Friday, August 05, 2011

10 Favourite Books on Cinema

Much encouragement has followed the announcement of the last post. Since the actual publication date is still several months (read: I am avoiding saying one year) away, I am thinking of new ways to pass time. And no better way than making some more lists. 
On the express request of @vicramb, I have put together a list of my favourite books on cinema. 

I have applied one arbitrary rule on this list and have excluded screenplays. I have some exceptional scripts produced by Seagull Books (including The Apu Trilogy and Satyajit Ray: A Film by Shyam Benegal), Om Books (including Pyaasa, 3 Idiots and Lage Raho Munnabhai) and New Market Shooting Scripts. Beautifully produced screenplays are a delight to read and can be a post in themselves. 
Also, I have only taken books in English.

So, here is the list of my favourite books in the order in which I read them.  

Our Films, Their Films - Satyajit Ray 
In 1992, I read Ray's seminal collection of essays and short pieces on cinema and it changed my life. I say this without any exaggeration because I understood - for the first time - why the director's name was the last and most prominent in the credits of a film. I had seen many of Ray's films earlier but in the months following his death, I saw them again and thanks to this book, I understood how an auteur stamps his authority on a film. Interestingly, none of the essays in this book are on his own films - at least, not in detail - and yet his vision shone through. His lucid writing, sense of humour and eye for detail made it even better.    

The Film Encyclopaedia - Ephraim Katz  
This book is a marvel. 
In the early years of cable TV, BBC critic Barry Norman recommended this (among others) as a Christmas gift and since he mentioned the phrase 'tuck into a stocking', I assumed this would be a pocket-sized paperback and requested my father to get it for me when he went to the UK. It was a 1500+ page behemoth that cost an astounding 20 pounds - which only got bought because my father never said no to books. Yup, never said no to books.  
That's not why this book is a marvel. Its because this was the work of one man who compiled this entire encyclopaedia single-handedly till his death. If you see the depth of information and the perceptiveness of the reviews, you would bow your head in respect. More so, because it is virtually impossible to lift this King-Kong book to touch your forehead!

Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide
Funny, pithy and unbiased, Mr Maltin and his team have been churning out his trusty guide every year for a couple of decades now. I bought my first copy during my early college years and was hooked.
Every single entry has a review, rating, format & availability info, cast & crew data and - most importantly - trivia. That Kevin Costner's parents appeared in Tin Cup and the band Duran Duran took their name from the villain of Barbarella were things Mr Maltin told me.
And his guides continue to be as trustworthy and interesting. The only thing that changes is his photograph on the cover, where he's become much older now.

Hitchcock | Truffaut 
Before French New Wave director Francois Truffaut conducted a book-length interview of him, Alfred Hitchcock was a mere director of thrillers. After this, he was hailed as a master of the film craft. I still remember buying this book in Seagull Bookstore on a visit to Calcutta while I was studying in Jamshedpur.
Hitchcock did not speak French. Truffaut did not speak English. And yet they spoke cinema over a week in which this interview was done and it analysed each of Hitchcock's film threadbare. It also talked about his fleeting appearances in films, his considerable girth and most importantly, MacGuffins.
You don't know what a Macguffin is? You see, it is a device to shoot lions in Scotland. What, there are no lions in Scotland? Well...

Sholay: The Making of a Classic - Anupama Chopra
Anupama Chopra's 'biography' on the Greatest Film Ever Made reads like a thriller. 
I always prided myself on knowing every bit of trivia about Sholay but this book managed to dig out a million more. The stories behind the legends were delicious and did not sag even on multiple readings. The importance of Sholay in the history of Indian cinema was brought out with a mix of drama and objectivity. The stars went from humans to gods and back again.  
And most importantly, it made us thank our lucky stars. Imagine, if Shatrughan Sinha had played Jai and if Amitabh Bachchan had played Gabbar. 
But then when you think about it, they eventually did. 1, 2.

To be or not to be Amitabh Bachchan - Khalid Mohammed 
This book was released on the 60th birthday of Amitabh Bachchan (2002) and the cover price was Rs 3000. In early 2003, this book was available in the Bid 'n' Win programme of Sahara Airlines and a friend bought it for Rs 1000. I flew Sahara only to buy this book (and I bid Rs 1500 just to be sure that I got it). 
It is a luscious coffee table book with pictures from his childhood, his early days, films and life till then. What was meant to be an eulogy turned out to be an interesting appraisal of his life and works. Strictly speaking, this is not a book on film but on a film-star. But then, that star is the one who was an industry by himself.

Satyajit Ray: A Vision of Cinema - Nemai Ghosh and Andrew Robinson
For my birthday in 2005, my wife made a friend pick up this book (from a wonderful store called Walden) and lug  it all the way from Hyderabad to Mumbai so that she could gift it to me. 
It is a mind-bogglingly beautiful album of photographs by Nemai Ghosh on the sets of Ray's films, organised by films as well as by themes. The photographs - mostly B&W - were accompanied by a commentary from Ray's biographer, Andrew Robinson and contained many rare visuals from Ray's shooting scripts and sketchbooks. 
One of the most uplifting things in life is to watch a man who's in love with his work go about it. And when you have an acknowledged master of photography chronicling it, it becomes quite unforgettable.    

Movie Game Book - Pierre Murat and Michel Grisolia
Bollywood sorely needs a parlour game book like this. 
Apart from short profiles of stars, directors and film genres, the book has some really nifty games which had pull-outs, hidden puzzles, mix-and-match visuals and were really games and not merely trivia quizzes. Matching muses with directors, identifying heroines from their torsos, pulling out a poster design to reveal a film's names are too cool for description. 
A book on a visual medium should be visually delightful and this book fits the bill perfectly. I remember spotting it in a pile of on-sale books and getting hooked in a flash.      

10 Bad Dates with DeNiro - Richard T Kelly (ed)
The concept of this book is just unbelievably perfect. Eclectic lists on cool cigarette scenes, unusual murder weapons, severed heads, sex scenes and drunk scenes from world cinema are made in cine-heaven. Admittedly, some of the entries are from films I am not familiar with but the concept was, well, perfect. 
By the way, the list in the title refers to the 10 films in which Mr De Niro acted boorishly - even violently - with his on-screen women.
Sweet! Errr no, not sweet... basically, they are a few things we don't want to learn from him.

So, you want to add your own favourites?


Vikram Bondal said...

Thanks a LOT Dada for this post. I have 3 out of the 10 books mentioned. Now I must get on with finding the rest :)

Anonymous said...

Apur Panchali????


Anonymous said...

sorry ...overluked "Also, I have only taken books in English. "

sup said...

no see this? :)