Ananth and a friend were talking one day, reminiscing about Ananth’s journey in the film industry. “There is no public record or archive of everything that has happened thus far in cinema,” his friend said. “Since you’ve been in the industry since its inception, why not write a book?” And the rest is “Once Upon A Prime Time”
I believe the Gita is a book in which every future philosophical discovery will be found; ultimately, the philosophy beyond religion, the philosophy of existence itself. The book focuses on the beginning of life, the difficulties of life, and finally the end of life. Similarly, if you want to learn about the history of Indian cinema, its philosophy, and its origins, then Once Upon A Prime Time is the book for you. If the film industry is a home, this book may be one of the best memoirs of one of its first housekeepers.
Ananth Mahadevan had never documented his cinematic journey in his diaries, so his memories were the only source that enabled him to write this wonderful book. His book is a history of television as seen through his eyes, but it is also a bridge between the early days of television, from the 1950s to the 1960s. From the days when people in the Doordarshan office were cooling off with ice slabs due to the lack of air conditioning while deciphering the use of the TV set left in front of them by a Holland company, to the ultimate rise of TV channels that led to the demise of Doordarshan. The book tells the story of what happened between Doordarshan and the rise of the OTT. It contains facts, stories, and snippets, and reading this book is like watching two entities, Ananth and Indian television, grow into their extraordinary selves. Since 1984, television in India has grown sporadically, particularly after SS Gill, the then-broadcast minister, visited Mexico and was inspired by the daily soap culture there and decided to inculcate the culture here in India.
Kundan Shah, Basu Chatterjee, and Gulzar were summoned to the Lutyens shortly after. Kundam Shah was initially hesitant, but eventually agreed and gave Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, which became a household classic. This book contains the early days of superstars such as Shahrukh Khan, Om Puri, Nana Patekar, and Gulzar, to name a few. How a director battled the Prime Minister’s Office to get a definitive answer on whether his directed show should be included in Doordarshan’s curriculum or not. Conversations with Hrishikesh Mukherjee, the legendary director of Rajesh Khanna’s acted film Anand, are heartwarming. Ananth used to refer to him as Dada. I’d like to recall some of the lines by Dada as they are nothing but jewels.
“In India, to be outstanding, all you have to do is be mediocre.” or sometimes too deep, like
“Do not grieve so much. Death should be faced with as much dignity as life. “
Dipika Chikhlia’s story will melt your heart because the story is one good signature of secularism that once was livid in our country, and now not so much. People crowded around her and began touching her feet and seeking blessings while she was filming “The Sword of Tipu Sultan,” in which she played the Muslim wife of Tipu Sultan, and despite her radically different appearance from her look for the role of Sita in the Ramayana. This book is a condensed work that contains the emotions of decades.
The gods are more typecast in their image than most of our actors. -Ravi Chopra
You also get a sneak peek into the minds of Indian audiences in the 1980s, 1990s, and after. It will bring back memories of shows like “Ye Jo Hai Zindagi, Hum Log, Buniyaad, Khandan, and Krishi Darshan.” The perpetual blank screen displaying static waves and disruptions in general while watching TV were some of the irritable and sweet memories of 1990s audiences. It also recounts all the good old days while bringing you to the shores of modern-day Television and shows like Big Boss or Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Ananth Mahadevan frequently inserts witty lines, sometimes his own, sometimes from his library of authors he has read. One example is when his father wanted him to be a doctor, and he, of course, was aspiring to be a movie star, so he thought of replying, “Think of all the lives that would be saved.”
Hopefully, this book will provide you with leisure rather than lessons. It’s a satirical, unfiltered, and excellent documentary of the field of cinema. A good reminiscence read for a fall afternoon.
A few worthy additions to my vocabulary repository are:
- Squander: irresponsibly and foolishly waste (something, especially money or time).
- Frantic: disturbed with fear, anxiety, or other emotion.
- Palatable (of food or drink): pleasant to taste.
- Frenetic: fast and energetic in a rather wild and uncontrolled way.
By Sudhanshu Suman