Bhawana Somaaya has been a film critic for over 30 years and has contributed columns to several significant publications including The Hindu, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and others. She is the former editor of Screen and has authored 12 books on cinema that includes biographies of Hema Malini and Amitabh Bachchan.
Her books are a point of reference for students studying cinema at Whistling Woods and Manipal University. She has served on Advisory Panel of Censor Board of Film Certificate in India, is Chair Person of TIFF (Tigerland India Film Festival), Madhya Pradesh and on the Governing Council for FTII.
She is currently the Entertainment Editor at 92.7 BigFM radio channel, hosts three shows ( Once upon a time in Bollywood, Big Talkies Film Review) on a weekly basis and writes a weekly column for Quint. Somaaya is the only journalist visible on all the mediums – Radio/ Print/ TV/ Web.
Like the timelessness of Indian cinema, the fifty-three full-page original illustrations in Bollywood poster art style—depicting some of the most memorable scenes from your favourite films— make this a volume to treasure even when the year is over.
How did you manage to cover the period when you were not even born?
Good question, I was hoping somebody would ask me this because everybody takes it for granted that material is easily available and it can be put together by remote action. It was tough, I had to look for old books, leaflets, pamphlets and read them carefully to select what I needed. The thing about dates is that there is always an overlapping. We faced the same problem while researching Mother Maiden Mistress because some places record the film in the year it was made and some, in the year it was released. I remember cinema from 1950 onward because my parents were film buffs and carried me to theatre as a child. Those I missed I made up for them after I grew up.
Indian cinema can be segregated by decades possibly… which decade is most challenging in your view?
Every decade had to face a different kind of challenge. The 50s established the new wave cinema brought by Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor. The 60s were not great in content but ushered color into Indian cinema and will be remembered for some exceptional films like Mughal-E-Azam and Guide. The 70s according to me was the new 50s cinema young and restless and Salim Javed reflected the angst of recession in the angry young hero, Amitabh Bachchan. 80s was dark for the mainstream cinema but proved a great time for parallel cinema. Shabana Azmi and Smita Patil did their best films during this decade. 90s was a waiting period when we had hit our creative low and then emerged Farhan Akhtar with Dil Chahta Hai ushering New Age cinema in 2001.
How are films made in present times different compared to those made in the earlier decades?
There is a lot of difference; we have done away with formula films, then there are no compulsions on the length/ language of a film. Our cinema is a mix of many dialects with or without song/ music and sometimes very short and sometimes very long. We have broken stereotypes in our content and projection of the hero/ heroine. To a great extent the multiplexes have redefined our audience and now, the digital platforms have made the world a small place.
What are five parameters that can ensure the success of a film?
There is no magic formula to ensure a success. There are times the film had all the ingredients like Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon and it has flopped miserably and on other occasions the film looked dull and dark like A Wednesday and it has taken the theatres by a storm. The filmmakers can try whatever tricks they want but eventually it is the audience who decides what will work or fail. Five guidelines is a tall order but what works for me as a critic are just two things, content and intent.
What kind of a film would you like to write and which leading actors would one see in your film?
I have written two films and both are still waiting to breathe on screen. One is being made as a play to be premiered in early next year called Rimjhim it is the story of father daughter relationship. The second which is my favorite is the story of a family. At one time Yash Chopra had liked the idea and was thinking about it and then he passed away. So many years have passed by but I have not been able to find a producer. I’m now thinking of making it as a Guajarati film. Stars don’t matter, what matters is the director. If you have the right captain everything falls into place.