It helps to have a Bollywood star at a book launch. And if there’s an entire galaxy of stars and Page 3 people well, it would seal a place for a book in the bestseller list, wouldn’t it? Not that Twinkle Khanna needed the dose of celluloid glamour to market her book, Mrs Funnybones. In the past couple of years (thanks in part to her columns in dna) she’s emerged as one of the few genuinely-funny writers in English in India today and is considered something of a ‘literary star’.
But it doesn’t hurt, does it, to have everyone from Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar to Dimple Kapadia and Karan Johar at your launch? That she herself is a former actress, the daughter of Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia and the wife of Akshay Kumar, only adds to the allure. After all, who in cinema-obsessed India isn’t interested in filmstars and their private lives and thoughts, especially if they happen to be those of the wife of a current mega star who she insists on referring to always as “man of the house”? I’m sure many readers smiled to themselves trying to reconcile the tough, action hero image of Akshay Kumar with the picture of a domesticated, somewhat henpecked, and very typical Indian husband that Twinkle paints. I did.
It’s the same star-struck impulse that another upcoming book, The Great Indian Diet, co-written by Shilpa Shetty (with Luke Coutinho), will tap into. After all, Shetty has morphed into quite a fitness icon thanks to her yoga DVDs and can expect takers for her advice. But what of Sonali Bendre Behl, who dispenses parenting advice in her book, The Modern Gurukul, which releases later this year? The actress is not known for her expertise in child psychology. But as the mother of a young son, she knows enough, perhaps.
These are not the only books written by filmstars to have been published this year. Anusual: Memoirs of a Girl who Came Back from the Dead, the autobiography of one-film (Aashiqui) wonder Anu Aggarwal, came out in August. And earlier in the year, Ayushmann Khurrana, fresh from the success of Dum Laga Ke Haisha, released Cracking The Code, his account of how he, with no contacts in Bollywood, made it as a film hero.
Then there are, of course, the three, big ‘celebrity books’ that came out last year – Naseeruddin Shah’s candid memoir And Then One Day, Dilip Kumar’s autobiography, Substance And Shadow, and the authorised biography of yesteryear’s baddest baddie, Prem Chopra, Prem Naam Hai Mera, Prem Chopra. Earlier too, there was a dribble of books in the category: Anupam Kher’s motivational The Best Thing About You Is You, Dev Anand’s autobiography Romancing With Life (both in 2011), followed by The Style Diary Of A Bollywood Diva by Kareena Kapoor and her sister Karisma Kapoor’s My Yummy Mummy Guide, on how she got back in shape after pregnancy (both 2012).
There’s more coming – next year, Penguin Random House will publish actor Emraan Hashmi’s book chronicling his infant son’s battle – and victory – against cancer.
It’s a diverse roster of books and hard to generalise into a single category of a filmstar book, as Caroline Newbury, vice-president, marketing and corporate communications at Random House India, points out. “Naseer’s brilliantly-written memoir is very different from Shilpa Shetty’s health book, as the latter is known for her passion for health and wellness. Twinkle Khanna was already established as a sharp, witty columnist and writer prior to her book release,” she says.
While that’s true, it’s also hard to overlook the emergence of a band of film actors who’re writing about themselves – unlike, when there’d be journalists or bonafide writers who’d write about them. Perhaps, they feel, it’s best to tell their stories themselves? That indeed was the case with Dilip Kumar who, according to his amanuensis and senior film journalist Uday Tara Nayar, was so incensed by a book on him that he decided to pen one himself.
There’s also the realisation that they have a story to tell, beyond those that they may bring alive on screen, that might contain lessons for people at large.
Aggarwal, for instance, says her book is an extension of the motivational speeches that she delivers as a Buddhist and a yoga practitioner. “It’s my journey of self-discovery, about how I, a supermodel, an actress who delivered a huge hit with her very first film, gave it all up and became a sanyasi. And then about how I nearly died – I was in a coma for 29 days – and recovered.” Aggarwal’s book also has a “snapshot of the men in my life”, a list that runs into nearly two pages, ending “and so on…”
Khurrana felt his story would be an “ode” to all those who come to Mumbai hoping to make it in films or went back having failed to do so. “The rules of the game have changed considerably since those days, when you would beat a path to the doors of directors and producers and they would send you back without even meeting you. Now, there are opportunities in auditions, modelling, TV – there are many ways to get there and I am testimony to the fact that it works,” he says. Of course, it took Kapish Mehra, the head of Rupa, which had earlier published a book by his astrologer father P. Khurrana, to see the potential for a book on his life.
But the moot question is – do celebrities actually write the books? No, with the exception of Khanna, Aggarwal and Shah. Khurrana was fortunate in having a writer in his wife Tahira, who shares credit with him for the book, while Shetty’s co-author is Luke Coutinho, a celebrity ‘personal health coach’ who already has a book on diet, fitness and lifestyle under his belt. Similarly, fashion journalist Rochelle Pinto co-wrote Kareena Kapoor’s style guide while Madhuri Banerjee, a writer who’d published one novel (then), collaborated with Karisma on hers. “I worked out the book’s structure and questions on topics like fashion, fitness, etc. Then we’d meet and talk. I’d prod her on incidents, memories and then work on the narrative and tone,” she says.
Often, it’s no easy job to pin down the busy stars, which can draw out a book project over many years. The initial sittings for Dilip Kumar’s book, for instance, began in 2003, but it wasn’t released until 2014, 11 years later. “My Yummy Mummy Guide should have been done in 3-6 months, but it took two years. “It was difficult to meet her, coordinate with her,” says Banerjee.
According to Kanishka Gupta of literary agency Writersside, a current superstar – he’s not willing to take names for understandable reasons – had signed a contract with a publisher for his autobiography nearly a decade ago, but it’s yet to see the light of day. Rishi Kapoor has reportedly been working on his authorised biography for five years now. “Even ghostwriters have a tough time getting an appointment with the stars,” Gupta says.
Gupta, who has worked with a few directors and second rung stars, feels writing a book comes way down on the priority list of stars – it’s just too time-consuming and doesn’t pay enough. “One former superstar told me ‘the Rs5-10 lakh in advance is how much I can make in a single appearance in a show’.”
Besides, most of the books in this category – with the honourable exception of Shah’s memoir, are hardly better than PR exercises, which seek to extend the star’s appeal into other, more ‘serious’ areas. Very few tell the story with honesty, warts and all.
Nayar recounts, for instance, how reluctant Dilip Kumar was to talk about his rumoured affairs with Madhubala and Waheeda Rehman, or his controversial second marriage. Banerjee, too found it hard to get Karisma Kapoor to be candid about her troubled marriage – she had separated from her ex-husband then. “It’s hard for film stars to let their guard down, to be open and vulnerable.” Banerjee rues.
Of course, in terms of sales, (most) books by filmstars do very well. Mrs Funnybones, for instance, hit number two on the Nielsen bestseller list on the very first week of its launch, while Dilip Kumar’s autobiography sold briskly as well. “I know Saira (Banu, the actor’s wife) received a handsome cheque in royalties,” says Nayar, who worked on the book gratis, as a “labour of love”. (“I have known Saira for 40 years now, and Dilipsaab considers me his sister,” she says.)
Khurrana’s book is being translated into Marathi and is flying off the shelves. “I was at the airport and went into the bookshop to see whether they had my book. I couldn’t find it, and asked the salesman, who said ‘Woh codewali, na? Last copy bik gayi, sir,’ he told me,” Khurrana laughs.