Last week at the Intercontinental – The Grand (Lower Parel, Mumbai) I witnessed another spectacular book launch by Roli Books which had Amitabh Bachchan, Prem Chopra, Tom Alter and more glitterati of another era in attendance (luckily my mom was with me and was randomly recognizing faces I’d never seen.) “Unlikely Hero” is actor Om Puri’s rags to riches biography penned by his wife Nandita C. Puri that documents his life with vivid memories of childhood poverty and dwells upon the trials & tribulations of a complex man in the convoluted world of Indian cinema from the mostly subjective perspective of his closest companion. I’m quite curious to read it actually; that and the elegant coffee table book titled “Bombay Then, Mumbai Now” which captures gorgeous imagery from the Bombay of lore and its evolution into a bustling metropolis today.
Amitabh Bachchan (who joked about being Roli Books’ official book launcher) read passages from the book eloquently, while both Pramod Kapoor (Roli Books) and Om Puri chastised the electronic media for sensationalism and asked why poignant parts of the book (not involving sex) were totally ignored in contrast. Nandita Puri voiced the challenges of being subjective with a subject so personal, even Om’s son Ishan Puri (who is apparently good buddies with the Big B.) spoke about his father from a child’s point of view.
The biography apparently details the veteran actors early relationships (as you’d expect an honest biography to do really) stirring up some tension between Om and his wife for which he later apologized. For some reason Shobhaa De and Barkha Dutt have taken off on this whole episode rather scathingly, Barkha doing the whole sansani reporters take on it while Madame De called it all a publicity stunt and has gone as far as to say “I wouldn’t dream of reading Om Puri’s biography even if it was the last book on the earth!” (sounds like she may have some personal beef here.)
But here’s my point, why would you choose to spotlight passages of a persons life, take them out of context and turn their history into “breaking news” when the whole purpose of a biography is meant to (in retrospect) flesh out the life and times of an individual; the good, the bad and the ugly – just like things are in real life? After all, we are the sum of our contradictions* and if you can show me a man that has no shades of gray, I can show you a really boring biography.
*I stole this line from my friend Rishad Patel who deserves due credit.