Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What Book was Sharmila Reading?

The opium of Bollywood is so strong that even apparently uninterested people get dangerously hooked on to the stars, their films and legends thereof.

Everybody seems to know the name of Gabbar Singh’s father (Bihari Singh – mentioned cursorily during his sentencing), the name of the barber (Hariram Naii) and the two towns closest to Ramgarh (Meerut & Moradabad – mentioned in a Basanti monologue).
Too many Saturdays at home (Shanivaar ke Raat, Amitabh ke Saath popping alarmingly often during the channel zapping), too many Bollywood primers at the airport bookstalls and too many Bollywood-crazy friends (you guys know anybody like that?)…

And of course, if you have taken up the subject as a matter for lifelong devotion & dissertation, then I am sure you will also be impressed by the apparently endless amount of research that it sometimes takes to confirm a seemingly innocuous piece of trivia.

Exaggeration? Allow me to elaborate.

Floating on the fringes of the uber-intellectual, hyper-competitive Calcutta quizzing circuit, one came across an interesting question – “During the Mere Sapnon ki Rani song in Aradhana, what book was Sharmila Tagore reading?”
Everybody knew it was an Alistair Maclean novel – but how does one find out the title?
Simple.
Step 1: Rent a videocassette of the film.
Step 2: Pause cleverly at the correct shot. (This needed prior head cleaning if you did not want a grizzly screen.)
Step 3: Read title of book.
Uh oh… the title is not readable! At least, not in those Shemaroo – or was it Ultra – cassettes. Okay, do not lose heart. Solution is just two more steps away!
Step 4: Memorise photograph on cover.
Step 5: Go to RMIC library, Authors M – Z and find the cover that looks like the correct one! Eureka – When Eight Bells Toll!

I thought this wonderfully tantalizing question had been given a deserving burial with the amount of dedicated research I had accorded it.
Only, a couple of years later – I had the misfortune of being forwarded the following email by a friend.

Genuine? Fake? You decide.
Either ways, Harvard needs to endow a Chair for Bollywood Trivia real soon.

From: "Sharmila Thakur" <sharmitag@hotmail.com>
Subject: which book
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 21:50:21 PST
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I understand that there is some debate about the book I was holding in a train when Rajesh was moving his lips and almost falling out of the jeep in the movie "Aradhana".
It is time to reveal a secret after so many years. It wasn't an Alistair MacLean book at all. Only the cover was from Alistair MacLean's "When Eight Bells Toll". Inside it, i was carrying a railway time-table. Many keen fans (such as those who ask such questions in the first place) may have observed that I refer to a railway time-table in a subsequent scene. This railway time-table was that railway time-table.
As for the cover itself, it's from the Fontana paperback version of the book and shows a helicopter and a man in a diver's rubber suit in the foreground.
I hope that this settles the issue once and for all. I ought to know. I was there.
As to why nobody from the film unit revealed the secret until now, the reason is that we anticipated a lot of discussion on the question thirty years down the line from intelligent fans like you. Every fan counts towards the box office as you know.
I am sure at least one intelligent person from among you will now point out that Aradhana is not thirty years old. I am afraid I will not participate in the heated discussion that is bound to follow.
But my best wishes are with you.
Sharmila

Acknowledgements: Nilendu Misra. He did start the fire!
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