When friend and fellow blogger Harini reviewed The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma: An Anecdotal Autobiography on her blog, I was intrigued enough to express an interest in reading the book—and Harini was kind enough to lend it to me.
Offhand, I’ll admit I wouldn’t have been able to say exactly who Kidar Sharma was. At a pinch, I’d have guessed that he was a film maker. But, unlike people like Vijay Anand, Bimal Roy, Hrishikesh Mukherjee or Raj Khosla, I wouldn’t have been able to name a single film I knew as having been made by Kidar Sharma.
… Which reflects poorly on me, since Kidar Sharma was the man who made Chitralekha (both the Meena Kumari-Ashok Kumar one, as well as the older film of the same name—which, by the way, Sharma regards as being better than the later version). He directed a slew of children’s films for the Children’s Film Society (one of which, Jaldeep, won an award at Cannes), and he was the director who introduced several stars to the world of cinema: Geeta Bali, Raj Kapoor and Madhubala (as an adult; she had already acted as a child).
Kidar Sharma died on April 29th, 1999 (a fact gleaned from the last page of the book, which mentions that this manuscript was approved by him before he died on this date)—but his date of birth is never mentioned in the book. Sharma’s autobiography does begin with his birth, an incident recounted with a self-effacing humour that dominates a good part of the book (not all of it; more on this later).
Sharma’s memories of his early life are a mixture of the funny mishaps of everyday life, as well as the sorrows: the death of a dear friend, the deaths of siblings (a sad reflection on the very high mortality rates in India about a century ago). He recounts his first encounters with cinema, an impulsive foray to Bombay and the return, in humiliation, after utter failure.
His recollections of eventual success in Calcutta are mostly about finding connections (through Prithviraj Kapoor, who went on to become a very dear friend—his ‘best’ friend, as Sharma calls him; and KL Saigal, who called in a favour from Durga Khote, who had learnt music from Saigal). How he went from being a non-entity to a director so respected that he was sent as part of a delegation to the UK and the US; was requested by Pandit Nehru to direct a children’s film; was praised by Walt Disney himself; and was honoured with several major awards during his lifetime.
The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma: An Anecdotal Autobiography is perhaps a little incorrectly named. While it is a biography consisting largely of anecdotes, Sharma doesn’t come across as being especially lonely—or perhaps his sense of humour and his ability to bounce back from adversity make it seem so. At any rate, he seems to have had several staunch supporters, both in his personal life (his wife Ram Dulari, to whom he dedicates the book, is one such) and in his professional (Prithviraj Kapoor, Snehal Bhatkar, KL Saigal and Durga Khote among them).
For me, two things stand out in this book: Kidar Sharma’s own character, and the early days of Hindi cinema. The latter, in particular, is very interesting: Sharma began working in the industry when it was still young, and his recollections of film-making in terribly adverse circumstances are sometimes hair-raising, sometimes funny, and often a mixture of the two (there is, for instance, a hilarious anecdote regarding a song being picturized at night, with singer-actress Umashashi onscreen, and the musicians made to stand in a pond behind a tree—it was the only suitable place for them to be heard and not seen, but it had unexpected consequences). The book is peppered with anecdotes from various films and regarding different personalities, all the way from a very young Madan Mohan to an old and somewhat pompous Cecil B DeMille.
Tying in with this is Kidar Sharma’s own character. Some of this is obvious in his writing: there is anecdote after anecdote that is testament to his quick wit (and sometimes also his foolhardiness?), his resilience, and his love for his family and his friends (there’s a delightful anecdote about how Prithviraj Kapoor—who used to go about on a bicycle in those days—spent sixteen hours chatting with Kidar Sharma under a lamppost, through the evening and the night and into the next morning, without either of them realizing it).
Sharma’s multifaceted talent also shines through, not least in the evidence of it: his direction and his lyrics are of course in his films, but here, included among the many photographs that form the book, are also some stunning examples of Kidar Sharma’s work as an artist—a portrait each of Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore stand out.
There is, though, another aspect to this which emerges through Sharma’s writing about himself: a smugness at having stolen a march over others. For instance, he writes about his meeting with DeMille, and about how DeMille went on and on about the amount of work he’d done for The Ten Commandments. Finally, Sharma asked him if “he’d rested on the seventh day”. There are anecdotes that show people’s respect for Sharma and his talent; there are stories about Sharma teaching Meena Kumari, Motilal, and Ashok Kumar how to act.
But then, would Kidar Sharma be human if he didn’t gloat now and then? And, after all, this man was a legend; he had been involved in the making of some classics, and he had introduced to Hindi cinema some of its greatest icons. He had a right to be occasionally boastful.
All in all, a very interesting book, and one can’t accuse Sharma of ever being boring. His insight into the world of 1930s and 40s cinema, in particular, is engrossing.
P.S: I would have liked this to have been better edited, especially with regard to the transcriptions from Hindustani (of lyrics, shers, etc), which are numerous. These are of a style I’ve never encountered, and took a good deal of effort to decipher. That aside, a very readable book, and pretty much a must-read for anybody interested in old Hindi cinema.