Book Review – I’ll Do It My Way: The Incredible Journey Of Aamir Khan

I’ll Do It My Way: The Incredible Journey of Aamir Khan

Christina Daniels

Om Books International

India 2012

Price: 1050 rupees

 

Legally bland

In a recent article for the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, author Sarah Sentilles speaks about her treatment at the hands of literary critics who denigrate her writing in sexist overtones, charging her of ‘writing like a woman’.  She goes on to cite numerous examples of how author’s voices are first marked as being feminine and then dismissed as frivolous and/or unworthy of being taken seriously on that basis. While reading Christina Daniels book on Hindi film superstar Aamir Khan (she refers to it on her blog as a ‘filmography’, as opposed to a biography), snooty reviewers are probably likely to be faced with a slightly different, and for some, unprecedented, conundrum, that of a complete lack of an author’s voice at all, feminine or otherwise. How does one grapple with a piece of work that posits itself as a thesis on an artist’s ‘incredible journey’ and then fails to drum up any intrigue or excitement that would make said journey sound remotely incredible, due to a flat, unengaging writing style that reads more like an extended Wikipedia entry or Filmfare article than a book on one of South Asia’s most gifted, acclaimed and controversial actors?

In a move that is surely a (minor) signifier of the internet age we live in, Daniels has already gone online to post a disclaimer of sorts in response to the kind of criticism she imagines she might get for the book. “A filmography does not dwell on the man Aamir Khan, it looks at his work,” she says, “so readers who expect me to examine all the dark rumours around the man will be disappointed. These are not the subject of the book – not because I was too scared to investigate them, but because they were not an area of interest. My passion is cinema – both film-making and the rationale behind it – and that’s what this book is about.” Trouble is, though, that even on that count of looking at the mechanics of the process of how films get made, or, indeed, the choices an actor makes in terms of story, theme, and character, Daniels provides little to no critical analysis. Of course part of the problem is that the book was written without any direct cooperation from Khan himself and his voice is only heard through snippets taken from existing interviews in print, online and TV. But even here, Daniels often makes odd choices. “When your hair is actually that long, you feel a certain way,” the actor is quoted as saying about his decision t grow out his hair for his role as Mangal Pandey, but Daniels chooses not to probe any further into what that certain way might have been. Soon after, she writes about hair again, when “Mangal Pandey’s long locks were shorn off, as [the stylist] created a chic urban hairstyle, replete with soft curls” for Aamir to play a more contemporary character.  In the midst of a more erudite text, these, and other, instances of dwelling on elements of appearance and physicality would be welcome, as part of a larger detailed picture of an actor’s transformation into various personae, but here they just serve as a reminder that the author doesn’t really have anything insightful to add to her rundown of Khan’s films and characters.

Elsewhere, the writing comes off awkward (“there was an easy loudness to [the character]”, “… lilting cinematography”) or just plain puzzling (“today the film [Raakh] is important because it is a twenty-year old film”, “[1947-Earth] told of changing personalities and friends transformed into foes”). Daniels also chooses to pretty much ignore the films from the earlier half of Khan’s career that were critically panned and also box-office flops, such as Love,Love,Love and Jawaani Zindabad, dismissing them in a few lines, as if an actor’s missteps don’t play a role in his development and future choices.

Suffice to say, then, that Daniels’ book, though doubtless well-intentioned, reads like a fawning fan piece which ultimately fails to give one a sense of the complex actor that Khan by all accounts is. In fact, the only real insight is provided by the filmmakers who’ve worked with Khan whom Daniels spoke to for the book, in particular Ketan Mehta and Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, whose brief deconstruction of the actor’s style and persona does in a few lines what the rest of the book can’t manage in two hundred pages.

Essential reading on cinema:

Hitchcock/Truffaut(1967) – Considered one of the seminal texts on film, the book was based on a series of interviews with legendary Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, conducted by leading light of the French New wave cinema movement, François Truffaut.

From Reverence To Rape: The Treatment of Women in The Movies (1974) – Film critic Molly Haskell’s path-breaking work was one of the first feminist forays into film history and criticism, and shattered many myths about how cinema supposedly puts women on a pedestal.

R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music (2011): Aniruddha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal’s exhaustively researched and eloquently written biography of the iconic music composer has set the benchmark high for any and all further works on Hindi cinema.

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