After writing successful columns in the Mumbai Mirror, reporting Bollywood stories, latest happenings in the cinema, Roshmila Bhattacharya has another feather in her cap with the autobiography of Bollywood’s own Bad Man, Gulshan Grover. How the Bad Man got booked? Roshmila tells Pria.
Working with Mumbai Mirror, bringing out an entertainment supplement six days a week, how has the journey been so far?
The journey started six years ago when I joined Mumbai Mirror as the entertainment editor. It’s a daily challenge, but an exhilarating adventure. The phone calls start from early in the morning and go on till way past midnight as we sift through news and select what works. It’s a tough job and a tiring one, but when I am away on leave, I miss the thrill of breaking stories within the 10 pm deadline. Of course, this means a severely curtailed social life, since I am in the office from 3 pm till at least10 pm, Sunday to Friday. Then, there’s a minimum three hours commute with only Saturdays off provided nothing major breaks. Still, the buzz of a newsroom is an addictive fix.
Tell us about your unique column – This Week, That Year. What inspired it?
This is my third column. When I was working with Hindustan Times, one day, listening to stories of my interactions with stars over the years, my editor suggested a column in HT Café that would acquaint readers with the person behind the persona. That’s how Star Stories came about. It continued for four years, until my last day in HT. After five years, I bid the paper goodbye with a column on Shah Rukh Khan with whom I had started it.
To be honest, I had never thought it would become quite so popular because I was always given to believe that nostalgia doesn’t sell. But I have had strangers telling me they read the column every Sunday. In fact, almost three years after it stopped, a man I had never met suddenly stopped me at the railway station to complain that he couldn’t find Star Stories in the paper anymore and missed it. When I told him that I had moved to Mumbai Mirror, he frowned, “You should have taken it to Mirror then.”
Well, I didn’t bring Star Stories to Mirror, but I started another column here, In Focus, in which I looked at the little things that made the big picture. For instance, “Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya”, the evergreen song for rebellious lovers that Madhubala danced to in Mughal-e-Azam, Vivah’s trial by fire and Dilip Kumar and Raaj Kumar’s jodi which made Subahsh Ghai’s Saudagar unforgettable.
After around four years, when I found myself running out of films, along with my wonderfully supportive editor, Meenal Baghel, who is always urging me to push the envelope, came up with the idea of This Week, That Year. In Focus was also her idea but this gives me a wider field to play in since I can talk about a person who was born or died this week, a film which was unveiled or an event of magnitude.
All three columns are rooted in past classics and legends, and have proved the adage, “Old is gold”, true. I own my identity as a journalist as much to them as to the publications I have worked with, from Filmfare, Asian Age’s Entertainment magazine to Screen (Indian Express), Zee Premiere, indiainfo.com, HT Café and now, Mumbai Mirror.
From writing stories and happenings in Bollywood to getting a chance to write an autobiography on Gulshan Grover, what was an experience like?
The idea of writing a book had been playing on my mind for a while. I started dabbling in fiction a couple of years ago and written a full-fledged novel. A murder-mystery revolving around two cops and set in Goa, with a word count of around 80,000, it was edited and ready to go to press when my publisher hit a rough patch and we decided to amicably part ways. I pitched it to a few other publishing houses, but while everyone showed interest in it, the deal they offered was ludicrous and I wasn’t interested in signing off all my rights for peanuts.
Meanwhile, I met my literary agent, Kanishka Gupta, whose company, Writer’s Side, has represented more than 400 authors. He pointed out that publishing is a difficult field to break into for a debutant who is not a celebrity and rather than pitch a novel, I should work on an authorized biography or something on the lines of my columns.
I started writing a book on the old classic Kismet, but after 20,000 words I ran out of material because there was no one alive associated with the Ashok Kumar starrer to talk about it. Around the time, some colleagues were launching autobiographies of actors. I discussed the idea with a couple of stars. Some weren’t ready to open their lives to the world, others felt it was too early for them. With one, who I do not wish to name, we reached the halfway mark when suddenly the actor-filmmaker pulled back arguing it used to take him seven years to complete a film, how could he let me write a book on him in seven months? I am waiting for at least five years to pass before I go back to him with the request that we finish this authorized biography. I know despite the time lag, it will still make interesting reading. One of the biggest publishing houses of the country is still holding on to that contract.
I had interviewed Gulshan Grover several times in the past, on occasions written columns on his films which were always well received. I always found him to be lucid and candid. So, I sounded out my commissioning editor, Swati Chopra, of Penguin India. She liked the idea of booking the ‘Bad Man’, and after discussing it internally, gave me the go-ahead. I called Gulshan early one morning, and in five minutes, he had given his nod.
This was last year, towards the end of July. We signed the contract towards the end of September, and on October 17, the complete manuscript was submitted to Penguin. This may sound hard to believe, but it took us just three weeks and around 15 telephonic conversations, lasting from 15 minutes to an hour, to plot Bad Man which was written in a month and a half. Of course, I have to add here that Gulshan was very cooperative and collaborative, reading each draft while it was being written and edited, at least half-a-dozen times, right down to the last comma and full stop. He also had some very valid ideas which have worked beautifully for the book.
Swati has been extremely encouraging and motivating as was another senior copy editor at Penguin, Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, who worked very closely and diligently with me on the book.
We launched Bad Man this year on July 24 in Taj, Delhi, at a star-studded event hosted by Penguin in association with Sunil Sethi, Chairman, Fashion Design Council of India, who was with Gulshan at Sriram College of Commerce. Our former Deputy Prime Minister, LK Advani Ji, did the honors. The esteemed guests included his daughter, Pratibha Advani, former Supreme Court judge AK Sikri, BCCI acting president CK Khanna, hotelier Jyotsna Suri, actors Mahima Chaudhry, Suneil Shetty and Jackie Shroff, producers Raju Chadha and Rahul Mittra among others.
How does it feel to write a book? Well, it’s no different from filing an interview, but the process of bringing it out is a little more long-drawn and the response more overwhelming.
What influence does Bollywood have on the audience today as compared to that in earlier years?
I would say not much has changed. Bollywood actors were our heroes then, they remain our heroes even today. Gulshan Grover has been a ‘Bad Man’ on screen, but going by the number of people who want his selfies and autographs, I’d say he’s as much a ‘Good Man’ in real life, and for me the perfect gentleman. And while his journey may have ended in 16 chapters in the book, it is still continuing in all its glory on screen, with three big films featuring him in the making– Mahesh Bhatt’s Sadak 2, Rohit Shetty’s Suryavanshi and Sanjay Gupta’s Mumbai Saga. This is just another reason to say that as far as this Bad Man’s popularity goes, not much has changed. Who knows, one day we may just be writing a sequel to this book.
How did you come up with the idea of writing a book on Gulshan Grover?
As someone pointed out the other day, it was a book waiting to be written. Gulshan has done over 400 films in a career spanning four decades, not just in Hindi, but in English too. He’s worked with German, French, Polish, Iranian, Malaysian, Nepalese filmmakers. He was the first mainstream Bollywood actor to attempt a career in Hollywood.
Starting out in a small a house with no electricity which he had to share with five siblings in Tri-Nagar on the outskirts of our capital city, GG went on to brush shoulders with the Prince of Wales, Prime Ministers, Presidents, Hollywood A-listers, Bollywood legends and corporate tycoons. It’s a story that I’m sure will touch hearts, inspire youngsters and leave a lasting impression.
As he says, “I didn’t even dare to dream because I was struggling to survive with the hope that I could carry the battle forward to another day, and I went on to conquer the world. So, don’t be afraid to chase after your dream, no matter how impossible it seems.”
What if some differ with you regarding some events that you have written about? How do you deal with such situations?
Gulshan has been refreshingly honest and candid about his life, yet, we have been careful not to hurt anyone’s sentiments. I should hope no one will have any reason to disagree with anything. The idea of so many reads was to make the Bad Man good reading, but at the same time ensure no one felt bad about it.
Have the events in the ‘Bad Man’ been modified in any way or have they been written as they happened in reality?
We haven’t taken any creative liberties if that’s what you mean. There’s enough drama in Gulshan Grover’s life without us having to add any more. What you read is what he experienced.
Which genres do you enjoy reading the most?
I have always been an avid reader. I like anything that engages my attention. But horror and murder mysteries are a particular favorite. Someday I want to publish a book of horror stories which are not about avenging chudails, blood-sucking bhoots and headless ghouls but people who think and feel, who may or may not be real.
What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after writing the book?
I discovered how much I like telling stories… And I discovered a whole world of strangers who have gone out of the way to support and encourage me, by buying my book, writing about it and telling me how much they have enjoyed it. Be it my columns, interviews or this book, this journey would not be possible without my readers or my family, in particular, my husband, Pallab, who has given me all the space I need, and my daughter, Ranjika, who is my sounding board. My mom is my sternest critic and my ma-in-law is my biggest fan.
“I would say not much has changed. Bollywood actors were our heroes then, they remain our heroes even today.”
Anything you would like to tell your readers?
I want to request them to never break this connection we have forged over a 30-year career. I write because I want people to read me. As I keep saying, bouquets or brickbats, I am ready for everything, but please keep them coming.
What are the ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these detract from your writing time?
Writing is my field, promotion is Gulshan’s. My job leaves me with little time to travel, but he’s been traveling with the book, from Delhi to Lucknow and New York, where it was launched at Times Square on August 16, at an event organized by the Federation of Associations NY-NJ-CT. There are many other launches in the pipeline. Every day, invitations are extended to come to different cities and countries, offers for language editions and lit fest calls. As I told Gulshan when we were working on it, this book has no expiry date and can be promoted lifelong.
If you are focused, nothing cuts into your writing time. I have not taken even a day’s leave to write and edit this book nor did it ever hamper my workday schedule. The only thing I had to sacrifice was a few hours of sleep and some socializing. Since neither is a priority, I didn’t miss out on much.
What projects are you working on at the present? When can we expect a new book/autobiography from you?
A manuscript has been submitted to a publisher, it’s too early to talk about it. I have been dabbling with fiction too, and there are a couple of projects there. I hope to script a film and a web series someday as well. Another autobiography? Sure, I’m open to the idea if the other person is. I am looking for a gentleman collaborator like Gulshan. A lady is welcome too.
Tell us about Roshmila, the person. What is your daily writing/researching routine like?
Roshmila is a person who wishes the day had more than just 24 hours because she is always pressed for time. Between family, chores, work and writing, I feel like a buzzing bee. I’m always looking to explore new avenues, be it teaching journalism at the graduate and post-grad level which I did for five years while with Screen (Indian Express) and HT to writing two 100-days-100-stories series on Facebook.
“Gulshan has done over 400 films in a career spanning four decades, not just in Hindi, but in English too.”
The daily routine includes a lot of subbing and some brainstorming, a little time selecting the right pictures for the stories and working on pages with the designer which I enjoy. There’s also the occasional interview, along with the weekly column, which are filed either late at night, early in the morning or in the midst of evening chaos.
Writing is more than just a profession… It is my passion. It’s my reason to live… It is my identity. So, I know I will always find time for it.
How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
e-Books are the future, just as many publications are now moving online. But while research is impossible without Google, I still like to hold a book in my hand as opposed to Kindle. In the same way, my morning begins with a newspaper, but then, through the day, the news is tracked online. For the moment, both co-exist.
Who are some of your favorite authors who have impacted your writing?
I’d like to believe my style is my own, but from reading Jeffrey Archer, Lisa Gardner, Sydney Sheldon, and Mary Higgins Clarke I’m hoping to perfect the twist in the tale. Like Enid Blyton, I want to let my imagination take flight and engage young minds, like Satyajit Ray, I want to be able to weave word pictures. I also want to create a world like Jhumpa Lahiri which reflects my country and its people, I want to feel emotions like Gulzar saab does in his prose and poetry and from my own devious mind I want to make people sigh, shiver and smile.
In your opinion, what is the most important thing that people DON’T know about your subject/genre,?
Since I don’t wish to restrict myself to a particular genre, I would like to use this query to touch on a deep-rooted grouse. I wish people wouldn’t dismiss film journalism as “trashy”, “gossipy” and “tabloidy”. It’s sad that people still watch movies for entertainment in our country, but do not always give their matinee idols the respect they deserve. Believe me, it’s not easy to face the camera every day; laugh when you want to cry, and cry, when you are happy, dance when it’s snowing, and sing, when you would rather sleep. I’ve been a part of this world for decades now and I have no hesitation in saying I love my Bollywood, with and without make-up. I also love film journalism in its many different hues so please don’t run it down, we work as hard as others to please.
“We haven’t taken any creative liberties if that’s what you mean. There’s enough drama in Gulshan Grover’s life without us having to add any more. What you read is what he experienced.”
What were your intentions when you were writing this book and how well do you feel you achieved them?
The idea of writing this book was to tell the story of an ordinary many whose name went on to light up the marque. To tell those who come to the City of Dreams chasing after a dream to not give up when the going gets tough because maybe your mentor is waiting at the next corner.
It’s a story of a boy who walked nine miles to the bus stop and changed three buses to get to college. An actor who struggled for months to get a break and turned down hero roles because he wanted to be the Bad Man. A star who when it was time to enjoy the fruits of success, often stayed home because he had opted to be a single father to his much-loved son Sanjay who worked with Hollywood’s MGM Studio for 15 years and is currently in LA putting together some projects.
Bad Man offers a first-person account of how films were made in the eighties and nineties through interesting anecdotes, and most importantly, it’s a story of a mainstream star’s struggles to make a place for himself in another country and another film industry without moving out of India and away from Hindi cinema.
If the book can help make a difference to even one life, if it can offer a window to our wonderland and change perceptions about it, I will know I have achieved my goal. To quote one of Gulshan’s famous dialogues, “Dil Garden Garden ho Gaya”, now hope some flowers bloom here too.
- Your all-time favorite author/writer? Jhumpa Lahiri, Jeffrey Archer, Sidney Sheldon, Enid Blyton… The list is too long.
- Do you believe in writer’s block? Did you have it anytime or not? No, but I do believe that time flies too quickly and blocks you from writing more.
- Your favorite place to write your book(s)? My laptop… the dining table at home… and night time, which is my time.
- Research and then write or research while writing? Which one do you prefer? Research while writing, as a daily paper journo, we don’t have the luxury of time.
- What do you do in your free time? Read.
- How many hours a day do you write? I wish I could write for 24 hours.
- Do you Google yourself? Yes, of course.
- Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find? Well, the idea is for people to find all your secrets, but not too quickly.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work? My dad wanted me to be a banker like him, but that was never an option since I don’t even use an ATM. My mother wanted me to join a travel agency, I travel now without working in an agency. The other career choice was to pursue a degree in psychology. I’d like to think I am able to read minds without the degree, and I hope Bad Man has compensated my parents for my whimsical decision to follow the ‘write’ path.