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Author: Naseeruddin Shah
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton/Penguin
ISBN/UPC (if available): 9780670087648
Naseeruddin Shah's sparkling memoir of his early years, from zero to thirty-two, spans his extraordinary journey from a feudal hamlet near Meerut, to Catholic schools in Nainital and Ajmer and finally to stage and film stardom in Mumbai.
Along the way, he recounts his passages through Aligarh University, the National School of Drama and the Film and Television Institute of India, where his luck finally began to change.
And Then One Day tells a compelling tale, written with rare honesty and consummate elegance, leavened with tongue-in-cheek humor. There are moving portraits of family members, darkly funny accounts of his school days and vivid cameos of directors and actors he has worked with, among them Ebrahim Alkazi, Shyam Benegal, Girish Karnad, Om Puri and Shabana Azmi.
The accounts of his struggle to earn a living through acting, his experiments with the craft, his love affairs, his early marriage, his successes and failures are narrated with remarkable frankness and objective self-assessment. Brimming with delightful anecdotes as well as poignant, often painful revelations, this book is a tour de force, destined to become a classic of the genre.
“Of Shyam Benegal, Satyadev Dubey, Ratna Pathak, among others, but they all remain mere caricatures in Shah’s scheme of things. ‘ Worse, the book, stops abruptly in his 30s, for the actor feels that life became boring thereafter. But what may be boring for Shah may actually be a thriller for the reader. Today, after all, he draws more curiosities among the masses for his act in ?lms like Sir, Sarjfarosh, Ishqiya and A Wednesday, rather than Nishant or Manthan.
But apart from the Naipaulian‘curse’ and Shah’s disdain for cinema commercial, the book is a complete gem. Written beautifully and with his delightful tongue -in- cheek humor, it recounts the journey of a young actor who believed he should not be cast because he looked like Alfred E. Neuman (the ?ctitious mascot of Mad magazine), besides being “unreasonable, opinionated, hot-headed and a dope-smoker”. To add to this was his utter disdain for Hindi cinema, with the sole exception being Dara Singh-starrer movies which he loved to watch alongside the much superior Western flicks. Throughout his life, Shah is seen looking ‘Westward’ for inspiration and ideas. He is equally critical of his own movies; Shekhar Kapur’s Masoom being one of the rare exceptions. Even the much appreciated Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyoon Aata Hai fails to live up to his high expectations.
Shah hides nothing as he talks about his affairs with women both high and low, or how he used doses of Dexedrine “to trip” and then Mandrax “to sleep”. In the process, he spares none, without ever showing an iota of disrespect for any. He, for instance, believes that Basu Bhattacharya, the producer of Sparsh, in which he starred, “could have done with some sensitivity himself”. Or, Shabana Azmi, whom he owes for doing ?lms with “a nobody” like him, had “smug reverence… for her own acting and her tendency to perform with background music playing in her head, not to mention the eccentric preference for her right pro?le over her left (or is it the other way around?).” For him, Pran was “the best bad actor in the world”. And Raaj Kumar his role model — “not for his acting, which was dreadful but for the way he safeguarded his interests, prolonged his career, and sent all Follywood on a ?ying fuck to the moon whenever he felt like it”.
And Then One Day might not be a complete account of the actor who gave us some of the most accomplished performances in Hindi cinema, but it’s de?nitely worth a read for its sheer honesty, incredible candidness and inspiring earnestness.