Despite the warm title, this book and I don’t really start off on a positive note. Given that I have an advance copy of the book – judging by the file extensions on the document – there are, of course, a legitimate amount of page-making errors. One would have overlooked the same, but combined with the sloppiness with which the book is edited and presented, this detail sticks out like a sore thumb. Besides, there is that niggling question at the back of my head – would this book even have been commissioned or published had its author not been acclaimed actress Divya Dutta?

But that’s a moot point. So, I soldier through, and am not disappointed (well, a little, but that’s more to do with all the arbitrary capitalisation, and the ellipses and exclamation marks peppered across the book). The style of writing is casual and informal, addressing readers directly in a chatty tone of voice. Written as an elegy to Dutta’s mother Nalini, the book begins with a warm foreword by Shabana Azmi, Dutta’s co-star in Chalk and Duster.

It is Dutta’s mother Nalini who supports her dream of joining the film industry and makes the early preparations for the process, moving in with Dutta and her brother post-retirement

Given the way the book is spaced out, most readers are going to breeze through it in no time – the chapters are brief and the book is littered with them.

Although she has a moderately happy upbringing, Dutta has quite a streak of bad luck as a child. After moving abroad to study further, her father returns soon to be closer to his family. Shortly after realising their work schedules – both Dutta’s parents were doctors – were affecting her studies, he sends her to live with her aunts in Delhi, then passes away shortly after, just when he is supposed to pick her up and take her home.

The young family – Dutta had a brother by then – survives and thrives thanks to Nalini’s resilience and defiance. There are moving anecdotes from this period in Punjab, including one where Nalini accidentally hitches a ride with four terrorists during a curfew and receives their dead bodies later the same day at her hospital.

It is, in fact, Dutta’s mother who supports her dream of joining the film industry and makes the early preparations for the process, moving in with Dutta and her brother post-retirement. Although the focus is always on Nalini and her two kids, there is enough trivia here to keep audiences hooked.

The book picks up pace and shows strength towards the end, as Dutta begins grieving for her mother, eventually ending up at a psychiatrist’s office at her brother’s suggestion

There is the mention of how Dutta participated in an inter-collegiate competition against comedians Gurpreet Ghuggi and Bhagwant Mann – and won. She moved to Mumbai after being selected for Stardust Academy, with Sonali Bendre as her classmate. Dutta, who in her childhood was chosen to represent India in Japan by the Red Cross Society, also almost got married to a doctor at nineteen, just before embarking on a film career.

Although Dutta fully acknowledges her mother’s contribution towards kicking off and supporting her early career, she undoes some of that goodwill with a few naïve lines about newcomers in the industry having the power to choose whether to respond to casting couch overtures. However, on her part, she was protected and prepared, thanks in no small part to her mother.

The book picks up pace and shows strength towards the end, as Dutta begins grieving for her mother, eventually ending up at a psychiatrist’s office at her brother’s suggestion. Dutta battles the grief of her mother’s fatal illness and death, trying to come to terms with the loss.

It is hard enough already to criticise someone’s memoirs, but the job is made especially tricky when the topic is this sensitive. However, there is one department where the book can’t be faulted – it is completely heartfelt, with no unnecessary name-dropping. And as the bookends, SD Burman’s Meri Duniya Hai Ma starts in the background. In that moment, the book just fits right in.

Publisher: Penguin Random House India

 

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