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'Writing is anti-social'

Navroze Contractor's first book, "Dreams of the Dragon's Children", is an account of his experiences in China decades ago


"I find it very boring to read what I have written," says Navroze Contractor, award winning cinematographer and author of "Dreams of the Dragon's Children", who was in the city for a reading of his book. "In fact, when my editor sent me the proof with corrections, I just sent it back saying, `It's fine'. I just hope it is fine."

Contractor's first book, "Dreams of the Dragon's Children" recounts his experiences in China in the mid-eighties as part of a team to make a film on the hopes and aspirations of the country's young people. Two decades later, Contractor has decided to write about daily life in Deng's China — why? "Why not?" he shoots back with a kind of Wodehousian logic, adding, "The book may be dated, but it's still relevant." The book is well written, no flowing prose or sophisticated style. Instead, it tells a story — of people, their lives, the filming, the routine, the unusual — simply and effectively, making you want to finish it at one sitting. "I'm not really a writer. And I find writing a very anti-social activity, especially for me — I'm used to working with at least 50 other people in a film unit, but while writing, you're alone," says Contractor. But he adds that writing gives one more time to rework impressions and re-organise thoughts. "You can run downstairs and write down something you've suddenly remembered. But in the journalistic kind of photography that I enjoy best, once the shutter clicks there is no going back," he says.

His book is full of simple descriptions and astute observations that probably would not mean much if one saw them, but seem so much the way he writes them. "As a filmmaker, you hear and see little things, notice subtle body language, lighting... it all helps. Writing is not that much different — it just requires a different kind of discipline." Contractor says he was very excited to travel to China since he had been one of the types who "attended meetings in the late 60s with Mao's Red Book in my pocket. I had only read about China till then. Once I was there — nothing is ever better or worse than what you expect. It's always different and that is where the excitement lies." His enthusiasm is apparent throughout the book, which is written like a daily journal.

He's passionate about cars, motorcycles and jazz music — not necessarily in that order. He has had several shows of his still photographs and his collection of jazz musicians is on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. He plans to travel to Vietnam for his second book, plays the drums and the ghatam, collects CDs and LPs ("I have a collection of about 1,000 CDs and 1,700 LPs), always wanted to be a still photographer "from the time I was a little boy", doesn't read much fiction, loves the work of directors Bernado Bertolucci and Lazlo Kovacs and believes that the U.S. will never have a woman president in his lifetime (he's 59 now) because "they are more chauvinistic than us in different ways, though."

SHALINI UMACHANDRAN

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