During a conversation with a friend about cinema books once, I found myself defending the hagiographical approach. My point was mainly this: our relationship with films and film-stars can be very intense and proprietary; if an author chooses a favourite subject to write a whole book about, and then invests time and effort in doing so, why expect the result to be detached and (loathsome word) “objective”? Surely it’s understandable if the writing is full of fanboy passion.
Well, after reading Dilip Kumar: Peerless Icon Inspiring Generations (by Trinetra Bajpai and Anshula Bajpai), I find myself rethinking my position a little. This is a special variety of hagiography, one that involves so many breathless, adjective-laden gasps of excitement, so much hyperbole, on every page, that it almost defeats the book’s purpose: clarity is lost in a tangle of flowery praise, and even diehard Dilip Kumar fans might easily be put off. I count myself as one, but after reading this I feel like I could go many months without re-watching any of Yusuf saab’s films.
It’s best to let some of this prose speak for itself. In just the first few pages – which include a Foreword (by Ameen Sayani) and an introduction (by Ali Peter John) – we are told about “a legend who is the ultimate, the limitless, and the endless […] a superstar far above the unattainable peak of fame, ensconced on a much loftier pedestal”. Dilip Kumar, it is affirmed, “draws [audiences] alluringly into the world of mimeses”, “essayed Sisyphean roles with effortless ease and never stooped low to raise boisterous merriment”, and “painted each emotion in colours of true life with consummate artistry and simplicity of realism”.
This sort of thing can quickly get exhausting, and the book rarely lets up. “We have never seen any flaws in any Dilip Kumar portrayal despite a most critical scrutiny,” the authors write, “The overwhelming impact of his tour de force performances has kept us in an inescapably bewitched trance.” Those last few words are very true, and the reader has to bear the brunt. Perhaps it’s reasonable to ask that even fanboy books be written in something like a state of consciousness.
For the rest, there are plot synopses of key movies, with the emphasis being on what the actor does in them – again through generalised gushing rather than in-depth analyses. There are references to contemporary reviews of the time, as well as behind-the-scenes anecdotes – all of which have useful archival value, even if they are presented in a hotchpotch way. The main value of this book is that it is well produced and looks good – I don’t know if it falls in coffee-table category, the text-image ratio is quite high, but there are hundreds of photographs, movie-stills and posters, which frequently make a better case for Dilip Kumar’s soulfulness than the actual writing does. All in all, this is a passable decorative addition to one’s living room, without being film literature in any real sense of the term.