BOOK REVIEW: ‘Bollywood’s Top 20 Superstars Of Indian Cinema’ – Not a compelling read

Bhaichand Patel’s compilation of essays about the best of B-town will definitely irk Salman Khan’s fans endlessly (he is not included in the book) and doesn’t have great insights about the icons, most of whom we have already heard and read so much about, on a daily basis

The kitschy jacket of the book titled ‘Bollywood’s Top 20 Superstars of Indian Cinema’ feels incomplete because much to your disbilief, you can’t spot superstar Salman Khan on it. As a reader you want to know the reason for Salman’s absence on the cover and in the pages that follow. There is an explanation provided in the book’s introduction for excluding him which sounds elitist and many would want to stop reading the book at that point. If you still choose to read on, you might end up feeling slightly cheated; the biggest reason is that there is much more information available about the stars in other literature who have been covered in the book.

The essays on the top 20 superstars have been written by an assorted group of known writers and that leads to the first hurdle: the changing tone and writing styles. The book starts on an impressive note as the author, Vikram Sampath, takes you through the myriad lanes of Kolkata and unravels the journey of ‘music maestro and movie legend’ KL Saigal. It is detailed and you are almost travelling back in time where you can feel the aura and ambience of that time and space. The essay ends with the author’s top five favourite works of the artiste and as a reader you would like to know more about those films as well. So there is a feeling of something left incomplete.

Next comes the essay about Devika Rani written by Cary Rajinder Sawhney, which is detailed no doubt, but the writing style is different Sampath due to which you have to re-adjust your train of thoughts. Unlike the previous essay, this one seems to be more detached and provides information without delving deeper into the superstar’s psyche and talks about the phase that the industry was going through at that time.

The third essay is about Ashok Kumar and is written by the book’s editor, Bhaichand Patel himself. This is one of the better essays and takes you through the actor’s journey in great detail. The way the essay ends is kind of cheeky, which might make you uncomfortable. You might disagree with the author’s top favourites of the actor’s work, but that is nothing very hard to deal with.

S Theodore Baskaran’s essay about Nargis can be safely called the best of the lot as it captures the entire journey of the actor in a linear fashion. It would have been great, if all the authors had followed this pattern. Pran Neville writes about actor Suraiya, which starts off well, but a page into the essay it begins to feel like another piece of detached writing. Reading Dev Anand’s autobiography, Romancing With Life would provide more insights into the actor-singer’s life.

Rauf Ahmed’s article on Dilip Kumar makes for a good read and has some very valuable insights coming from the actor’s peers. Meghnad Desai’s essay about the real showman of Bollywood, Raj Kapoor is a refreshing read and is among the well-written pieces. For those who have already read Dev Anand’s autobiography, Romancing With Life, Madhu Jain’s essay has nothing much to offer. The good thing about the article is the author’s description of her favourite Dev Anand films.

The essay on Madhubala penned by Urmila Lanba, though rich with information, doesn’t keep you engaged thanks to the drywriting, but makes up for it with the favourite picks. Pavan K Varma’s take on Madhubala is fairly engaging thanks to the prose and some credit goes to the actor herself who has inspired poets to write innumerable paeans. This article is probably the best mix of information and storytelling. Nasreen Munni Kabir, who has written many biographies of superstars has written the essay on Shammi Kapoor. This article stands out, maybe because of the author’s personal interaction with the original ‘rockstar’ of Bollywood. Needless to say it is one of the best in the book; probably worth the price of the entire book.

The essays about more recent stars like Aamir Khan and Shahrukh Khan don’t pack in much as we have already seen or heard most of it. It will not be completely wrong to say that diehard fans of the stars would know much more than what is already written about in the book. Namrata Joshi’s top five Shahrukh Khan films’ list includes Baadshah, but excludes Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, which was a little amusing. The book could have been a nice coffee table book if only it had some good candid photographs, but because it doesn’t have any such element to boast of, it becomes a lackluster and underwhelming experience.

Other than Salman Khan, many other prominent names like Dharmendra, Vinod Khanna, Akshay Kumar, Hrithik Roshan were conspicuous by their absence and a token mention of Ranbir Kapoor would have made the book more complete. You might wonder what stopped Bhaichand Patel from making it Bollywood’s Top 25 Superstars of Indian Cinema, more the merrier, no?

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