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Behind all that glitz and glamour

SURESH KOHLI

Roopa Swaminathan's book `Star Dust' bares the darkness behind the lights.

PHOTO: REUTERS.

THE WANNABES Extras lined up in front of Rashtrapati Bhawan for the shooting of a Bollywood film.

The first of its kind in India, it makes delightful reading and gives a rare insight into the darkness that obliterates the view behind the lights - the lights that make the dream world, a world behind the world. It gives us a peep into the world of those who make the dreams possible but whose own lives mirror only nightmares. It is a systematic probe into how films are made, and the people who make these fantasies - the writers, producers, cameramen, choreographers, dancers, art directors, sound recordists, production managers, dubbing artistes, assistants, extras or junior artistes as they are called now, the directors. And above all the diehard fanatics, the fans.

Although almost all the random case studies are interesting in themselves, Roopa Swaminathan's renderings in an effortless, lyrical style ("Star Dust", Penguin, Rs.275) make them an utter delight, lending them a resonance that at times borders on the haunting. It is also loaded with information. "While the number of Rajnikant fan clubs has been restricted by the actor to a little over 20,000, there are others like Vijaykant who is 35,000 plus and going strong. Kamal Hasan has close to 15,000, and new stars such as Ajith and Vijay have approximately 13,000 each. Everything exists in a state of extended exaggeration in the state of Tamil Nadu."

And it all began in the `50s, fuelled by the phenomenon called MGR. And Swaminathan says the phenomenon is incredulous.

Lure of celluloid

"Just what was this fascination with being on celluloid?" asks the young author while looking at the plight of some who have spent their lives playing junior artistes or extras in films, at times managing a bare face-in-the-crowd status. What is it that lures people in? "Despite the horror stories and the hardships, every train that arrives at Mumbai Central, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Chennai Central and Egmore brings with it more and more aspirants to Shah Rukh Khan's throne."

The answer is hope. "In the heart of their hearts, just about everyone in this world wants to be a star." And they only see the success stories, of the nobodies who have become Rajnikants or Shah Rukh Khans.

How do you define a producer? A producer is "the never-ending source of a director's happiness or unhappiness. He does not write a story or direct a film. Many a times, he does not even know what and how the creative aspect of a film works. Yet, he is the one person who can either make or break a film." What about the scriptwriter, "the least respected and least paid" guy without whose contribution no film can go on the floor? "I asked the guy what he did for a living. He told me he was a screenwriter. And the entire room burst out laughing."

The director is a guy "who is the first one thrown to the crocodiles to be devoured" if the film flops even though he works "16 to 18 hours a day and on shoots... pretty much on the feet the whole time." And the stars get all the kudos if the film is a hit.

And then there are the others working behind the scenes. The worst is the lot of the dancers drowning in a "world overflowing with sex, sleaze, porn and suicides."

And the best, the hero, who, invariably provides the real to reel life success story, "an awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping story of a man, his courage, and his determination to make it. Against all odds and in the face of immense humiliation."

Then there is Vikram, the new superstar in Tamil Nadu "about whom the rest of India does not know anything." But will learn through the pages of this immensely readable, enjoyable, heart-warming book. Lights! Sound! Camera! Action!

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