Book Review: The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma: An Anecdotal Autobiography

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.


18 thoughts on “Book Review: The One and Lonely Kidar Sharma: An Anecdotal Autobiography

  1. Oh, thank you for this book review. As you know I am doing this series on Children’s films by the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI) and he was the first director-in-chief of CFSI. I guess he has directed and/ or written about 16 films for CFSI and had a long association from 1950’s till early 1980’s with it. But as I said the CFSI site does not even mention his name.

    Since you read this book, can you tell me if there is anything about his association with children’s movies, then perhaps I will try to get hold of it.

    Besides that, I have also read somewhere that though he was not given the highest film honour of the country, he was given an award instituted in Raj Kapoor’s name whom he mentored. But he died a day before receiving it.


    • Yes, there is a good bit about his association with the CSFI, and how he began making children’s films. I was reminded of you when I was reading that section.

      There’s nothing in the book about the award instituted in Raj Kapoor’s name. Unless it was announced long before he died, it’s unlikely to be in an autobiography – especially an autobiography which has very little in the way of additional notes.


  2. “(one of which, Jaldeep, won an award at Cannes)”:-
    It is not Cannes, Jaldeep- the maiden CFSI movie- was adjudged the Best Children’s Film at Venice International Film Festival, 1957.

    By the way does Cannes even have a children’s movie section? I really don’t know much about it. And off late I know it only for the showcasing of dresses and those wearing them, gown trains, the designer wear etc.


    • I didn’t know, ignorant me. I was just quoting from the book. Kidar Sharma’s memory must have been playing tricks on him.

      And, I don’t know whether Cannes has a children’s movie section.


  3. One of the most moving incidents in the book which was also quite illuminating about the author’s character and personality was when his sister passed away, holding onto his hand.


  4. Oh!
    This sounds so interesting! And I’m interested in his work, his films, more so his lyrics enchant me a lot. I’m much impressed by his songs. He has written them so well. I think I should get hold of this!
    It must be there in book stalls, or online at least.
    Thanks for introducing this wonderful book!


  5. I’ve always enjoyed Kidar Sharma’s interviews. Does the book mention anecdotes about the earlier Chitralekha? Mehtab, who played the eponymous character, became famous/notorious for a bathing scene in the film. There was an interview of Sharma’s where he said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) that the only question that Mehtab asked was whether it was necessary; Sharma said it was, and she agreed. He, on his part, cleared the sets, and he said, Mehtab casually dropped her clothes and they took the shots required in minimal time.

    This was in connection with the trust between actor and director and he used this to illustrate his point.

    Sharma is also famous for having slapped Raj Kapoor. :) The latter was his clap-boy and, intend on getting into films, would look into the mirror to fix his hair before giving the clap. Apparently, once, the light was crucial to the outdoor scene, and they were waiting for that exact moment. As usual, RK stopped to check himself out, and the moment passed. Slap! *Grin*

    This sounds like an interesting book, Madhu. Especially since it’s in his own voice. Should try and get my hands on this one, though I might have to wait.


    • Yes. I did start watching Shokhiyan the other day – the idea of a film about the Portuguese occupation seemed interesting, considering it’s a rare topic in Hindi films – but gave up within ten minutes. Maybe I’ll attempt it again someday.


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