that phase of her life with respect and never sensationalizes it. You also get a peep into the personality of Vivian Richards.

Stories I Must Tell: An Emotional Journey About The Making And The Remaking Of A Movie Star

The first thing that strikes you about Kabir Bedi’s book ‘Stories I Must Tell’ is the honesty with which the actor has written his autobiography. This honesty can be particularly seen in the way he talks about his relationships, the open marriage with Protima Bedi and the relationship that he had later on with Parveen Babi that changed his life. He also talks about the trauma of the three divorces and how he eventually found fulfillment. In short Kabir Bedi bares his soul and takes you on a roller- coaster journey.

The book begins off with his stint as a freelancer at All India Radio. We see his fascination for the famous band Beatles and how he manages to interview them. There is also a glimpse of his friendships with Rajiv and Sanjay Gandhi. They had become friends at Aunty Gauba which is Kabir Bedi’s first school In Delhi.  Kabir Bedi gives a brief insight into their personalities.

From there we move to his life in Bombay where he started his career in advertising. It is here that he meets Protima Bedi and after a brief courtship they decide to get into an open marriage. More than Bollywood Kabir Bedi focuses on his international journey with particular reference to Sandokan which made him a household name in Italy. In the last chapters he talks about the fascinating love story of his Indian father, a Philosopher in Europe and his British born mother. There is also the heartbreaking chapter on his son Siddarth’s battle with schizophrenia and the consequent suicide.

The best thing about the book is how Kabir Bedi weaves the many worlds of his life, from material to mortal to spiritual. It doesn’t look like he is a first time storyteller. There is certain eloquence to the way he writes.

Not surprisingly the best chapters are reserved for his love life and his parents. There is certain candidness in the way he reminiscences about the significant loves of his life. The first one being Protima bedi, his first wife and mother of his two children, the other one being Parveen Babi the glamorous actress. A lot of the book’s first part is devoted to the tumultuous relationship that he had with both women. He writes that he had gone from one emotionally draining woman to another. At the same time he also admits the mistakes that he did and never paints himself as a perfect man. This quality of Kabir Bedi adds more emotional heft to the book.

Coming to his parents their love story is indeed unique. Their personalities and their journeys from revolutionaries in pre- independence era to eventually becoming spiritual people makes for a fascinating read. Kabir Bedi captures all these things in a deft manner.

His childhood also makes for an interesting read. A part of his initial childhood was spent as a monk in Rangoon. From his childhood Kabir Bedi had experiences with different religions. The reason being his family lineage had a direct connect with Guru Nanak Dev and his mother was ordained as a Buddhist nun. In the chapter ‘Ramblings on the beach’ Kabir Bedi shares his understandings of all religions and these include world religions as well.

Another heartrending chapter in the book is his son Siddarth’s   battle with schizophrenia. You see the helplessness of a father in not being able to save his son in spite of his best efforts. There is no doubt that this chapter will make you emotional.

Apart from the above mentioned ones Kabir Bedi also deserves appreciation for how he sketches his interactions with international celebrities. He manages to give a character sketch of them with their traits.

The one slight flaw is that we don’t understand why Kabir Bedi had to jump into marriages so frequently! He had four marriages altogether but doesn’t talk much about the second and third ones, or for that matter even about the son he had from second marriage. His daughter Pooja Bedi acted in some movies but wasn’t very popular. His granddaughter Alaya F recently made her debut in Jawaani Jaaneman.

In totality, Stories I Must Tell takes you on a roller- coaster journey of emotions. It comes across as a deeply personal story with no superficiality.

Twilight In A Knotted World: A Fascinating Read For History Buffs

Siddhartha Sarma’s novel Twilight in a knotted world majorly focuses on a group of Phansigars. (They are more famous as thugs. Since they used to kill with a noose the name Phansigars also came into usage.) They are a feared gang of dacoits who roamed the countryside, the highways and the river ways, and attacked the travelers. They spoke a certain kind of dialect so they could mingle with the strangers and attack them at a right time. Sarma draws upon historical accounts of these Phansigars and weaves a tale which is part history and part police procedural. Through this story he throws light on the lives of both Indians and Englishmen of that time. It is a book that makes for a fascinating read.

There is another book called confessions of a thug by Phillip Meadows Taylor. The plot of the book revolves around a fictional anti – hero protagonist, Ameer Ali, a Muslim thug. The story lays bare the practices of the thugs, or ”deceivers” as they were called who murdered travelers for money and valuables. The book is not to be confused with the Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan starrer Thugs of Hindustan.

The protagonist of the book is the real life British officer William Henry Sleeman. He is an administrator of Jabalpur district in the central province. He is a man of wide ranging interests like linguistics and archeology and also someone who is keen on understanding the culture, history and geography of the country that he stayed in.

One day Sleeman is urgently summoned by the governor general. The reason being that Scindia of Gwalior is upset that a nobleman who was bringing him a prized horse has vanished without a trace on the highway; he’s suspected to have fallen victim to the Phansigars. The issue threatens to boil over and the responsibility of catching the dacoits falls on Sleeman. As Sleeman digs deeper into his investigation he realizes that there is a vast network of men (and women), intricately organized and operating across huge acres of land hunting and killing their fellowmen.

Through this investigation several questions are raised by the writer. For example are poverty and hunger leading to this sort of crime? Are a few powerful men controlling the destinies of many?

The best part of the book is how the author gives a psychological insight into what makes them do the things they do. We also get an insight into the intricate strands or types of Jati, Varna and Biradari which holds good even today. I quite agree with what the writer wrote.

However the book is not just about the Phansigars and their deeds. One of the most tender and touching accounts in the book is that of a little wolf boy from the forests of Seoni. Sleeman’s deputy, who is investigating a series of cattle killings, comes across a pack of wild dogs and wolves, and with them there is a boy who is naked and feral. He is captured and brought to the civilized world, where Sleeman’s wife tries to care for him. Months later he loses his fear and begins to roam the grounds, but still tied to a rope.

Ideas of governance, law and justice is another important thing which runs through the book, as does the question of the validity of the colonial enterprise. There is a chapter in the book regarding sati. You have an old woman who is determined to commit sati. Her words to Sleeman show what it is to be a woman caught in a patriarchal and unfair system where mere laws cannot bring much change.

Siddartha Sarma’s etching of characters deserves a special mention. They have been sketched well starting from the primary character of captain Sleeman. What makes his character very likeable is following the rule of the law and at the same time choosing the right thing while on a crossroad. Another character which deserves a mention is that of Amelie who supported her husband in all his endeavors and acted as a moral compass during testing times. What adds even more strength to her character is that she brings in the much required human touch. On the whole Twilight in a knotted world is a fascinating read which shows how ideas evolve and change with time.

Not Villains; Victims Of Circumstances – Hussain Zaidi Books And Movies

This post is about three Hussain Zaidi’s books and the movies based on them. For people who are not familiar with his background it needs to be mentioned that he worked as a crime reporter in Mumbai for a very long time. These three books are: Black Friday: The true story of the Bombay blasts, Dongri to Dubai : Six Decades of the Mumbai Mafia and Mafia Queens of Mumbai. Out of these two have already come as movies. The name of the first movie is same as the title of the book directed by Anurag Kashyap. Dongri to Dubai was made into Shootout at Wadala movie directed by Sanjay Gupta. It was about the first recorded police encounter in Mumbai of Manya Surve, an educated gangster. From Mafia Queens of Mumbai book the story of Gangubai  Kathiawadi has been taken for the upcoming movie titled with the same name. She was sold into prostitution by her boyfriend Ramnik Lal and later she becomes the madam of a brothel in Kamatipura. Gangubai did a lot of work for the well being of the sex workers and also orphans. Famous gangster Karim lala considered her as his rakhi sister and gave the command of Kamatipura area to her. This film is being directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and is likely to be released in the later half of 2021.

Mumbai avengers

All three movies have taken only one chapter of those books respectively. Apart from the above mentioned there is also a  fiction book called Mumbai Avengers which was made into Phantom movie directed by Kabir Khan. The story of Mumbai Avengers is set five years after 26/11 Taj attacks on Mumbai. It is about how a retired Indian army officer Gen. Sayid Ali Warris masterminds an operation to kill the conspirators of 26/11 with the help of policemen, tech experts etc. But in the movie it was portrayed as a one man mission played by Saif Ali Khan.  

1. Black Friday: The true story of the Bombay Blasts

This book mainly deals with the bomb blasts that happened in the city of Mumbai on March 12th 1993, how the blasts shocked the entire nation, its aftermath and most importantly the backstory of why they happened. Black Friday begins off with people going about their business as usual completely unaware of the calamity. Afterwards we see a detailed account of the blasts and from there we move on to the incident of Babri Masjid demolition and how it led to the blasts. There is a lot that Hussain Zaidi packs in the book from police officers who would break the law in the course of the investigation to the innocent and illiterate young Muslims who were dragged into this. Hussain Zaidi writes all these things in an engaging manner and makes you understand the root causes for these blasts. 

Anurag Kashyap did absolute justice to the book with his outstanding direction. It also helped that the film had powerhouse performers like Kay Kay Menon, Pavan Malhotra etc. 

2. Dongri to Dubai: Six decades of Mumbai Mafia  

Dongri to Dubai is an attempt to chronicle the history of the Mumbai Mafia. It is a story of many gangsters like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala, Chota Rajan, Varadarajan Mudaliar and above all Dawood Ibrahim, a young man who took the crime route in spite of having a father in the police force. It talks about how Dawood Ibrahim was used as a pawn by the Bombay police and eventually how he became the nemesis for them. His story is primarily about a boy from Dongri becoming a don in Dubai. As earlier said Manya Surve’s life is a brief chapter in this book and this was expanded by director Sanjay Gupta in his film Shootout at Wadala which was a sequel to Shootout at Lokandwala. An interesting thing about Manya is that he was a graduate who was looking to lead a normal life but he gets falsely implicated in a murder. He escapes from prison with the help of a muslim friend and later rises to huge prominence. He was known for his strategic planning and daredevilry. Manya Surve’s encounter was the first recorded encounter in Mumbai, as mentioned earlier. The book is divided into two eras and writer Hussain Zaidi’s narrative style is very gripping and engrosses you thoroughly. The stories of all the gangsters are very interesting and through them the writer tells you about how they operated their networks with the help of police officials themselves. 

Shootout at Wadala may not be as satisfying as Black Friday but it is still an engaging commercial entertainer which manages to successfully capture that period. John Abraham as Manya delivered a committed performance. 

3. Mafia Queens of Mumbai

Mafia Queens of Mumbai talks about a few female gangsters who made their way up in the world of male gangsters. The book was a collection of stories both from Kamatipura and Dongri. Recently there was an interview of Hussain Zaid where he said while researching for the book he found that female gangsters are more courageous, brave and manipulative than men. This feels quite true when you look at some of the stories in the book particularly Sapna Didi and Gangubai. Sapna Didi was the wife of a gangster who worked for Dawood Ibrahim. After her husband gets killed by him she decides to take revenge for his death with the help of another gangster. She takes two months of training at the place of Hussain Ustara by learning to ride bikes, using gun etc. She plans to kill Dawood at a cricket stadium but gets betrayed in the last minute and it is said that her murder was the most brutal murder in the history of gangsterism. Though she failed in killing Dawood there is no doubting of her bravery and courage.

Champion of sex workers’ rights

As far as Gangubai she actively championed for the rights of sex workers and their empowerment. There is a famous speech of her on sex workers and she even had a conversation with Jawaharlal Nehru to discuss their problems. In the book there is a conversation between her and Nehru where Nehru asks her why she ended up in this business when she could have found herself a nice husband. If true, Gangubai’s reply to this is very bold. She asked him whether he would marry her. This leaves Nehru red faced and she goes on to say it is easy to preach but tough to practice. All  the stories in the book are very unique in their own manner and you never feel any boredom. It is one of those books which can be rightly called as a page turner. 

With Sanjay Leela Bhansali helming it and a talented performer like Alia playing the title role it is expected to be a solid film.  I would end by recommending both to read Hussain Zaid’s books and see the movies based on those books. The specialty of Hussain Zaidi is he never caricatures any of the gangsters. He in fact humanises them. Portrays them as victims of circumstances rather than outright villains.