By Ekta R. Garg
August 21, 2019
Genre: Celebrity nonfiction
Release date: July 20, 2019
Rated: Borrow it or Watch it / 3 stars
When people think of Bollywood, they probably think of melodrama, music, and beautiful wardrobes. Ardent fans also think of the stars who comprise the Hindi film industry. It’s no secret the industry is driven by stars first and scripts second, although in the last two decades that equation has begun to change (finally.)
In today’s day and age, with social media, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with our favorite actors from any medium in any language. When Anupama Chopra, film critic and wife of acclaimed director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, launched her movie platform Film Companion five years ago, she did so with the intention to offer readers and fans a place where intelligent conversations about cinema could happen.
On that account, Chopra has succeeded a thousand-fold. The articles and videos are thoughtful and informative. Chopra and her plucky team do what they can to push actors to open up while remaining respectful of their stardom.
The announcement of a book of her collection of interviews with some of the biggest names in Bollywood today, then, seemed like a natural supplement to the world of Film Companion. With Chopra’s accessibility to the stars and her ease with interviewing them, the book should have offered readers deeper insight into the world of these celebrities. It does, and yet it doesn’t.
In the book’s introduction, Chopra states outright that the interviews were conducted for Film Companion. What she doesn’t say is that the interviews are verbatim transcripts of the conversations she’s had with actors for the website’s video channel. For anyone who hasn’t seen the video versions of the interviews, the book might offer insights. For those who have watched the videos, the book acts more as a refresher.
One of the challenges of turning video conversations into written text is with the pauses, the sentences that trail into the air, the “ums” and other placeholders most people use when talking. In Conversation with the Stars includes many of these, leading the interviews to read as a little dry and slow. Also, despite many of the stars having moved on from the projects mentioned in the book, Chopra doesn’t share much context for the time in the stars’ careers that the interviews take place.
Priyanka speaks of her work on the ABC show “Quantico.” Ranveer is still shooting “Gully Boy” when Chopra speaks to him here. Both of these events, long passed, date the collection right on publication. It may also leave film fans scratching their heads about why there’s such a long lag between interview time and press time.
Fans of Hindi films enjoy listening to their favorite actors on and off screen. What makes Saif grounded and thoughtful in a live chat makes him come across as privileged and almost uninterested on the page. Anushka’s laser focus in her one-on-one interviews makes her seem almost hyperactive in the written word. Chopra has interviewed the biggest stars and gotten most of them to offer honest, unfiltered looks into their lives in her videos, but this version of those interviews doesn’t showcase her range and talent to be able to do so.
Chopra would have done readers a greater service if she’d used the interviews as source material for full-length articles about the stars. She’s spent enough time in the industry to write cogent, insightful pieces on them. Why not use her sharp training and connections to produce those articles? At the very least, she could update the interviews with the dismal outcome of Varun’s latest film “Kalank” or the comeback-like love Ranbir received for “Sanju.”
The heart of the book is in the right place, but the material is a little disappointing especially considering that Film Companion provided its roots. Given that all of these interviews are online, too, there really isn’t a strong reason for film fans to purchase the book. I recommend readers go online and find the videos of the stars in question and watch Anupama knock it out of the park with those. The result will be three-dimensional, something lacking in In Conversation with the Stars.