Book Review: Bhawana Somaaya’s Once Upon A Time In India

Bhawana Somaaya

First things first, Once Upon A Time In India: A Century of Indian Cinema is not actually a book. It is actually half book, half diary. This means you have date wise pages embedded along with countless records, anecdotes and happenings from the world of Indian films that makes this attractive spiral bound book a real handy collector’s item. Arriving at just the apt moment when 2017 is round the corner, the book picks up events from the year 1920 till 2013 (and then the current times), hence making it a lively read indeed. Add to that the fact that you can make your own notes and it is all the more fun.

A 225 odd page affair, the book has a catchy cover design (by Devagana Dash) and illustration (by Sumantra Mukherjee) with Amitabh Bachchan emerging from the Easter egg (right from the iconic Amar Akbar Anthony scene) which makes you grab this Bhawana Somaaya authored affair with both hands. While that acts as the first impression, what makes this book an educative read indeed is the content that Bhawana has to offer. As a senior journalist and author, she brings a lot of research into play in this book that truly goes a century back in time and brings to readers many unknown facts and events.

While there have been countless books written on the history of cinema, they time and again turn out to be heavy-on-text affairs. Moreover, you end up reading more or less the same thing from one book to another and if you are a connoisseur of cinema; there isn’t much novelty in the offering. Once Upon A Time In India: A Century of Indian Cinema is different though. First and foremost it doesn’t turn out to be a boring high-on-text affair which means Bhawana restricts the events to one bullet each, hence keeping it sharp, crisp and concise. Moreover, she also brings in facts that are actually interesting to read.

This isn’t all as she also doesn’t restrict herself to just Hindi films. Around 15%-20% of the content is dedicated to regional films as well which makes it a much more well-rounded affair. Considering the fact that the book focuses on one century of ‘Indian cinema’, she makes sure that it is entire India which is covered, and not just Bollywood.

Intermittently though, there are a few errors that emerge as well. A hit may have been termed as a flop (or vice versa), title of a film or two may have been misspelled or an incident may sound a tad ambiguous, considering a different story that one may have heard over a period of time. However, that could perhaps go unnoticed if you are not quite a discerning reader or a hard-core movie buff. Also, in the larger scheme of things there is still so much to offer in this book that you tend to overlook such minor aberrations and instead focus on so much more that Bhawana brings on board.

Moreover, the idea of integrating diary pages in this further ensures that there is much more longevity that Once Upon A Time In India: A Century of Indian Cinema brings with it. As a matter of fact, one could even read this book at leisure since you could take down a few notes for the day and then read a couple of pages that Bhawana has drafted around these. As for bringing a colourful appeal to the book, there are several handmade stills and moments from popular films finding a place in the book which make it a lively read. This isn’t all as some popular dialogues are brought in as well, which makes it a complete affair.

The book has a good structure to it as practically every year over the century gone by is picked and the events from there are captured bullet after bullet. Rest assured, this must indeed have required quite some hard work and research to put it all together. All of this and more makes this book a collector’s item indeed, something that one must not just preserve for himself but also gift it around amongst friends to further spread the magic of Indian cinema.

Highly recommended!

Price: Rs. 699/=

Rating: ****

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