Review of ‘ From ‘Nazneen to Naina’
“To get a name is one of the few things that cannot be bought. It is the free gift of mankind, which must be deserved before it will be granted.”
– British writer Samuel Johnson ( 1709-1784) – poet, playwright, essayist, biographer, critic, editor
The idea to be fascinated by individuals – great sportspersons, artists ; exemplary warriors or people displaying tremendous wisdom or etc – and yearn to imitate them has a long history.
Any keen observer would tell you how in modern times, with the rapid spread of the media and the market – further spurred by the developments in capitalism – it has futher caught on and contrary to what the great writer observed it has not remained limited as a ‘free gift of humankind’.
Scholars have written extensively on why we idolise, admire such individuals – which in the present day lexicon are called celebrities – and what psychological need is fulfilled and how it impacts our persona etc.
Definitely getting fascinated by individuals and idolise them cannot be the only manner in which one looks at the life a celebrity.
There could be ‘another way’ of looking at celebrities wherein an attempt is made to bring forth lesser known aspect of the individual, her / his taking stands on issues which do not fit easily with the society, going out of way to communicate a message or extend helping hand to those in need or just stand firm when winds are blowing in exactly opposite direction.
Gurupreet Singh, author and journalist, based in British Columbia, Canada who is also director of an online journal ‘Radical Desi’ exactly tries to do this in his fifth book ‘Nazneed to Naina’ – a monograph on noted actress Kareena Kapoor Khan.
What is worth underlining that for the author – who also works as a broadcaster with Spice Radio 1200 AM in Burnaby and writes of Vancouver based Gerogia Straight News and culture weekly and he published five books : Terrorism – Punjab’s Recurring Nightmare, Fighting Hatred with Love : Voices of the Air India Victim’s Families ; Defenders of Secularism and Why Mewa Singh Killed William Hopkinson / – this is the first book of its kind.
Whether one agrees or not about this ‘other look’ at a leading actress of our times or considers it an attempt to read too much into her actions, the way the author has tried to present an assessment of the 20 year Bollywood journey of the actress, her films, her personal life, the harassment of sorts which she faced for her bold decision to undertake an interreligious marriage and the manner in which she has faced it and also has tried to raise her voice on social political issues as well – which are normally avoided by people in the film industry, it does provide a fodder for thought.
While reading the book one is reminded of Hollywood Great George Clooney who was photographed being handcuffed few years back, which was not part of any film shooting. He was arrested before the Sudanese Embassy when he had joined others in a protest at Sudanese Embassy and he was speaking against the humanitarian tragedy arising out of hunger there.
One felt that if tomorrow someone decides to write about George Clooney can s/he ever disremember this aspect of his very successful life as an actor.
The book – perhaps the first of its kind on Kareena – is not exactly a biography although it looks a bit into her personal life as well, and what is interesting is the frankness with which the author explains what prompted him to write the ‘something sooner than later’ ( P 18) and declares with ‘full honesty’ about his being impressed by her acting and persona.
The preface of the book provides a background of the increasing toxicity in Bollywood and how it impacts one’s creative energy.
The classic case which it discusses is that of late Sushant Singh ( 1986-2020) as a very promising actor – a Superstar in the making – who made it really big in the world of Hindi Cinema in a very short time and the way he remained at the receiving end of trolls for his disagreement and dissent about what had been happening there. It reminds us his he had decided to drop his title ‘Rajput’ when he saw the organised campaign against Padmavat.( P 17)
Definitely the book does not describes Kareena’s career in a chronological manner but it discusses many of her films and the role she chose and the bold manner in which she went ahead with them.
The book has a brief Foreword by Kimball Carion,, who has been editor of Vancouver based People’s Voice, which is followed by a detailed ‘Prologue’ and eight chapters namely : Making of Nazneen; Ambassdor of Peace, Standing up against Islamophobia, Not just a celluloid activist, The tale of two sex workers, Woman Power, Bebo under Cross Examination and the last one ‘Epilogue’
The prologue makes it clear how Kareena has to ‘bear so much hate’ ( Page 12), how she was ‘hounded by the trolls for marrying a Muslim man and adopting Khan as her last name’ (-do) , naming her son after a ‘controversial Muslim figure’ and ‘standing up for a Muslim girl’ who was ‘raped and murdered by Hindu fanatics in 2018’. ( P 13)
One learns that how she was ‘one of those rare Indian actors’ who used Instagram to support Black Lives Matter ( P 15), denouncing ‘racism and bigotry within India against Muslims and so called untouchables” ( Page 15)
Author tells us how apart from her stands and positions which have invited ridicule and criticism, she has also come under scanner for her ‘powerful roles in movies’ depicting difficult characters’ like the way she ‘portrayed a survivor of state sponsored anti- Muslim pogrom in Dev (2004) or a ‘ Hindu woman who helps a Muslim child separated from her mother in Pakistan in ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ ( 2015 – Page 17)
The chapter ‘Making of Nazneen” discusses her very first movie ‘Refugee’ – directed by J P Dutta – where she makes a debut as Nazneen Ahmad. The film deals with the hardships faced by stateless Bihari Muslims after the partition of India. Author is of the opinion that ‘Refugee’ where Kareena as Nazneen projects a ‘powerful character who displays all traits of a rebellious lover, an innocent sweetheart’ ( P 28) is a must watch for anyone today as well the ‘subject remains relevant for global audience’ ( do)
Paradoxically, twenty years later, Kareena acted as Naina Kohli, a tough British-Punjabi police officer in ‘Angrezi Medium’ ‘going after illegal immigrants adn remaining inconsiderate about their circumstances” ( do-) For the author, ‘her role in Bajrangi Bhaijaan ( 2015) as Rasika,’ a Hindu woman who comes to the rescue of a Pakistani Muslim girl separated from her mother, ‘was the most remarkable’ ( P 44)
Her roles in Chameli ( 2004) and Talaash ( 2012) as a sex worker have also earned her lot of appreciation. In fact, she received Filmfare Special award for Best Performance for her role in Chameli.
The chapter ‘Standing Up against Islamophobia’ provides instances where she has been at the receiving end of rightwing trolls on various occasions and the way she has dealt with such attacks. As the author puts it “[s]he took a major risk by standing up for Asifa Bano, the eight year old Muslim nomad girl who was raped and murdered inside a Hindu temple in Kathua in January 2018′ ( P 61)
It has been told umpteen times how the rightwing Hindutva forces even had marched in support of the accused carrying Indian national flag. Kareena along with few other actresses condemned the incident and had posted pictures on twitter. The one carried by Kareena read. “” I am Hindustan, I am ashamed. Justice for Our Child 8 years old. Gangraped, Mutilated. ..”( P 62)
No doubt, the author on his own tries to make a convincing case to provide another look at Kareena but doubts remain.
In the chapter ‘Bebo Under Cross Examination’ author does try to underline the inconsistency in her stands on occasions and expects that she improves upon it. In fact, he does not forget to mention Saif and Kareena had themselves photographed with PM Modi in 2014 which was followed by Saif’s appreciation of the newly elected PM.
This chapter ends with a few lines of a popular song by Lupe Fiasco “If you are what you say you are a super star.” The author expects that although she is a Super Star but she should become a ‘Superstar of Lupe’s imagination, because she has that potential.’ ( P 136)
It remains to be seen whether Kareena would really emerge as another Jane Fonda or Swara Bhaskar, an actor who is more focussed on principles and ready to face consequences as well or would have her flip flops on the way as she has exhibited earlier.
Whether she will be ever ready a la a George Clooney to cross the line and show her courage of convictions ?
Only time can provide an answer to this query.
From Nazneen to Naina
20 Years of Kareena Kapoor Khan in Bollywood and what it means for India and rest of the world
- Author :Gurpreet Singh
- Chetna Prakashan
- Ludiana, Punjab ( India)
-Subhash Gatade is an author and social activist