India’s first Power Brand Film Journalist, noted author and producer Ram Kamal Mukherjee talks about his latest biography Hema Malini: Beyond The Dreamgirl.
Who approached you first for the book on Hema Malini?
After my fiction Long Island Iced Tea released, I had approached founder of Leadstart Publishing Swarup Nanda to consider this project as my next venture. He was very candid and said that Bollywood biographies need different kind of bandwidth and they don’t have the infrastructure. Thereafter, it was Swarup who connected me to Om Books and HarperCollins at the same time. I shall always be thankful to Swarup for setting the first brick to make this fort.
So why did you choose HarperCollins and not Om Books?
It might sound funny or slightly unbelievable that till date I never got any response from Om Books. I think it’s basic courtesy to respond to authors, and it’s definitely a publisher’s prerogative to take on a project or skip it. But at least a yes or a no would make things easier. Finally, I approached HarperCollins and they promptly replied saying that the idea is interesting and thereafter we had two years of rigorous work and finally the book is out.
When you started writing this book on Hema Malini, what were your biggest challenges considering you had already written a book on her in 2005?
There were several challenges to begin with. The biggest challenge was Hema Malini herself! She didn’t want another book on her. But I was very keen on writing a complete biography on her. I felt that due to pricing issue of my coffee table book Diva Unveiled, the book didn’t reach to as many fans and cine lovers it should have reached. It was priced at Rs 1500 in 2005, which was very expensive. Despite this, it was a sold out edition because of its printing quality and some odd 500 rare images of Hema Malini. This time when we designed the book with HarperCollins India, we were very certain about the pricing of the book.
Who holds the rights of Diva Unveiled now?
Magna Books published it, but later Swarup Nanda helped me in acquiring the rights of the book. I am eternally grateful to Nari Hira and Sonali K Jaffar for assigning me to write a book on such a legend when I was just 26 years old. I have thanked Mr Hira and Sonali Jaffer in Beyond The Dreamgirl too. Without their love and blessings, this wouldn’t have been possible.
Will you publish Beyond The Dreamgirl in other Indian languages too?
Yes, executive editor Shantanu Roy Choudhuri already mentioned that within a year they would be releasing the Hindi and Bengali version of the book.
Considering the fact that you know both the languages, would you like to translate the book?
I would love to, but I have my hands full. So I guess I will be depending on commissioned writers for the job. But yes, I would definitely read the manuscript before it goes for print. Ideally, I would love some noted Hindi and Bengali writers to translate it.
You have given prominent credit to Nooshin Mowla as the editor in your book. What has been her contribution?
While writing my first two books, I realised that you need a second perspective to analyse your book. I was desperately looking for someone who would be equally passionate about Hema Malini and not just do this as a job. Finally my colleague Chandrima Pal came like a Santa Claus and introduced me to Nooshin. We met in Kolkata for the first time and shared my vision. The first thing she said was, “Why do you want to write a book? You have cinematic scene of story telling, so make a film on her life!” I still remember that. Finally, she came on board and helped me a lot in every aspect of the book. I also had a ghost editor. She was Prabha Chakravarti – Hemaji’s sister in law. Both Nooshin and I went crazy with her minute details. But, I am really thankful to both these ladies.
Why did you choose Deepika Padukone to launch a book on veteran actor like Hema Malini? Ideally someone like Amitabh Bachchan or Dharmendra should have been the right personality…
I had approached Mr Bachchan for the book launch, and he promptly replied by saying that due to prior commitment he won’t be able to make it. But, he recorded a wonderful message for Hemaji and me, which we played at the launch. Dharamji is family, so I wanted someone who is not related to Hemaji to launch the book. Of course, I thought of names like Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir Khan. But later, I thought that it would be best to get today’s female superstar Deepika Padukone to launch the biography of India’s first female superstar. And I am thankful to her for gracing the occasion. She adores Hemaji and loves me as a friend.
Did Deepika read the book?
Yes, she read few excerpts from the book before unveiling the cover. She was extremely impressed with Hema Malini’s journey.
You spoke to a lot of people in the book. Did you approach Sunny Deol and Bobby Deol for their interview?
No. I don’t think that was required. If you read the book you will know why I am saying so.
Apparently Esha gave an uncensored interview for the first time…
Yes. She spoke bindaas about her childhood, affairs, career hiccups and entire journey of falling in love with Bharat Takhtani to motherhood. I think people will love her chapter.
How did you manage Ahana’s interview, considering she is a recluse?
That was the toughest part. I had to really chase her for weeks and months and finally she agreed. Frankly speaking, I thought that she would be boring and politically correct, but she turned out to be bolder than Esha. I think she spoke beautifully about her equation with Dharamji, brothers and even about her decision to stay away from this industry.
Did you interview Dharmendra?
Ha ha! Read the book… and then tell me.
Apparently, he wrote an exclusive shayari for Hemaji on this occasion…
Yes, that was for her completion of 50 years in Bollywood and also for her biography. But that shayari is not to be shared with press. It was specially screened at the venue on the day of the launch.
Hema Malini’s grandson Darien made his first screen debut on your book launch. How did you manage that?
Yes, Beyond The Dreamgirl contains exclusive images of Darien with his parents and grand parents. He also sang a song for Hemaji in his video message.
Hema Malini became grandmother again. Did you see Esha’s daughter Radhya?
Yes, my wife Sarbani me went to Hinduja hospital to see our little angel Radhya. Esha was so happy. Her room was beautifully decorated with pink balloons. She is an adorable kid. How I wish I should have waited for few more weeks to add Radhya also in the book. There was this internal joke between Esha and me that we both are delivering our babies at the same time.
Apparently you wanted some leading superstar to write the foreword for this book. Who was he? Why did he refuse?
Oh God. Don’t make it sound so dramatic. Even I am still wondering. Hopefully, someday I will get to meet that celebrity in person and ask this question.
How did you manage to get foreword from Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Miracle happens! Jokes apart, I am thankful to Hemaji and her Delhi secretary Sukumar Pramanik for making it possible. We had to go through protocols and procedures, but we eventually managed. I guess this definitely added a lot of credibility to the book.
If given a choice, who would be an ideal person apart from Modi who could have written a brilliant foreword for Hema Malini?
Amitabh Bachchan, Lata Mangeshkar, Ramesh Sippy or Gulzar.
You expressed displeasure on social media when a certain section of media cropped your images and name from the coverage. Why?
I think it’s not right to ignore or insult the author of the book. I don’t understand the policies of these newspapers. How can you not mention the name of the author when you are covering the event? In fact, I directly addressed this issue with certain editors. And they agreed that I was not wrong.
Have you read Nawazuddin’s biography?
Yes. I have read the ‘controversial’ excerpts from the book.
What is your take on Niharika Singh and Nawazuddin’s affair?
I guess people have spoken enough about it. I think who ever designed the marketing campaign should get Pulitzer prize. The book will sell purely on controversies. But if you ask me personally, Nawaz is a much talented actor, and these controversies are not required for an actor like him to sell his book.
Compared to Nawazuddin’s book, your book seems to be very sanitised. You think people will like it?
When you have a face like Hema Malini and foreword by the most dynamic man of this country, you don’t need to play on sex and controversies. Hema Malini is known for her talent and individuality. Some actor recently quoted, “Hemaji is like Her Highness Gayatri Devi of Bollywood. She doesn’t need to talk about scandals to sell her biography. She is a gem, and will shine on her own.”
After Hema Malini’s biography, who would be your ideal subject for your next book?
I think Sushmita Sen would be a great subject. Amongst male actors I would love to write a book on Akshay Kumar.
Will you be travelling with this book to various cities?
Yes, after Mumbai, we will be travelling to Kolkata. Then we shall be attending Sharjah Literature Festival, followed by Dubai seminar. And we will also have something in Delhi and Chennai.
You worked with Subi Samuel for your coffee table book. For Beyond The Dreamgirl you have picked on Vickky Idnaani. Any particular reason?
I think Subi did a fantastic job with that cover. This time I wanted a fresh perspective. I have worked with Vickky Idnaani for various photo-shoots during my tenure as Stardust editor. I loved the cover of Rishi Kapoor’s biography Khullam Khulla, which he had shot. But I think he has outdone his past work with this cover. Hema Malini never looked liked this since many years. She has been deliberately appearing in Indian traditional wear. It took a lot to convince her to wear this black outfit. Initially, she didn’t like the make up or the hairdo. But finally, when she saw the result on screen, she was happy.