Cinema is all about stories. The hundred-year-old history of Indian cinema – and the marginally older world cinema — has been born of and bred on stories – fantasy narratives that are either echoes of real life on reel or the escape to Eutopia tales painted in techni-colour.
But not every actor or director or the odd crew man is a fascinating story-teller because stories for movies are scripted by writers with a flair for creativity. When insiders of moviedom are told to don the mantle of short story writers. they become autobiographical, acerbic, sad or satirical. The stories, consequently, remain close to the ground.
“Faction” – a collection of 22 short stories by film personalities edited by Khalid Mohamed (published by OM Books International) shines with sporadic flashes of brilliance, drama, sentimentality and finesse of the craft — at times introspective that run like soul-searching soliloquise. The reader, however, is held under the spell of the sneak preview into the writer’s persona — behind the screen and the director’s camera in a kind of magical opera sequence that reveals lives beyond the ambit of everyday— about the stars in our multiplex mindscape.
“Faction” lures because it is a compilation of stories by characters who people the narratives that we soak ourselves in — away from the grind of life.
“The collection has been motivated with the purpose of excavating stories from the eclectic cross-sections of film actors and directors —stalwarts, freshers and the in-betweens.’ editor Khalid Mohamed said. Most of them, as it happened, “sought to relate to stories attached to their own lives, their own immediate and distant experiences,” Khalid pointed out.
The movie town nourished itself on its memories — often steeped in the nostalgia of childhood or a “dream” that was yet to be lived. Actor Akshay Kumar falls back on his “secret penchant” for romance and his childlike desire to find the perfect love story in the most unexpected of “realistic spaces” in his short story. “Love on the 7.45 am Local Train”. Kumar unravels a surprising facet of his personality in the story- as an accomplished narrator with a flair for an abstract English language – that is the poetic order of the day. He recollects from his childhood memories as a student of Don Bosco School- commuting in a local train from Andheri to Victoria Terminus — a love story between a young woman, Tulip Kumari and a co-commuter.He watched love blossom in the crush of humanity inside the train.
The couple in Akshay Kumar’s tale represents the dilemma of middle class romance that ends in the dead sands of dreariness. The narrator, a high school student in his late teens, weeps at the end of love that he watched being born “as a 12-year-old”.
“A nylon white umbrella with red rose buds lay on the green rexine seat of the local train. The Don Bosco student picked it up…He took it away with him, shoving it in his khaki satchel. He would keep the umbrella. The man (who left iy behind) would never unfurl it for the woman with a flourish.” writer Akshay Kumar says in his story. Then like a July could, the boy wept. The love story had ended.
Akshay Kumar’s search for romance in the crush of Mumbai finds a counter foil in director Basu Chatterji’s tale of “The Window”. There is love in the times of terror. Chatterji’s window comes across as an observation post to a world lurking just outside the industrial nerve of Parel – with the looming threat of “terrorist violence and sudden death”.
Chatterji draws from a cinematic device that reminds the reader of Alfred HItchcock’s “Rear Window”. The narrative is fast-paced and full of visual drama – almost like the movies Basu Chatterji makes – close to the Ground Zero where terror plays out as death ritual every decade. The narrative builds around a Muslim family from Lucknow, which migrates to Mumbai for bright lights. The family sends its son to work as a “supervisor” in Dubai – and ekes out a better life with the monthly “remittance” from the Gulf. The girls try to break out of the conventional conservatism with “education” and small-time jobs. Their life becomes idyllic, even “romantic” till one of the girls falls in love with a salesman. The cover of siblings’ “bhai” in Dubai is blown in an arrest by assistant commissioner of police Sagar Singh Rathod, who “uses the family” in the guise of its prospective son-in-law Zafar Ali to “prise information about the 26/11 accused”. The story in the vintage Bollywood tradition ends with a twist. It is tight, full of contemporary conversations and familiar insights into the lives of the lower middle class migrant Muslim families in the fringe Mumbai neighbourhoods. The contrasts make the story wistful – the innocence of the family, the canny crime branch of Mumbai police and the heinous “livelihoods” of brothers in “unmarked” jobs in the Gulf.
“To share others’ lives is rewarding because it enlightens me – that I am not alone in my spells of emotional turbulence,” editor Khalid Mohamed says.
The readers identify themselves in the layers and the shades of the characters in the stories — most of which address complex psychological issues like “filial politics”, “colour politics”, “social bias”, “alternative sexuality”, “inspirations”, “loneliness”, “childhood” and personal blues.
Actor Nana Patekar pays tribute to his father in an autobiographical account, “And Father Created An Actor”- that redeems his father as a “tormentor and colour racist” in the actor’s childhood to elevate him to an “inspiration”.
The story seems like a leaf out of Nana Patekar’s volatile persona – throwing light on his intense and brooding personality on the screen.
Gajanand Laxman Patekar, a native of Murud, a coastal town in Maharashtra, dotes on Nana’s fair-skinned younger brother Dilip. The dark-skinned actor is “left to fend for himself”- slighted and neglected. A troubled Nana Patekar sinks into bouts of depression and low self-esteem still his father sees him on stage as highway robber turned sage Valmiki’s henchman in a Marathi adaptation of the seer’s life- who conceived and compiled one of India’s two greatest epics “Ramayana” as atonement for his life of theft.
“My father returned to Murud to see me in the play… At the end of the show, I was shocked. he had tears in his eyes. For the first time, I felt the warmth of his embrace. His son had redeemed himself. he had acted on stage… I felt like Gajanand Laxman’s son,” Nana Patekar writes in his account. Even now Nana acts “only for his father’s applause”, the actor admits at the end of his story.
Stories such as these motivate- leaving readers with a lingering awe in the after hours- like yet another movie in the fine print. The collection, despite few literary failings, rises much above the average gamut of anthologies because of the “vast reserve of untold stories”. About the stars we love to watch in our movie-plex fantasy spaces.