The Patels of Filmindia by South Asia Daily

Journalist and writer Sidharth Bhatia has emerged as an effective and efficient chronicler of India’s cultural undercurrents. Whether it is so by design or default is quite extraneous to the fact this he has just produced his fourth book in nearly as many years and it deals with a slice of India’s popular culture that normally does not draw serious journalistic attention. The book is ‘The Patels of Filmindia: Pioneers of Indian Film Journalism’  (Indus Source Books, Mumbai, ISBN: 978-81-88569-67-0) and I have just been sent an early preview of that.

Sidharth, who happens to be an old friend, had before this particular book done three more, ‘The Navketan Story: Cinema Modern’, ‘Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness, Manmohan Desai’ and ‘India Psychedelic: The Story of a Rocking Generation.’ All four books examine aspects of India’s popular, urbane if you will, culture and its evolution from the 1950s onward. It is a space that is rich with stories as long as someone patient and meticulous is willing to tell them. Sidharth now straddles that space.

Since I have only just received his latest book, I would hesitate to say anything substantive about it other than pointing out that it tells a detailed story about arguably India’s most inventive and feared film journalist and editor Baburao Patel who began publishing Filmindia in 1935. Patel with his sharp unsparing wit and passionate interest in cinema and those who make it all happen became the most influential albeit it dreaded film journalist in Bombay during a period when Hindi cinema was sculpting its foundation. Along with his equally respected wife Sushila Rani the Patels were a power couple of the period.

Sidharth writes in his introduction: “Baburao was an extraordinary editor—he practically wrote the entire magazine himself till Sushila Rani came and shared some of the burden with him. His rapport with his readers was tremendous— 
they not only admired and respected him but also adored him. He got letters by the hundreds, even thousands, asking his views on everything under the sun, and he gladly obliged. His question and answer column was extremely popular, running into several pages in the magazine and covering issues from the beauty of a film star to international politics.”

“Sushila Rani, as I found, was equally eclectic in her broad interests. Apart from being a superb classical singer, she had been an actress and a journalist. She came from a highly cultured and liberal family in which girls were expected to get educated and find careers, or at least have interests outside studies. She could, and did, talk about everything under the sun, from politics to the arts, and a lot about her passion, classical music,” Sidharth writes.

He also quotes the legendary Urdu short story writer Sadat Hasan Manto as saying this about Patel:

“Baburao wrote with eloquence and power. He had a sharp and inimitable sense of humour, often barbed. There was a touch guy assertiveness about his writing. He could also be venomous in a way that no other writer of English in India has ever been able to match.”

Reading early pages of the book one sees unfold the charming nascent history of Hindi cinema as captured by Patel and revived by Sidharth.

As a rule I no longer review any content from the standpoint of critiquing it. That would continue with this one as well. However, suffice it to say that with his latest book Sidharth offers insights into the buildings blocks of India’s pop culture as it came to take birth and flourish in Bombay/Mumbai.

On a side note and as a fellow content creator, I applaud Sidharth’s industry in producing his fourth book in slightly more than four years. Quite apart from the diversity of the cultural subjects he has addressed people do not realize how hard it is to produce high quality original content. So do yourselves a favor—buy a copy as soon as it is available.


~ South Asia Daily

9 June 2015