'Devdas was a flawed character'
The worth of a popular work of literature is now often judged by a little tagline, 'Soon to be made into a motion picture', Mushtaq Sheikh, a pioneer of the genre of Bollywood chronicles, says while underscoring the "mutual synergy created by the two colliding worlds of mainstream cinema and literature"
"A lot of literature has been translated into Bollywood movies and films are being made into books. The relationship between the two is incestuous. The worlds have collided. Bollywood and literature have started looking at each other as complementary arts. Bollywood is a driver. The world is looking at us through a tint window you call Bollywood," Sheikh said in a candid chat.
The Bollywood writer, who has documented 'Devdas- The Indian Hamlet', 'The Making of Ashoka' and 'The Making of Om Shanti Om', is best known for 'Still Reading Khan', a biography of superstar Shah Rukh Khan, and the screenplays of 'RA.One', 'Om Shanti Om' and 'Billu Barber'.
Sheikh's biography of Shah Rukh Khan has been released recently in a paperback edition.
The writer, who spent 15 years in Mumbai as a film journalist before taking to scripting screenplays and documenting Bollywood for posterity, said, "Till a few years ago, films were being relegated in the world of books and no one was documenting cinema - the mirror of the time - for generations to come."
"Readers wanted to know how modern and contemporary classics like 'Pyaasa' and 'Kasme Vaade' had been made, but there was no written record. I was one of the trend-setters who started writing about the making of films. Each one of my books is different," the writer said.
Sheikh said his account of the movie Ashoka was "more research-based about the life of the Hindu king, who became a Buddhist."
"I explored the myths connected with Ashoka in context of the making of the movie. Then, I pitched both of them to get an interesting mix of facts and history," Sheikh said.
'Devdas - The Indian Hamlet', in contrast, was more about the character.
"I researched 16 versions of Devdas - based on a short story by Bengali writer Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay - made all over the country in languages like Malayalam, Telugu and Bengali. The interpretations of how Devdas and Paro thought about their lives and about each other are different. Each version adds a different colour to Devdas and is connected to the region it was made. Devdas was a flawed character and anything which is flawed is attractive to us," he said.
"The book about 'Om Shanti Om' was about the making of the movie," he said. "I put in an element of kitsch so that it was fun and read faster. It was not academic because I was on the sets every day."
'Still Reading Khan', the biography of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan published in 2006, however, still remains the most special book in Sheikh's life. "I was writing about a man who does wear intelligence on his sleeve. Shah Rukh has worn success as a tuxedo and I had to do justice to the character where I had to pay tribute to a man who takes life with a pinch of salt."
Sheikh said, "Access was the key card to the biography. I was a journalist when I met him for the first time and I knew there was a story to be told. I had to write a book. Our friendship became a bond. And we started sharing work space and personal space," the writer said.
The Bollywood writer has embarked on a new course. He is working on a collection of children's fantasy tales like the Aesop's fables inspired by the stories he told Zidane and Zia, his nephew and niece.