A few days ago, I walked into Crosswords at Powai to kill some time while my parents and sister were busy stocking their trolleys with the week’s requirements at DMart, India’s answer to Walmart. It is a weekly ritual for me and the folks wherein my main responsibility involves getting them to the store safe and sound in our family car. I have been to Crossword so many times on such weekly shopping trips that some employees recognize me by face and their face lights up with the “useless chap, reads a lot and buys the cheapest books” expression. However today, I had come with the agenda of buying at least one book. A biography to be more precise. Two, if the quality was good enough.
The two individuals whose biographies were being targeted could not be more different. Both belonged to different professions, age and nationalities. However both were/are good at their professions, are still awesome at their advanced age and have basically surpassed nationalities when it comes to fan following.
Om Puri is a legend who was supposedly part of the great “art” movement of the eighties. I first watched “Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron”. His performance as the drunken corrupt builder was as awesome as the entire film. His acting in the famous bridge scene where he in a drunk state tries to help a dead body fix a car and his contribution to the greatest comic scene in Hindi films ever, the Mahabharat scene made me one of his fans since age 8. Then I saw him on TV in Discovery of India where he played multiple characters, legends at that and gave each performance a distinct touch. Since then he has created a fine body of work. While he has acted in some real turkeys (no doubt to put food on the table), he has done great work in films like Maachis, Chachi 420, Drohkaal, etc. not to forget his work during the “art” boom which includes Ardha Satya, Dharavi and Target (supposedly the last film written by Satyajit Ray). Add to this his considerable work in international films particularly City of Joy which made him the first “crossover” actor (forget Aishwarya Rai. By the way, just saw Pink Panther 2. Aishwarya Rai acted so pathetically that I fear that normal Americans would think of her as the benchmark for Indian actors.)
I approached Om Puri’s bio with a fair bit of apprehension. Its release was preceded by a seemingly deliberate controversy regarding the thespian’s infidelities. It left a sour taste in the mouth. You do not want to see such cheap stunts just to sell a book when it results in the lowering of a great man’s standing. I glanced through the biography and was totally underwhelmed. The writing by Nandita Puri seemed too casual as if she was just narrating some anecdote about his life. Great biographies tend to try to examine the inner workings of the subject. They try to find the answers to questions like “Why did he do this?” or “What was he thinking while taking this step?” The book just read like a personal diary maintained by a wife which Ms. Nandita is. As for the infidelities, I give a damn!! One must appreciate a great man for his contribution to his profession. His personal life is his to mind.
My first exposure to cricket was during the 1992 season when satellite TV channels were finally permitted to spell their magic over us Indians. Prime Sports (as Star Sports used to be called then) aired the ’92 cricket World Cup. In a thrilling against the odd performance (something which I was to know was the norm rather than the exception with the team involved) Pakistan won the World Cup. There were some great performances by Inzamam, Miandad and Wasim Akram but one knew that all this would have amounted to zilch without the leadership of the epitome of cool, Imran Khan. I got pretty intrigued by the sight of this dapper 40 year old holding aloft the trophy. After doing some research via cricket books and question to my cricket crazy father, I got to know more about him. Imran Khan was a colossus among mere men in Pakistan cricket. He singlehandedly changed the attitude of Pakistani cricketers when it came to facing the bad boys of West Indies and Australia. Pakistanis became the first sub continental team to become badasses and answer back when subject to sledging. It helped that they seemingly had tearaway fast bowlers in every gully and mohalla. Who was the idol of these fasties? Imran Khan. His reverse swing befuddled the establishment who cried foul and accused him of ball tampering. I believe him to be the Pakistani version of Saurav Ganguly (rather the opposite) when it came to showing the establishment the middle finger. It was during his rule that Pakistan played some intense cricket against the great West Indian team and came out equals. Much respect to him considering the state Indian teams were reduced to against the Carib supertars in the 80s. If this was not enough, there was the style. Women had a crush on him, men would die to become like him. I used to ape his drawl while speaking English, something he could carry off while I got reprimanded by my teachers for speaking in an incoherent tone.
The Imran bio came off only a little better. Either the image of him in my eyes was too awesome or the writer was trying to be politically correct, I found the book very dull. While the writer tried to get inside the man’s head, he ended up being a little confused. Still, in terms to presenting a balanced views (Miandad, who had a tiff with Imran is given much space and attention to sort of bring an opposite view of certain events), it seemed much better. However I was not satisfied with what I read.
I ended up not buying either of the books. Seems like I do not want to risk lowering the images of these two in my eyes further.