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Former Editor-In-Chief of Stardust and former Vice President of Pritish Nandy Communications Ram Kamal Mukherjee, in an interview with Nation Next, speaks about his latest writing venture ‘Long Island Iced Tea,’ his biography on Hema Malini titled ‘Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled’ and his foray in production through his production house Assorted Motion Pictures Pvt Ltd. Mukherjee, who’s worked with many leading publications including Mumbai Mirror and Mid Day, lets his guards off as he tells us how Bollywood is a PR-driven industry with actors who have become more image conscious and more... Excerpts:
First of all, what led you to write the book ‘Long Island Ice Tea’? What anecdotes and experiences from your personal life inspired you to write this?
This book is a by-product of my loneliness in Mumbai. These stories were conceived during my early days of journalism in Stardust. After shifting my base from my hometown Kolkata to Mumbai, I had to make my own world. Managing Director of Magna House, Nari Hira, was kind enough to provide me with an accommodation next to our office. Though the room was nothing less than a matchbox, I could feel a sense of freedom. For someone who lived in a joint family forever, it was a weird sense of freedom with loneliness for him.
During this time, I started meeting new people from various walks of life who had different tales to tell. I still remember my first story happened by fluke. It was 26th July. And Mumbai was not expecting the act of God. All of us were trapped in Magna House. That night, I stayed awake with my colleagues. While most of them were watching TV, I started writing a story. Loneliness is often the source of creativity. Much later, when I was working with Pritish Nandy, he had mentioned something similar. He turned into a painter out of boredom. Guess that's how galaxy connects us all. There are few personal incidents, which I converted into fiction.
What can we expect from this book? Will you be revealing dark secrets about the celebrities you've worked with?
Expectation is subjective. I guess you can expect stories with a twist in the tale. Most stories come with a twist in the tale. I am not winning Pulitzer or Bookers awards for this one, but this book will remain special for me because I tried something non-Bollywood for the first time.
As far as revealing dark secrets of Bollywood celebrities are concerned, you need to read the book for that. Many stories are inspired from ‘secrets’ shared by celebrities off the record.
But then its fiction, so how do you weave fiction and non-fiction together? Are we looking at imaginary dialogues or a representation of the things that were left unsaid?
When you say fiction, it clearly hints at imagination. Weaving a story is an interesting plot. There is a chapter ‘Madam The Shot Is Ready, ‘which is based on a mother and daughter relationship. It could be any star mother and her daughter. In fact, I have tried to merge two three incidents of various actors and senior technicians into one story. The dialogues used in the book are imaginary.
Do you mention names of stars directly or is it like a blind item that will leave us guessing?
As I have mentioned in your earlier question, I have not mentioned the name of any celebrity in my book. Neither they read like blind items. Do they leave you all guessing? Yes!
In a PR-driven industry, celebs have become more image conscious than ever. Do you think they've forgotten to laugh at themselves? That they hardly ever let their guards down?
True and untrue both! Some actors are megalomaniac. They need medical help. They don't like to laugh at their failure. I think Saif Ali Khan is one of the most free spirited actors who doesn't have any qualms in accepting his failures. And Shah Rukh Khan is the most rational actor. He often analyses his success and failures. He is more like a mathematician. And both SRK and Saif have brilliant sense of humour, which cannot be compared with any Bollywood stars. Amongst youngsters, Ranbir Kapoor is a feast for any journalist. He speaks from his soul.
Amongst female stars, I feel that Hema Malini was always honest in her interviews and that would often land her into trouble in most cases. Sonam Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut are a delight. They never guard themselves and often give quotes that make for a headline. Anushka Sharma and Deepika are logically articulate but often lack humour. Unlike their love interests Virat and Ranveer respectively.
How difficult was it to get the consent of the people you speak about in the book? Has anyone refused to let you use his or her story as material?
The funniest part is that I didn’t have to take any permission because its fiction. If this would have been a true account of incidents, then I guess this would have never got published.
How long have you been working on this book? Which form of writing did you enjoy the most - fiction or non-fiction?
Being my first foray into fiction, I have enjoyed the journey. But, this would not have been possible without the support and encouragement from my wife Sarbani and friend Swarup Nanda. In fact, I had written 13 short stories during my tenure as a correspondent in Stardust. Thereafter, when I switched my job, I forgot about these stories. I had taken print outs of these stories from desktop and never saved them. Finally, Sarbani found them from old files (thanks to Diwali cleaning!) and she started restoring them. She could only figure eight out of 13 odd stories. Incidentally, Swarup was my colleague and we worked together in Magna Publishing. Now, he is the owner of Leadstart Publishing and I am grateful to him that he has published Long Island Iced Tea.
You have been signed by HarperCollins for their next book, which is a complete biography on Hema Malini. Please tell us something about your book?
It's definitely an honour that one of the leading publishing house HarperCollins have agreed to publish my next book on Hema Malini. The book is titled Beyond The Dream Girl. The book will be dealing with her entire journey as India's first female superstar and also her soaring career in politics.
You had written a coffee table book on Hema Malini titled Diva Unveiled in 2005. So, after almost a decade, why did you decide to write a book on her again?
I am glad that you asked me this question. I guess people are confused too. Well, I would like to say that Hema Malini: Diva Unveiled was a pictorial representation of her life, which was a difficult task. But it’s challenging to revisit the same subject again, because I have also matured as a writer. So, probably my approach will be completely different.
You have ventured into television after working with Pritish Nandy Communication for almost five years. How has been your experience so far?
Bin Kuch Kahe is my first foray into television for Zee TV. Thanks to my friend Rajshree Ojha who invested faith and trust in me. This is a finite series and we shot the entire series in Jaipur. We are wrapping up our Jaipur schedule and heading for our shoot in Brazil.
You have introduced new faces in this show. Why didn't you cast the known faces considering you share a brilliant equation with almost all Bollywood actors?
Well... they are my friends, but I didn't want to cast them for the same reason! Kashyap Chandock, who was introduced to me by Rajshree, did the entire casting. Kashyap assisted as casting guy in two of Dharma Productions. We had certain vision as far as Myrah, Kabir, Abha, Sandy, Rhea and Nikhil were concerned. After Kashyap shortlisted them, both Rajshree and me selected them. We are very happy that we have introduced faces like Nirvana Shawney, Rashmi Somvanshi, Archana Mittal, Sameer Arora, Bharat Sharma and Nikhil Sabharwal. We also have seasoned actors like Shamata Anchan, Suzzane Bernert, Sanjay Gurbaxni and Danish Hussain.
Are you planning to start your own production after this show?
Would love to do so. I have already launched my production house Assorted Motion Pictures Pvt Ltd with my wife Sarbani. We are planning to make a Bengali feature film, which will be directed by Rajshree Ojha. It's one of the finest scripts I have read in recent times. Apart from this feature film, we are planning to do web series, short films and events related to Bollywood.
Do you miss on being a journalist?
Not really. I don’t miss journalism anymore. It was a conscious decision to take a break from journalism after Stardust. As the Editor-in Chief of Stardust, I did my best. Even today my friends and colleagues from the industry tell me that my tenure was the best, because the magazine got a new look and with the guidance and support of Nari Hira, we did some really interesting photo-shoots and scoops!
Will you be directing a movie anytime soon?
I don't think that I am still ready to take that challenge. But, I am sure that someday I will be telling my story through my own lens.
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