1. When and how did you think of writing this book? What was the inspiration behind telling these fantastical tales?
“Folk Tales From Bollywood” is a result of the lockdown and people’s insatiable curiosity about the life of Bollywood stars. As a journalist, I have written about celebrities from all walks of life — painters, business heads, models, politicians, writers and of course Bollywood stars, but the curiosity surrounding Bollywood stars has always been the highest. For example, there is more interest in an actor’s life than, say, even a tycoon like Vijay Mallya who liked to live large. Then again, people often want to believe that Bollywood lives are ultra-hedonistic and when you tell them otherwise, they refuse to believe that stars can have basic struggles and insecurities too. The book was born out of the need to confront this voyeuristic instinct we have about the lives of others. So I started spinning fictional yarns based on some anecdotal nuggets I’d gleaned over the years. I used them as springboards for my imagination.
2. Many gossips and personal stories from Bollywood go unreported, but those who work in and around the industry are aware of these conversations. Why aren’t these inside stories coming out?Inside stories or andar ki baat are usually known to business people, colleagues, friends and the like, but no one ever wants to say it out loud for fear of being cut off from the circle of power. Or dissatisfaction with the powers that be because in show business access is everything. We’ve occasionally heard outsiders shout out nepotism and favoritism in the industry and spill some tea, but it’s often hushed whispers because no one wants to get pangas.
3. How did you decide how much information to reveal and how much to withhold while fictionalizing these Bollywood stories?
The book’s 10 short stories are inspired by reality — things you see and hear — but are completely fictional. As a writer venturing into fiction, it would be remiss not to let my imagination run wild for a change. While I may have borrowed from an anecdote I heard or some popular business people’s way, I’ve been removed from the real lives of real people. Creating characters and bringing them to life in a given circumstance or situation is where I have taken a complete leap of imagination. For example, ‘RIP’, one of the stories in the book, is about the battle between a star’s wife and the actor’s girlfriend over his inheritance. The germ of this idea came from the era of the 60s and 70s, when it was okay for heroes to get married and still have a romantic liaison outside of marriage. It was common at the time and was widely accepted. However, everything that follows in the story is fiction. There is already so much information about movie stars and celebrities thanks to social media that there is no point in trying to publish the same story. Fiction gives you space to explore the multiple possibilities of what could be, rather than being limited to only what actually is.
4. Which Bollywood stories have shocked or surprised you the most? Ever find yourself at the crossroads of knowing a big scoop but not being able to articulate it?
In fact, I have quite a few juicy anecdotes surrounding the film awards that I have never revealed to anyone. I have been the curator of a famous film awards ceremony for over a decade and have had a glimpse of some very interesting and fiery incidents. But I have never referred to them.
5. Some stars are like open books, openly admitting their stories, relationships and personal details. Is it easier to write about such stars? And do these kinds of stars find more success than those who don’t open up?
To each his own. Shah Rukh Khan is very open about his life and so is Aamir Khan. This probably makes them more accessible to their fans. But there are several examples of stars who are aloof and yet very successful. We must remember that the audience is interested in knowing more about the big stars and not just everyone in the film industry. It’s a difficult balance to strike — knowing how much is too much information or too little.
6. Out of the 10 stories in ‘Folk Tales From Bollywood’, which is your favorite and why?
My favorites of the 10 short stories would possibly be ‘Love Bungalow’ and ‘Baby Boon’. ‘Love Bungalow’ is about an intricate mystery surrounding a legendary bungalow owned by a senior actor, a throwback to the old world of Bollywood when everything was larger than life. ‘Baby Boon’ is very contemporary and showcases the intense rivalry between two young male stars and the humorous twists and turns it brings.