A memoir is a delicate genre to choose for reading, you succumb because you are interested in the author’s life, at the same time, can’t guarantee the author’s deftness at writing, to sustain you through the passage of pages. Unless of course, it is of a writer, even then, can’t be sure these days!
So, I gingerly picked up Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir, And then One Day, Penguin India. The author makes no bones about the fact that he started writing as a way to pass time during a tedious Hollywood movie project, wrote something, forgot about it, wrote some more and lost the pen drive, etc etc. You get the impression of a ‘low threshold of boredom’ in Shah at the very launch of a couple of pages. What is heartening is the revelation that it’s not ghost written, so what you see, is what you get- His pen writing his life.
A peek inside Shah’s world, spanning decades and topographies, as varied as Sardhana to Mussoorie, Nainital to Ajmer to Aligarh and finally to Mumbai. Phew! Keep up with the changing pace of his life. The memoir as the name goes ‘And then One day…’ to me stands for the interest Shah had in storytelling, the act and the drama on stage.
It is a coming of age story of a brother who always felt as if he were under the shadow of his socially-sound siblings, one an IITian the other an Army officer. And then One Day, is a self-recounting of the life of an actor, a heretic a footloose and fancy free soul who was fascinated by acting and being on stage in theatre. A stumbling actor who would go through the rigours of ‘making it big’ in the film industry to being regarded as the greatest ‘Art’ cinema actor to being mistaken many a times for another actor like Om Puri.
The pages take you through the journey of Shah’s struggles of coming to terms with commercial cinema and doing it for the money. The ride is as shaky as the Standard Herald he manages to purchase sometime in his career- guaranteeing no safety only adventure, sometime of the afire of sleeping on the footpath or parks in Mumbai! Replete with its ups and downs, his love-hate relation with his father and the fond memories he has of his mother. It indeed is a roller coaster ride when you see Shah admitting to guilt, doubt, greed and lust- unabashedly.
The loves of his life also find mention, actually much more than that, in sections of the book. Breaking the stereotype seems to be the thread, binding his life and love. Be it in being love with an older woman of the world in Aligarh as a 19 year old or fathering a child at a young age and feeling resentment towards her at the same time! Or be it finding love in Mumbai – in Ratna Pathak, who he calls the ‘anchor of his life’, this forms a background, albeit an important one in the book.
Shah makes an admission of being instructed to cut out the slang, the swear words and the exclamation marks but he includes them nevertheless, with such an eclectic mix of drama, action and emotional journey of life, I suppose these came organically- and what’s a memoir, if not an honest one!
Not a literary masterpiece, and not having pretensions of one too, the book leaves you better informed on the actor’s life and times but disappointed in his over simplistic writing canvas. Sometimes wordy, at others casual and blasé about writing about his own self. While reading the book, make no mistake, you will be judging Shah mentally and also making notes on his life’s choices. He makes no bones about his escapades and lays himself bare to a reader’s examination. As a writing piece it is a spouting out of the topmost in his mind- ‘Getting it out of my system’. Hard hitting and brutally honest, it stays in the reader’s system much after it’s consumed.
And then One Day