Those were the years when I was small, and one of the many attractions of a Sunday morning was a television show for Bollywood songs called Rangoli. Hema Malini ji would host the show, while sharing many anecdotal moments from various eras of the Indian Film Industry. On one such morning when she was talking about heroines, she hesitated and spoke with great humility when she had to talk about herself. A quality that was increasingly disappearing into the self promotional chaos as another restless generation was taking over.
Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s “Hema Malini : Beyond the Dream Girl” reminded me of that diva, confident and charming, yet reasonably restrained, too classy to blow her own trumpet. The book not only captures various momentous or simple events from the actor’s life, but also beautifully presents the very essence and flavour of being Hema Malini.
Released by HarperCollins Publishers India, priced at INR 599, the book is exotic right from its look and feel, with the gorgeous lady smiling gracefully at the beholder and “Beyond the Dream Girl” embossed below in silver. Book reviews often miss out commenting on the covers, but it would be too unfair to not complement the brain which designed this. The silver emboss of the title is reflective of the actor’s monumental rein on silver screen, which makes it a fantastic brand communication. That, along with a foreword by none other than the Prime Minister – again something that hints at Hema Malini’s transition from a dream-girl to a politician – as explored fairly by the biographer in the turn of pages.
The most fascinating aspect about the book is its non-linear narrative. Bound by sub headings, the content travels at its own pace touching upon various phases of Hema Ji’s life as per the demands of each chapter. It doesn’t restrict to stern chronological benchmarks, neither does it impose. Hema Malini is not an easy character to interpret. Her biography shows a conservative upbringing from which it travels too far into the glamour world where she had to balance personal ethics with the collective ideologies of the entertainment industry. And in the process of negotiating the values, she had matured as a person. Documenting this change must have been a laborious task; author Ram Kamal seems to have adopted tremendous discipline to disconnect from his personal bias as an author and represent the actor exactly as she is, his only tools to do so being language and expressions. Her grace and attitude, stubbornness and flexibility, emotions and poise find excellent home in Ram Kamal’s erudite choice of words. That’s the victory of the biographer.
Literature has the power to impress and influence through its inherent beauty. But the most critical use of literature resonates, when the controversial portions of life get mirrored with elegance. A simple reporting of events would have prompted the reader to misunderstand Hema ji’s relationship with the strict ambitious mother, Jaya Chakravarthy, especially since the times of parental domination on youth has already breathed its last. The turbulent period of romance which brought Hema Malini and Dharmendra together after pushing apart many other suiters is also a demanding section of the book, as the innocence and firmness of the two concerned individuals run in parallel.
The book stands out for its extensive research. Along with maintaining the factual perfection, the imagery it creates at different places is exemplary. Sample this. “If there is one thing Hema loved about Bombay, it was the sea. A quiet, commanding presence, a refuge for the soul and, for the great city, an abiding friend – like many, she was irresistibly drawn to it.” At different opportune moments, Hema Malini’s natural sophistication has merged with the philosophy that blessed her career. “Kamal Arohi was always known as a director with a penchant for spectacular productions. Many considered his obsession with grandeur excessive. Sometimes unreasonable. But reason has seldom produced brilliance.” The pregnant actor shooting for the film, Razia Sultan on horseback leaves the reader struggling to process that level of dangerous dedication! The financial mess that life put her through during the ‘80’s must be news to the audience, but what shines out is, “Dharmendra offered to help, but she would have none of it. It was her mistake and she would do whatever was needed to make amends”! This shows a mind-set that is extremely modern and brave, unwilling to succumb in distress. The reader can’t help but bow down before the diva’s tremendous sense of self-respect.
One of the most touching tales from Hema Malini’s life was the making of Meera. The producer had run out of budget and had offered only a meagre daily wage to the actor, which was delivered to her after each shoot, in an envelope. The book discloses that those cheques still lie with her, safe and sealed!
A path that ran into phases – from a Bharatanatyam student to a stage performer, from Bollywood phenomena to a vulnerable lover, from a mother to a politician – Hema Malini : Beyond the Dream Girl made an attempt to explore her feminist veins. Her brand of feminism has never been coupled with destructive aggression. Rather, with demure but resolute control over the course of her journey, Hema ji inspires with perfect coordination between obedience and rebel.
That, is path-breaking and ever-lasting!