Anupama Chopra had a ringside view of Indian cinema from an early age. Her mother Kamna Chandra has been an Indian film writer who has penned plays for All India Radio, stories for Hindi blockbusters such as Prem Rog (1982), a musical romance, Chandni (1989), a romantic musical drama, and dialogues for 1942 A Love Story (1994), a patriotic film, and TV show Kashish, a romantic drama, which was aired on the Indian state-run Doordarshan in 1992-93.
Perhaps the lineage rubbed onto Chopra, who fell in love with the rambunctious Hindi film industry — the moniker Bollywood was yet to gain currency back in the day — in the summer of 1989.
Her latest book A Place in My Heart that tops her stellar career as a full-time movie critic and the founder of Film Companion — a digital platform that celebrates movies — caps her success as a masterful raconteur of filmy back stories that trace their origin to her debut work, Sholay: The Making of a Classic (2000).
The book was a classic exposition of the fascinating story of how a four-line idea grew to become the greatest blockbuster of Indian cinema.
In between Sholay: The Making of a Classic and A Place in My Heart, the prolific Chopra has written Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge: A Modern Classic (2002), King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema (2007), First Day First Show: Writings from the Bollywood Trenches (2011), 100 Films to See Before You Die (2013), Freeze Frame (2014), The Front Row: Conversations on Cinema (2015), In Conversation with the Stars (2019), much to critical acclaim.
Her latest A Place in My Heart is like one of her earlier titles — Writings from the Bollywood trenches — and delves deep into 51 films, artistes and events that have left a lasting impression on her. It’s her inimitable take on the world of cinema.
So, what was the immediate trigger for A Place in My Heart? “Actually, Milee Ashwarya and I were having a chat about my new book. And I told her that I’d like to write about films, people and places that have a place in my heart.” Ashwarya warmed up to the idea and the title A Place in My Heart was locked at the outset.
The book is a treasure trove of recommendations and remembrances, nostalgia and narratives.
Chopra is candid that it’s “not possible to locate an enduring moment”. Because she feels that there should be at least “a few sequels to it”.
“There are so many interesting movies and people that I’d like to talk about,” she says with disarming candour.
The 1990s have a special place in her heart.
And the reasons are not far to seek. “My career had started around that time. The films from that era were the end of one world and the beginning of a new one. Old-school, old-style Bollywood was fading and new kids on the block arrived. It was Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Aapke Hain Koun, Aditya Chopra’s Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge and Karan Johar’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain and literally the entire industry changed. In 1997, multiplexes came in and Bollywood was granted industry status by the then Indian government in 2001. So much happened. I’ve so many great many great memories because that’s when I began my career,” she says.
Chopra is of the firm opinion that streaming platforms have been a life saviour for the film industry. “They’ve provided distribution, a platform to reach viewers in the last 18 awful months of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’d have been very difficult without these streaming platforms. We’ve been watching in languages that we don’t necessarily speak at our homes. It’s just amazing. What’s going to happen and is already happening is a massive cross-pollination. There’ll be more exchange of artistes, directors and technicians among film industries, which, consequently, will educate everybody. You don’t necessarily sit in your own little pond and think yourself to be brilliant. For instance, the folks in Malayalam cinema are doing stuff using one-10th of the budget. Streaming platforms have done a big service to Indian cinema,” she adds.
However, streaming platforms “cannot replicate the big screen experience”, she hastens to explain.
“No way. No matter how big your TV at home is. No matter how good your sound system is. There is no way for you to get the same euphoria, the same joy and to get the sense of that collective experience because that happens when you’re sitting with strangers in the dark and your attention is focussed on that massive screen in front of you. The big screen experience is special and is here to stay. It’ll never die out,” she explains with firm conviction.
The singular heroism of Amitabh Bachchan — “of one star who was so overpowering and almost dwarfs everybody else” — is, perhaps, that “era is lost”. She says, “The notion of stars and stardom has changed.”
Chopra cites social media platforms for the discernible trend and gives the example of actor Vicky Kaushal who told her recently during an actors’ roundtable that “you can be famous for being famous” and actually don’t have to do any significant work. She points this out as “a gaping hole in the infrastructure of celebrities”.
A classic case in point: superstardom that came with seven box-office successes in a row will be harder to replicate. And, no contrary to popular perception, the “infinite variety” of Mr Bachchan is not in short supply.
“I recently watched Ranveer Singh-starrer 83and feel that there are worthy successors to the throne,” she says optimistically.
So, what next after A Place in My Heart?
“Honestly, I’d love to do more books. I don’t know when I shall find time to do them. I really enjoy doing slightly longer forms than I usually do, such as writing about films that aren’t necessarily about to be released. But it was such a joyful experience. I hope I’ll be able to get to this again soon,” she signs off effervescently.
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