SHOMA A. CHATTERJI | 16 DECEMBER, 2017
A Different Take on Hema Malini: Ram Kamal Mukherjee Goes ‘Beyond The Dream Girl’
Interview: Dharamji did not agree to a couplet on Hema Malini for the book
When a famous actor takes over political responsibility as an elected representative of the people, how does the perspective change towards this person? Do we consider the person as an actor, a politician or a combination of the two? Noted journalist and former editor of Stardust, namely Ramkamal Mukherjee’s magnum opus on the famous star Hema Malini entitled, Beyond the Dream Girl that had glittering launches across the country and beyond, explores in depth, some answers to these questions. The book has been published by Harper Collins India and is getting rave reviews. But let us hear if all from the author who had done another coffee table book on Hema Malini 12 years ago. Ram Kamal Mukherjee started his career with The Asian Age, Kolkata, in 2001. Having completed his postgraduate diploma in media studies from the University of Calcutta, his very first role was that of official reviewer of the international films showcased at the Kolkata Film Festival. He shifted to Mumbai in 2003 and his life changed forever.
What triggered your second book on the same actor Hema Malini?
The first was a coffee table book. It was published under the Magna Publishing imprint and did not sell well because it was priced too high. Over the last 12 years a lot happened in Hema Malini's life. I thought of writing a complete biography that would feature all facets of this multi talented lady.
You have been a long time fan of Hema Malini. What is it that drew you to her - her acting?
It would be wrong to tag me a "Hema Malini fan". That was before I joined journalism. Since I became a journalist, I have observed her from close quarters and that helped me in understanding her better. If you ask me about one particular aspect that attracted me the most it is her beauty. As the saying goes, "Pehele darshandhari, baad mein goon vichari!"
You had an entire library of clippings of Hemaji in your Kolkata home which she visited to take a look. Do you still preserve it or have they all found place in your two books?
The collection of articles and images helped me a lot this time in structuring the book in a different format. I would like to give credit to my editor Nooshin Mowla who was instrumental in the entire process. When you have an information overload, you tend to write more, and somewhere you tend to lose perspective while working on a project for too long. It happened with me too. She was the one who would ask me to "go slow" and think wisely before putting every material that might end looking like, "Look I have so much information about a particular actor!" Hemaji visited my house in Amherst Street during the book’s release in 2005. She was stunned with my collection. My mother Roma Mukherjee, has kept it in safe custody, and tells that she will leave it for my son Rian to see how passionate his father was about cinema from childhood.
How long did research take before you began to write or whether the research went on while you were actually writing the draft?
I had to pitch Harper Collins with the basic idea Then we slogged over the title of the book. Finally Shantanu Chaidhuri and I came to a common ground and checked with Hemaji if she liked the concept. Initially, she was not ready for another biography, because Bhawana Somayaa had already written a biography on her which was released immediately after my coffee table book. But this time I made sure that the content provided in the book would have a contemporary approach. I have covered almost all aspects of Hemaji's ;life.
What about her unconventional marriage and her relationship with her children?
We have discussed her 'unconventional' marriage, rand also her elationship with Sunny and Bobby. This book includes extensive interviews with Esha and Ahana. I wanted Dharamji to write few shairees for my book, but he gracefully declined. He did not concede to my request to include a couplet by Dharamji on Hemaji which would have made for a great introduction. The research took one full year and another year to write it down and around 500 days of work has gone into this project. Her tight schedule also kept the time lagging.
In what way has writing this book while interacting with this great star a learning experience for you?
While working on Beyond The Dream Girl, I interacted with many celebrities from Bollywood. I recollected my past interviews and have used them in my book. When I had written that coffee table book, The Hindu had said that the book had too many grammatical errors and read like an ode to Bollywood diva that lacked perspective. That negative review stayed with me. It would often hurt me. I could tell people that I had written that book in a different environment. I did not have any editor to correct me. My colleagues went out of their way to help me during their work-breaks. It was a great learning experience for me. Besides, when you have an established publisher like Harper Collins, then it becomes a bit easier to work.
Two books on the same film persona after some interval of 12 years. Don't you think this might have the tendency to trap you as an author with one screen personality?
Yes! My detractors might probably feel that I can't think "beyond" Hema Malini. But the fact remains that I wanted my work to reach out to a large readership. I wanted to tell a complete story. I wanted a good publisher to stand by me. This year Hema Malini completed 50 years in Bollywood, and she is still so active. If you see the cover of the book you will know what I mean. Give me any other name, other than Hema who can look like this at 69!
What discipline do you follow in writing a book which is very different from writing articles as a journalist?
As journalist, we had several restrictions. I often felt that the essence of my articles would get killed when people on the desk would mercilessly edit out just to make it fit in a "space" they had to fill in. I would feel like a labourer carrying a sack of cement on my shoulder just to ensure that some portion of it is used in making of the wall. But when you have freedom, it becomes easy and difficult at the same time. I realized that when I wrote my first book. I had to accept the brickbats, while people praised and gave me awards as India's youngest biographer, when I was just 29. Now when I am 41, my book cannot read or sound like that now. I dabbled with fiction and wrote Long Island Iced Tea, which was critically acclaimed and received rave reviews. That gave me confidence to write another book.